Monthly Archives: December 2010

oh, the people you’ll meet

There’s a man I pass almost every day on my way to work in the morning. Typically, while I’m commuting to work I’m in another world – thinking about what awaits me at the office, what I just left at home, or one of about a million other things that could be on my mind at any given moment. I’ve done this commute so many times that I could do it with my eyes closed. And usually, I feel like I do. But for some reason one day, I happened to look up from my haze and this man caught my eye. Perhaps it was the way he was dressed – eclectic but still stylish, with dark, thick-rimmed glasses balanced atop his nose and a black fedora cocked to the side – but whatever it was, I noticed him, and I could tell he noticed me by the way our eyes met. I didn’t think much of it at the time, until the next day when I saw him again – the slightly cocked fedora, the glasses. And then the next day.

This went on for about a week until I finally got the urge to smile and say ‘Good morning’. He returned the smile and the warm wishes as if we were old friends just passing by each other in the hallway. And ever since then, we’ve had this very same exchange, at nearly the same place, nearly the same time, nearly every day – a welcomed addition to our typically absentminded commute that snaps us back to the here and now, if only for a moment.  Sometimes there will be a period of time when I don’t see him for a few days – mornings when I’m running late, if I’m sick and out of work, or if his life outside of our brief exchange pulls him elsewhere for the day. But on those mornings when everything falls into place for both of us, when no one is running late, or early, or elsewhere, it happens.

Before deciding to donate my kidney, it was as if I went through my day on auto-pilot – wake up, work out, shower, go to work, work, leave work, walk dog, eat dinner, hang out with boyfriend, go to bed, repeat. I love my life – every single thing about it – but since I’ve made this decision, I’ve felt like this is what I was meant to do. Like all the stars have suddenly aligned and everything that has happened previously has brought me to this point, to meet these people, to be on this journey.

I have made such wonderful friends in such a short time – people who have literally saved lives by donating their own kidney and who are so passionate about this cause that they continue to save lives by helping people like me to carry on what they’ve started. This network of ‘sharers’ is comprised of some of the most giving, caring, and compassionate people I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing. No matter what is going on in their own lives, they are always willing to drop everything to be there for someone who is forced to watch a loved one suffer; someone who is in need of a kidney; someone who is celebrating a successful transplant; someone who just wants to help in any way possible. The advice, support, and encouragement I have witnessed – and received – from these complete strangers has been so touching that my heart swells just to think about it. This incredible adventure I have embarked on has not only brought me back to living in the now, appreciating the beauty of life and how blessed I truly am, but it has introduced me to an entire world of people I never knew existed. It’s the gift of giving, giving back.

We all fall into routine. It’s easy to get lost in the blur of things if we don’t stop and look around every once in a while. But once you do, once you make the effort to wake up and see all there is around you, you’ll be surprised at what you find right in front of your face. New adventures, new friends, and new opportunities await – all you have to do is open your eyes.

 

‘Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.’  [Howard Thurman]

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an early christmas present

Remember a few posts ago when I said ‘today was a good day’? Well, no, today was a good day. An amazing day. An absolutely perfect day that simply cannot be ruined by anything or anyone. And I’m not even talking about the insane Prince concert I’m going to tonight with my boyfriend!! After much anticipation and nerves and tests and more tests, and more emails and phone calls than I can count, I finally found out that yes, the medical board at the National Kidney Registry has approved me to become a non-directed donor! I’m so excited I can barely form complete thoughts!!! If I wasn’t at work when I found out, I would have screamed and danced and cried, but I had to settle instead for a few ALL CAPS IM’s and some hushed phone calls. But I smiled the whole time and yes, even got teary eyed.

I emailed Diane at NKR again yesterday to see if she had heard back from the medical board yet about whether or not I was approved. When I didn’t hear back, I certainly grew even more anxious, but from day one I’ve had a good feeling about all of this. Nonetheless, when I saw her name suddenly appear in my inbox this morning, I have to admit my heart skipped a beat – all I could think about was what if I was denied? Luckily, that thought was only fleeting and with a quick click all my fears were calmed – I was approved! After feverishly IMing my boyfriend (who said he’d never seen someone so excited to be cut open), emailing my donor friend and mentor, Angela, and sneaking in a quick call with my stepfather to relay the news, I dialed Diane’s number to discuss the next step (I love next steps!).

Diane told me that she would be forwarding my records to the transplant team at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center in Manhattan (not only do I live close by in Jersey City and work in midtown Manhattan, but also I’ve done a lot of research about the number and quality of transplants done here and feel most comfortable in the hands of these incredibly talented doctors). Once they receive my information, one of their transplant coordinators will give me a ring to set up ‘the big day’ of testing (more waiting – fun!). From the things I’ve read and heard, this is a marathon day of blood tests, scans, poking, prodding, and even a psychological exam (even I don’t dare to guess what they’ll discover during that one!).

Though it sounds exhausting, I’m super excited and just itching to tell everyone I see! But, alas, I can’t – I’ve been forced to promise that I won’t tell my mother about this until after the holidays, so it’s two more weeks of secrecy for me (my mom is a worrier by nature, and though she means well, it’s better to let her, and the rest of my family, enjoy the holidays without talk of my impending doom that is, in her mind, the donation surgery). I guess after months of tiptoeing around, two weeks won’t be all that bad. With Christmas only eight days away and my best friend’s wedding a week later on New Year’s Eve, I’ll have plenty to distract me until my vow of silence can be broken. Until then, I’ll continue to thank God every day for my health and happiness, and count down the days until I can share a bit of that with someone else who needs it more than I do.

 

‘It is health that is real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver.’  [Mahatma Ghandi]


what’s in a name?

Writing is a funny thing. It’s one of the most solitary acts in the world, but conjures such a profound feeling of sharing – even if your writing is never read, as is the case with this blog (thus far, at least!). Here’s where I am with the kidney donation process: I got my first round of blood and urine tests done but a few numbers from my 24-hour urine collection came back a bit elevated. I found out from a visit to the nephrologist that those ‘high’ numbers actually point to excellent kidney function, but the NKR’s medical board still asked that I redo my urine collection (I’m a pro at this point). The second time around, my numbers were a bit lower, giving me new hope that I would be approved by the board, and I hurriedly sent my results to Diane at the NKR who then forwarded them to the medical board. Angela, who has been an amazing mentor through this entire process, mentioned that it took about a week for her to hear back about whether or not she was approved. So here I am, exactly one week since I’ve sent my results to the NKR, just waiting, and hoping, and crossing my fingers. While I do have a good feeling about it all, there is still a small chance that because my numbers are technically outside of the NKR’s range, I might not be approved. For that reason, I haven’t yet told my mother or basically anyone in my family and most of my friends about my decision. To me, it’s better to save them the worry (which is inevitable) until I am absolutely positive that I will be able to donate. Aside from my boyfriend, my stepfather, a few of my closest friends, and some people within the donor community, no one is aware of my decision. That’s where my blog comes in.

Blogging through this experience seemed like a natural choice for a writer. The written language is where I most clearly and effectively express my thoughts and can organize them in a rational manner – unlike when I speak which tends to resemble an oral diarrhea of stream of consciousness. My tongue gets me in trouble – my pen gets me out of it. However, I do love to talk (hello, winner of ‘Most Talkative’ senior superlative in high school!), so not having that option during this process made blogging even more vital to my sanity. When I began researching the donation process and stumbled across the blogs of other donors, it only solidified my decision to become a non-directed donor (and hopefully kick off a donor chain). While articles written by doctors and researchers gave me the scientific facts about the process, I found myself repeatedly returning to blogs to get the nitty-gritty – the ups and downs of the process, the emotional effects of both the testing and the donation, the physical and psychological sensations before and after the actual surgery. These blogs, and the bloggers who wrote them, were a gold mine of invaluable information that stripped away all the technical med-speak and gave it to me straight.

Perhaps the most striking thing about reading those blogs however, was the effect they had on my ultimate decision to begin the process. From the first day I read the Glamour article about Christina Do, I knew deep down that I would do this. But reading the emotional accounts of those who had already donated their kidneys and saved countless lives and families, and spared so many suffering patients the endless agony that had previously been their life, gave me the determination and resolution to follow through to the end. For that, I will be forever and deeply appreciative of those individuals who put their stories out there and, in many ways, influenced me to continue the good will that so many have shown before me.

The first thing I needed to do before I could blog was come up with a name. I came up with a few options and ran them past my boyfriend, but nothing jumped out at me. And then I remembered a quote from Virginia Woolf’s Night and Day:

‘When you consider things like the stars, our affairs don’t seem to matter very much, do they?’

This was it. I had always considered getting a shortened version of this quote – ‘consider the stars’ – tattooed somewhere on my body, but making it the title of my blog was a much less permanent decision. To me, this phrase speaks volumes about life and is an incredible reminder about what’s truly important. Our problems, the things we stress about and fret over and ruin relationships and lose friends and countless hours of our lives over are, when compared to stars and their vast and infinite glory, so minute and insignificant. The stars serve as a reminder that, in the end, most of what we consider to be so significant and life-altering, really doesn’t matter much, as long as we have our health, our happiness, and love. I try to remember this when I encounter some problem in my life, though since I, like the rest of us, am a work in progress, I’m not always successful. However, when I get upset about bills or money or disagreements, I remember all the people out there, suffering through diseases that keep them from living the normal life I live. I think of the families that are forced to helplessly watch their loved ones become sick, live in pain and agony, and even die. I try to put myself in the shoes of all the people out there fighting an uphill battle against an uncontrollable force. And suddenly, my problems don’t seem so bad or unmanageable anymore. It is in those moments that I find the strength to rise above self pity and forge ahead – for myself, for those families, and for those patients who would give anything to be dealing with my problems instead of theirs. These people – not those celestial bodies in the sky – are my stars, and they have done more for me than I could ever do for them.

 

‘People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered.
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may take advantage of you.
Be kind anyway.
If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you.
Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight.
Create anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous.
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, will often be forgotten.
Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough.
Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God.
It was never between you and them anyway.’  [Mother Teresa]


the jug is half full

Today was a good day.

Thursday was 24-hour urine collection day number two, and this time around, I wasn’t taking any chances. You’re not supposed to urinate directly into the container, but rather into a clean container first, then pour it into the collection jug. For P-Day 2, I was prepared with a new sleeve of red Solo cups (see, they’re for more than just beer pong!), clean and ready for the peeing. I left nothing to chance – I followed the lab’s instructions to the letter, making sure to collect every single drop and quickly transferring it to its temporary home in the bright orange jug which had to be kept in my refrigerator (for those of you who have been to my apartment, it was nestled right next to the big Brita thingy. Bet you won’t look at that the same way again now, will you?). I went on with my day, as usual, as opposed to P-Day 1 where I nervously tried to adjust my lifestyle because I was afraid ‘they’ would know my every move by way of urine analysis. This time, I woke up, worked out, took my vitamins, ate three normal meals, worked, took the dog out, watched a movie with my boyfriend, and went to bed. Just another day in the life. The next morning, I brought my half-full jug to the lab, gave one more vial of blood, and was on my way.

I tried not to think about the results all weekend and was mostly successful. They told me it would take 3-4 days for the results, but due to my previous experience, I assumed that was really about 5-7. So you can imagine my surprise when my doctor called me this morning – only 3 business days after turning in my sample. I held my breath. And I held it some more. And then…

‘The doctor said your results are much, much better this time. A lot closer to the normal range. You can pick up your results in the morning.’

Exhale. I don’t know the exact numbers yet, and they could very well still be too high for the NKR’s medical board standards, but this was certainly an improvement and only renews my confidence in being able to donate my kidney. I immediately emailed Diane, the NKR Administrative Coordinator with whom I had been in contact with throughout my scare, and told her the good news. She said as soon as I have the results, I can fax them to her and she will deliver them to the medical board with an explanation of my situation. If, no, when, I am approved, the next step will be a more complete medical evaluation and then it’s Surgery City! While this all may not have been the ideal way for this process to happen, I finally feel like all of the pieces are beginning to fall into place. And, if nothing else, this whole ordeal has given me a new appreciation for my health and the agony and suffering those on the kidney waiting list go through every day (though nothing in my life can really compare to that). It’s so close, I can feel it getting closer, and I can hardly contain myself.

Yeah, today was a good day.

 

‘It’s more important to know where you are going than to get there quickly. Do not mistake activity for achievement.’  [Mabel Newcomer]