When I first started looking at how to become a published author (way back in high school), one of the things I would sometimes read about was getting The Call. For an author, that meant getting a phone call from New York (most likely), and being told your book was going to be published. For years I dreamed about getting The Call.
And then I became an indie author and getting The Call from New York no longer mattered.
These days, it’s all about getting The Call from the Dallas or Fort Worth area.
When someone’s on the transplant waiting list, getting The Call is that moment when a transplant coordinator calls you and says, “We have a kidney.” (Or a heart, lung, liver, whatever organ you happen to be waiting for.)
At 3:01 Sunday morning, Phillip got The Call. We’d stayed up late reading (we lead very exciting lives, obviously) and hadn’t been in bed that long. In fact, both of us had just started to doze off when his phone rang. His first reaction was, “Why would someone from Grand Prairie be calling me?”
Me: “Um, honey, that could be someone with Baylor.”
And then the call went to voice mail. So here I am frantically Googling the phone number on my phone while Phillip’s waiting to see if a voice mail pops up. And it does. He was just about to call the transplant coordinator back when she called back, and we heard the words that we didn’t expect to hear for years: “Mr. Gross, we have a kidney. Do you want it?” (Or something like that. I honestly don’t remember her exact words.)
Of course he wanted it. He answered her questions, and she told us to be at Baylor at 10:00 a.m. to have his blood drawn for the crossmatch. It usually takes us about four hours to get from Austin to his parents’ house in the Dallas area (on a good day), so we started rushing around. I hadn’t done laundry (which is a fairly typical occurrence in our house, to be fair), so I was scrambling to find a couple days’ worth of clean clothes just in case. Gathering up medications, contact lenses, phone and tablet chargers, my work laptop and charger. We both took the quickest showers imaginable. Took out the trash, loaded the truck, confused the dogs… Needless to say, it was a pretty hectic 45 minutes or so.
And of course we had to stop and fill up the truck before we could even think about getting out of Austin.
And so we sped up to Dallas. And by sped, let’s just say that was the fastest we’ve EVER made it up to his parents’ house. Granted, it also helped that we left at like 3:45 in the morning so there was actually minimal traffic through downtown Austin.
Then the waiting began. First, it was waiting for 10:00 a.m. and labs to be drawn. Then it was waiting to hear something from the transplant coordinator, who’d told us we should know the results of the crossmatch by mid-afternoon. This being our first time getting The Call, we just stayed at the hospital and napped (I’m using the term generously) in the oh-so-comfy (and by oh-so-comfy I mean not-comfy-at-all) chairs in Sammons, primarily because that part of the hospital tends to be pretty quiet on the weekends. Even with that, though, we still got some odd looks, but we were so tired we didn’t care at all. (Note: next time we know to just go up to the hospital, get labs drawn, and then go chill out somewhere more comfortable because it’s gonna be a while.)
A photo posted by Aubrey Gross (@aubrey.gross) on
Hours and hours passed, and we still hadn’t heard from the coordinator, so around 4:30 or so we finally gave in and called her. Ends up she was just about to call us. There’d been a hold up with the donor’s blood getting to Baylor, mostly because he was also donating his heart and lungs, and those have to come out first.
For those who are curious, the heart is the first organ to be harvested because it has the shortest “shelf life.” It also has a crap ton of tests that have to be done. Lungs are generally next, and also have a ton of tests that need to be done. Kidneys are the last to come out because they can last the longest inside of a cadaver and the longest on a pump once harvested. IIRC, they can keep kidneys on a pump for like 48 hours or something (I could be very wrong on that, but that’s what I think we were told).
At any rate, at that point the blood was finally on the way to Baylor, and would hopefully be there in the next couple of hours. The crossmatch testing takes four to six hours, so we were prepared to get another call in the middle of the night. But while I had her on the phone, I asked a bunch more questions, because that’s what I do.
Phillip was THE primary candidate.
See, in organ donation, there’s a primary candidate and then one or two backup candidates in case it’s not a go for the primary candidate. Apparently the tissue matching had come back great, and this last step was the crossmatch. The computers were predicting that the crossmatch would come back negative (in organ donation, you want a negative crossmatch), so they were pretty confident that the transplant would be a go.
At close to midnight my phone rang.
“Mrs. Gross? I’m so sorry, but the crossmatch came back as positive.”
“I know. I am so sorry, but thank you guys for coming up here. Keep your chins up–another one will come along.”
Why do I always get to repeat the bad news to my husband? 😛
Needless to say, we were devastated. However, I was so freaking exhausted (I’d had a couple hours of sleep in two days at this point) all I could do was hold Phillip’s hand and pass back out. Phillip did not have a similarly easy time falling asleep, and asked me the next morning, “How were you able to just fall asleep like that?”
I was just THAT tired. Hell, I’m still tired.
Telling his parents sucked. Telling my parents sucked. Loading the dogs back up and speeding back to Austin so we could make it back in time for dialysis sucked.
But you know what sucked more?
The fact that someone died.
It’s a very strange sort of situation to be in emotionally and mentally. On one hand, you’re so excited and hopeful because GIFT OF LIFE, but on the other hand, someone died in order to give that gift of life.
So as sad as I was (and still am) that this kidney wasn’t a match, I’m all too aware that another wife could have lost her husband Saturday night/Sunday morning. Children could have lost their father. Parents could have lost their son. I still have my husband. He’s still alive. He’s still here with me. Dialysis will keep him alive until the point when a match DOES become available. And yes, I do hope and pray that day comes soon, even though that probably sounds selfish of me. But the fact remains, I haven’t had him long enough.
The odds of the family of the man who passed Saturday night/Sunday morning reading this are admittedly slim to none. After all, I’m very aware of how many views my website gets on a daily basis. 😉 But on the off chance that it does get back to them, or that it reaches someone else who’s loved one was an organ donor:
Thank you. Thank you for realizing that even in tragedy your loved one could help save other people’s lives. I don’t know what you’re going through or have gone through, but I can imagine. And it sucks. It sucks so, so bad. And I know it hurts. Often we as human beings wonder what our purpose in life is. Some of us know that early on (like being a writer), some of us figure it out a little later (like becoming a teacher or doctor), and some of us wonder until the day we die.
I write because I can’t NOT write. I write because of these stories in my head and words that just pour out of me. I write because I’m a storyteller and have been from the moment I learned how to talk. I’ve ALWAYS known my purpose in life was to tell stories and to write, to entertain people and give them an escape. I realize I’m lucky, I’m an anomaly. So many people don’t have that kind of clarity at such a young age, if ever.
But maybe that purpose isn’t always clear for a reason. And maybe that purpose isn’t so much about the little things you do while you’re alive, but more about the impact you have on others in life AND in death.
Organ donors save lives.
I can think of no higher purpose or calling than saving the life of a complete stranger, so to say I’m grateful to each and every single organ donor out there would be an understatement. Organ donation is something that comes with a lot of gravity. It’s a very serious thing. I mean, someone has to die so someone else can live.
That fact is not lost upon me or my husband.
So to the family of the man who lost his life this weekend: thank you. You have been in our thoughts and prayers constantly since then, and will continue to be in our thoughts and prayers. And even though this kidney didn’t work for my husband, this man was able to possibly save five lives when all was said and done. Heart. Lungs. Kidneys. That’s five organs. Five people who received the Gift of Life. Five families who can breathe easier knowing that their loved one will live to see another day (and hopefully many, many more).
So thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you. From the very bottom of my heart.