As yesterday’s post indicated, my surgery, scheduled for Tuesday, December 6, had to be pushed back a week to December 13, due to the recipient’s becoming sick with (I believe) a cold or a flu over the weekend. Due to the immunosuppressive back-end of receiving a kidney, the hospital prefers not to put one into a patient if he (my recipient’s a he) or the kidney are suffering from infectious disease. I suspected the bad news as soon as the email from my donor coordinator showed up Monday morning. It asked me to call her back “at my earliest convenience,” a phrase unusually formal for her normally emoticon-suffused correspondence. This time, there were no smileys.
I called her right back, and she was very apologetic in explaining the situation. I find the inconvenience irksome, but not truly upsetting. (Truly upset isn’t one of my standard modes; my temper runs phlegmatic as a rule). They had already warned me of the chance of delay due to illness. More commonly, surgery might be postponed if someone died and a cadaveric donation needed to be done right away, bumping my surgery out of the appointed time. While the change rattled my parents a bit (who have never been on the firmest emotional ground concerning their son’s major surgery), its objective effect on me is pretty minor. My post-operation return to work will likely be a week quicker. My mother will have to return to Florida on the day I get out of the hospital rather than staying a bit longer. My kidney-going-away party last Saturday becomes retroactively poorly timed (and people’s surgical sympathies mildly awkward to respond to). All small problems.
This will hopefully be the last of a few date changes and surprises during the process, which just underscores the tremendous coordination that goes into each transplant. Modern healthcare provides a superabundance of safety standards and double-checks combined with the balletic coordination of various narrow specialists. So far in the lead-up to my surgery, I’ve had appointments with a general internist, psychiatrist, nephrologist, anesthesiologist, donor coordinator, donor advocate, countless nurses, and my surgeon. I’ve had an EKG, a CAT scans, and an abdominal ultrasound, been tested for HIV three times (passed the first two, fingers crossed on the third), and collected my urine in a giant brown bucket for 24 hours (then had to carry it with me to the transplant center, bashfully hidden in a Trader Joe’s bag). A transplant is actually two surgeries in one, however, ((1) donation, (2) replacement) so presumably my recipient has likely made preparations of equal or greater complexity. Then the day of the operation itself involves two different surgical teams; each will have at least a surgeon, nurses, and an anesthesiologist. More than creating a minor inconvenience for me, delaying the surgery probably forces a lot of people to have some late nights or bump work into their weekends.
My inability to exactly control the date and details of my donation may seem obvious to the intelligent reader, but it has been a bit of a surprise to me. I had a vision of when exactly my donation would be and what it would look like, and though the changes have been minor, they certainly vary from the script. Though I’m not a very lawyerly lawyer, I’d be betraying my profession if deviations to the plan didn’t disconcert me. Nevertheless, these alterations have been valuable, I think, as a growing experience . Anyone who elects to donate a kidney to a stranger must have a certain sense of invulnerability and of their ability to draw the lines of their own future perfectly. I certainly share these traits, but of course, neither life nor health are really like that. Experiencing life’s jostling and unpredictability (even in a small way), learning to accept the existences of forces outside my control, these are both good medicine for me; sometimes we do the best service to ourselves by only learning to stand and wait.