what a long, strange trip it’s been

D-Day (D for donation, of course) has finally arrived. With less than 24 hours until my surgery, I can’t help but reflect on this past year and all the places this journey has taken me. This last week in particular has been an emotional roller coaster, and unfortunately with the unexpected turn of events regarding my job, I never took the time to talk about what’s been happening donation-wise during this, the most important week of them all:

Monday was the day that completely turned my life upside down – the day I was unexpectedly let go from my job. The motivation is still anybody’s guess, though I have my suspicions, but I do know that it was a direct result of my need for time off for this surgery (for more on that, please see this post). While I know that I was wronged in so many ways and completely undeserving of the treatment I received, I would be lying if I said I still wasn’t upset by it. To fire a loyal, hardworking, devoted employee is one thing, but in my opinion, it takes a certain kind of boss and a certain type of company to let someone go one week before a major surgery, and that is most definitely not the kind of company or boss I want to invest my time and energy into. Being fired added a whole new level of stress to an already stressful week, and threatened to taint an event I had been so excitedly anticipating for a year. Not to mention, it’s pretty difficult to actively seek out a job, make calls, and attend interviews when you’re in recovery. I’d like to give my ex-bosses the benefit of the doubt and have faith that there must have been some force beyond their control that led them to believe firing me last Monday was the best course of action. I can’t say I’m quite there yet, but I’m trying. And although I will never forget what they did to me, I can work my hardest to forgive. I’m not there yet either, but I can honestly say that though the timing was far from perfect (does perfect timing exist in this situation?), firing me was the best thing they could have ever done. Already, doors have opened to me that I never would have had the opportunity to explore under their employment, and though I’m still nervous about what will happen, I’m confident that I will quickly move on to bigger and better things.

Tuesday was a welcomed distraction from Monday’s events – pre-op testing at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell. Basically, these tests provide an opportunity for the hospital to definitively confirm that my intended recipient and I are still, indeed, a perfect match, as well as make sure that my body is still physically ready for and capable of handling the surgery. I was at the hospital for about 5 hours, during which time I had about 7 more vials of blood taken and underwent several more blood tests, another chest x-ray and EKG, met with my coordinator, a few nurses, and my social worker, and finally had a sit-down with my surgeon, Dr. Joseph Del Pizzo. Dr. Del Pizzo is hands down one of the best surgeons in his field. He’s completed more nephrectomies than almost any other surgeon in the world, and was even a part of the first ever laparoscopic nephrectomy (which is what I’ll be having). When he’s not performing kidney transplants, he’s traveling the globe teaching other surgeons how to perform them. I could not be in better hands – literally. Dr. Del Pizzo explained the whole process and also talked to me about a 100-person study (of which I agreed to take part). There are two ways to have this surgery done laparoscopically – the more traditional, 4-incision procedure, or the newer, single-incision procedure. By agreeing to be part of this study, a computer randomly decides which method I will undergo and for the next 5 years I will answer a series of questions about my recovery, scarring, pain, etc. The goal is to determine which method, if either, results in a quicker recovery (so far, beyond the cosmetics, they see little difference between the two). There’s no direct benefit to me for being part of the study, but it will help future donors as well as the entire living donation program and that’s reason enough for me.

The rest of the week and weekend were fairly uneventful in terms of the surgery. Dr. Del Pizzo called me on Wednesday to let me know that the computer selected the single-incision (via the belly button) surgery for me, and noted that in my physical condition, either method would work equally well as the other. The single-incision procedure perhaps looks a bit prettier, but since I have no plans of being a swimsuit model in the near future, that was of very little concern. Other than that, I spent most of the remainder of the week talking to some mentors in the kidney community, applying to jobs, reaching into my network of wonderful and supportive family, friends, and former colleagues, and prepping my apartment and my body for surgery.

Today, however, has been interesting. For starters, I’m incredibly anxious and excited for tomorrow morning. I have to report to the hospital at 5:45 am and I just know I will not be getting any sleep prior to that. I’ve found it so hard to focus on anything all day, so I’ve been passing my time cleaning, running errands, and catching up on emails and phone calls. Oddly enough, though, I’m not nervous in the least. In fact, I’m surprisingly calm and peaceful (in spite of my excitement), and I honestly feel like tomorrow is something I was meant to do – that everything that has happened in my life so far has been leading me to this very moment.

My inability to focus aside, the hardest part about today has got to be the fact that I can no longer eat solid foods. I had a good breakfast, followed by a light lunch of yogurt with fruit and granola at 11:45 am, and as of noon, was banned from all solid foods until after surgery – my next meal will likely be at some point on Wednesday. I can drink all the clear liquids I want until midnight, which helps a bit, but for a ‘grazer’ like me, who eats several small meals every few hours, eating nothing for nearly 8 hours at this point is killing me. And on top of that, I had to drink half of a 10 oz. bottle of magnesium citrate at 3 pm to cleanse my bowels before surgery. Let’s just say my stomach is doing a lot of talking, making me exceptionally nervous for when it gets to walking…

I plan to spend the rest of tonight relaxing, reading, packing some things for my hospital stay (which will be 1-2 nights long), and maybe even writing a letter to my recipient. I still don’t know if she wants to meet me – we wouldn’t be allowed to meet until after the surgery anyway – but I wanted to let her know that even if she doesn’t want to, I’m so glad that I’m able to do this for her and her family. I haven’t yet decided if I will give her this letter – I worry that it will make her feel obligated to reach out to me, which I certainly wouldn’t want to do – but I’m sure the right choice for me will become evident as the night goes on.

I still can’t believe that tomorrow is ‘the’ day. Like so many things in life, while I was in the midst of it all, I felt like it was taking forever, but now that the day has arrived, I feel as though it all happened so quickly. I did my very best to try to enjoy each and every step, and I think I did a good job of doing so. I’ve been through a lot since I decided to donate my kidney – I was hired and fired, adopted a new puppy who is the love of my life (well, ok, after my boyfriend and right up there with my two cats), went skydiving for the first time, enjoyed my very first tropical island vacation, met so many incredibly inspiring people, and most importantly, I learned so much about my support system, my family and loved ones, and myself. I’ve encountered many, many obstacles along this journey – some that would have, rightfully so, knocked many people off course. But I am, for better or for worse, a very determined, headstrong (some might say ‘stubborn’) person, and when I make a decision and set a goal, there is simply no deterring me.

However, no matter how strong-willed I believe I am, I know there will be moments in my life when it will be easier to quit. Easier to change course and take the well-traveled road. Easier to come up with excuses for why I can’t rather than reasons for why I can. And when that time comes, I can look back on this experience – the people I’ve met, the stories I’ve heard – and find the inspiration and the strength to pull through. Because like I’ve said so many times before, there is always someone fighting a tougher battle. Kidney patients are living, breathing proof that mental fortitude and the will to power on is stronger than almost any adversary. They have shown me that there is no greater force than a positive attitude, and that even when there is simply no more fight left to fight, the brave face that day with courage and grace. And sometimes, that’s all we can ask for.

Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.’  [Mary Anne Radmacher]

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6 responses to “what a long, strange trip it’s been

  • Teri Navickas

    Amazingly, and unexplicably, the gift you are about to give will return to you many times over, in ways you do not yet know. After tomorrow, you will join our ‘group’! I wish you the wonderful, ethereal, peaceful experience that I had the night of my surgery, and a lifetime to pay it forward by helping someone else (though I think you already have touched so many). I’ll pray for you and your recipient- all will be well. Keep us posted.

  • Bob

    Melissa, I’m praying that everything works out for you and your recipient as great as it did for me, my wife, her donor and my recipient.

  • lexi

    oh gosh, Melissa! Thinking of you and sending so many good vibes! xxx

  • Bob

    Hoping that everything went well for you yesterday, Melissa, and that we’ll hear from you again soon!

  • cory w.

    Melissa, I’ve never commented before but I’ve read your whole blog. How did the surgery go? How are you feeling? I’m anxious for an update!

    • melissaarlio

      Hi Cory! Thank you so much for reading and for reaching out. The support is so wonderful! Sorry I took such a long hiatus – between recovery and the job search, I had little time to post! I’m trying to do it more regularly again, though! Thanks again and I hope you continue to read!!

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