2011 in Review

The Stone Soup blog was viewed about 22,000 times in 2011. In 2011, there were 24 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 121 posts. The busiest day of the year was January 21st with 1,464 views. The most popular post that day was How The Other Side Thinks.

The most popular referrers were: facebook.com, reddit.comtumblr.com, afternoonsnoozebutton.com, and twitter.com. Some readers found us through search terms. The most popular searches were: “antibiotic[s]” (1,074), “christopher hitchens [smoking]” (584), “vietnam war medals” (65), “leaders” (64), and “importance of export” (48). A few of the more amusing search terms include: “did andy dufresne kill his wife” (9), “farm subsidies are good” (3), and “where does america rank?” (2).

Attractions of 2011:

Here are the posts that got the most views in 2011.

1. How The Other Side Thinks – 6,785 views

2. The Antibiotics Shortage and How to Solve It. – 1,842 views

3. Guest Post: A Deserved Toast To Christopher Hitchens – 935 views

4. Federal Funding Received by State per Dollar Sent. – 773 views

5. Recipe: The Best Braised Short Ribs, with Coffee and Chili – 628 views


A few of our favorite posts by author: 

Alex Taubes – Summer Vacation and Teachers

Thomas Miller – A Regruntled Democrat on the State of the Union

David Yin – How The Other Side Thinks

Josh Morrison – the kidney donation series, thus far:

1. My Kidney Donation

2. Pre-Op Testing — Blood Work

3. Vegetarianism and Kidney Donation

4. Hurry Up and Wait

5. False Starts

6. A New Normal

7. Day (after the Day) of Days

8. Not So Easy 


Thanks for reading Stone Soup in 2011!

A New Normal

Nobody likes to listen to someone brag about themselves. The best charity is done anonymously and performed in silence. Your gift,  about the person receiving it, not about yourself. Doing a good act to aggrandize oneself, to revel in one’s goodness, doesn’t make the act bad per se, but it just seems wrongheaded. When you are constantly trumpeting something good you may have done, you make it seem like you don’t care about the beneficiary, like you’re just acting out your own tumescent ego.

All of this is in the way of asking how should I discuss my kidney donation without sounding like simply a self-righteous jerk? I ask this as someone who’s probably more than a bit self-righteous (though hopefully not more than a bit of a jerk). Perhaps a better question is, should I talk about it at all? Better, perhaps, to give quietly and unassumingly, to make it about the gift rather than the giver.

Few have accused me of being quiet and unassuming: Where’s the fun in that? I’d like to think, however, that my telling people about my donation isn’t driven by some desire for recognition (not typically my thing) or to hear the sound of my own voice (definitely my thing). In part, my desire to tell people reflects the drive to be honest about what’s going on in my life. I could horde  my privacy from those who ask me about why I’m taking my time off of work, but why not just tell them the truth?

Perhaps to be so detailed is immodest, but if so, it’s immodesty in pursuit of a good cause. As I’ve gone through with my donation,  several friends I’ve talked to about it have begun exploring whether that decision would be a good one for themselves. When I see the gleam of curiosity in the eyes of coworkers to whom I tell my story, I can’t help but thinking that if one of them were asked by a loved one in need, the fact that they knew someone who donated might lead to them being generous and feeling better about the choice.

I feel like the biggest obstacle to people giving a kidney, more even than whatever sacrifice donation involves, is that it doesn’t seem like a regular, everyday, choice: potential donors (that’s you, dear reader) don’t approach it as a feasible option, to be selected or rejected depending on one’s preferences. Spreading awareness that someone you may know, someone like you, has donated their kidney and (fingers crossed) been perfectly OK may bring donation a bit closer to being a significant but standard choice in your mind.

It may seem that the reason altruistic kidney donation feels like such an unusual gift is just that it imposes a greater harm than other choices that are more typical. This misunderstands the costs of kidney donation (it’s a laparoscopic surgery, has no impact on the donor’s long term health, and does not increase the donor’s chance of kidney disease), but more importantly, regarding giving a kidney as an extraordinary sacrifice undersells the difficulty of decisions that are considered normal and are made every day. Thousands of college graduates devote two years of their lives to working 80-hour weeks teaching underprivileged students at Teach for America; thousands more go to developing countries in the Peace Corps. Even more commonly, soldiers volunteer to leave the comforts and safety of the modern U.S. to serve their country in places where every day could ruin their lives with gunfire or an IED. All of these people take up far greater burdens than those assumed by donors, but people picture them as sane, reasonable options for how to do good in the world: noble, yes, but more importantly, normal. I want to tell my own story so that people can see that a donor can be a normal person with a normal story. Someone who’s non-heroic and flawed, someone who can be stubborn and slothful, someone who has a higher opinion of himself than he probably should, someone who isn’t above using his donation to impress women. By talking about my donation and showing readers that, yes, real people, normal people, actually do make this choice, I hope to make it seem like one that’s worth considering. Sure, I want readers to think donating a kidney is a good decision, but really, I’d settle for it just seeming like a sane one.

(Previous posts in this series can be found (in order) herehere, herehere, and here)


Hurry Up and Wait

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. Continue reading

Vegetarianism and Kidney Donation

After my divorce, the first girl I dated at all seriously was a vegetarian (lapsed vegan really; she was a great cook and liked dairy products too much to give them up). Interestingly, even though her father had become a rabbi at a relatively late age, she herself was an atheist. Her father, when he became more religious, decided that he would observe Hebrew dietary laws (avoiding shellfish, no milk with meat, etc.), and they bonded over their self-imposed dietary restrictions. In fact, it was her vegetarianism that had inspired him to keep Kosher. He told her that he admired her taking something (eating) she had to do by necessity and transforming it into a daily manifestation of her beliefs and her values. Her choice encouraged him as well to enact his religion every time he set fork to plate. Though they acted out different rules, father and daughter were each able to live out the best part of themselves a little bit each day by imposing what would seem to be burdens on themselves.

I’m not a vegetarian; I like meat too much and animals too little. I could go ahead and accept responsibility for my own callousness towards the wonderful creatures of God’s beautiful creation, or I could shirk accountability for my carnivory onto my upbringing. Since I prefer the latter, I blame my childhood  pets:  my first dog, a vicious poodle named Brandy, tried to bite my eye out when I was two*. My second, Coty, was fun as a puppy when she’d  playfully teethe onto me and my little brother. Nevertheless, she soon became man’s boringest friend. Coty’s only moments of activity involved chasing geese, and as soon as  a mother goose stood her ground and bit her, she gave up on that hobby.  Her sole pleasure became laying on the AC vents around the house (or really just two of them, since she was too lazy to seek out a third). Neither Coty and Brandy taught  me to love animals, so now I eat them.**

Wherever I lay the blame, like many meat-eaters, I’m somewhat conflicted about my dietary choices, since I recognize that some meat is raised amidst horrible conditions. Most of the time,  I don’t worry myself as I chew happily away, but sometimes, perhaps when I’m eating meat that is bland and boring, I question my choices. I think it might be these very pangs of guilt that drive many omnivores to find vegetarians off-putting and to perceive them as being pushy and judgmental. I’m sure many are, but I think part of this common characterization is driven by a sensation of implicit moral rebuke that so many omnivores feel — the sense that vegetarians have faced the same choices as those of us who eat meat, have made better ones, and are now looking down on us for our failings.

People come in all sorts, and surely many vegetarians use each bite of broccoli to feel one morsel more superior to we who munch on bacon. But Cassandra*** wasn’t like that; she was just a nice person who didn’t want to eat animals. I never met her dad, but I’m sure  he wasn’t trying to be a rabbi to get off on being better than people either. In fact, eating ethically meant different rules to each of them: If each felt like following these rules was a linear contest between better and worse, they wouldn’t be able to help looking down on the other, and it’d be a source of division. Instead, each of their varying paths brought them closer together rather than further apart. The rules they ate by weren’t a source of judgment they used against others, but just a fount of strength they kept for themselves, a way to each express their best selves which allowed them to become more close and not less.

I write this (very) long meditation on vegetarianism as  an analogy to my own decision to donate a kidney. Sometimes I think that decision comes across to people as explainable only as some sort of vain way of asserting moral superiority over the rest of the world. It’s not that at all. Instead, I like to think of it as being like Cassandra’s vegetarianism or her father’s keeping Kosher. It’s something I’m done for myself, a choice that fits with my values and from which I can draw strength. It’s the right choice for me, but one that I hope draws me closer to the people I care about in my life instead of pushing them further away.

* My family kept him (yes, Brandy was a boy) till I was six.

** There was another pet in the midst of this, a goldfish my parents bought me after a moving episode of Under the Umbrella Tree. In it, one of the main characters (the gecko, Iggy, I believe) acquired a goldfish and loved her dearly. The happiness was not to last, however, as the fish passed on (as goldfish are wont to do), which allowed the characters the privilege of hosting a stirring funeral as Iggy’s fish swirled bravely down the toilet. This made me ask for a goldfish of my own. My parents acceded, but to their horror, soon discovered that what I wanted (uncaring to animals even at the age of five) was not a beautiful goldfish but instead a beautiful goldfish funeral. The fish (who I don’t know if we ever even named) soon obliged by dying due to what I can only assume was  either lack of love by me or gentle poisoning by my parents.

*** Name changed for privacy

(For those not following me on Twitter and surprised that I’m posting this post-surgery, sadly my surgery got bumped a week to next Tuesday because the recipient came down with a (I think minor) illness. Surgery delayed is not surgery denied, however, and this is just a temporary hiccup before donating.)

(Previous posts in this series can be found (in order) here and here)

Pre-Op Testing — Blood Work

Today was pre-op testing, which reinforced the fact that, in between the moment when you decide to give a kidney and the instant they start the anesthetic, the donating process mostly involves just signing copious amounts of paperwork and submitting copious samples of blood. Today I gave seventeen (Seventeen!) three-inch vials of blood for testing. This first involved the nurse (a friendly Hispanic man) surveying my wimpishy puny veins with disappointment. His face looked like someone struggling to find parking till they admit defeat and accept the space along the back row.

Sample dialogue after the jump:

Continue reading

My Kidney Donation

Four years ago I read an article by a forty-nine year old psychiatrist named Sally Satel. In 2004, her kidneys were breaking down, and her article was about the experience of trying (ultimately successfully) to find a donor. Her search sounded like an awful thing to go through.  In the article, three different people, one after the other,  each told her that they would donate, and then weeks or months later each time, all three of them, one after the other, told her that they wouldn’t. I’d imagine that if you need a kidney, one of  the horrible experience you must undergo must be to need to beg for your life (in a genteel and passive-aggressive way): telling one friend after another about your unfortunate condition while silently hoping that they’d take pity and offer to help.  Surely, even the luckiest victim of kidney failure must find themselves feeling a twinge of hope at the desired words: “Maybe, I can do something;” and “I might be a match;” all the while trying to not become encouraged as the conversation is concluded with a: “Let me look into it” or  “Let me see what my husband thinks.” Of course even people with a relatively easy experience finding a donor likely must have had to replay that gut-wrenching game at least a few times before achieving success. Satel’s journey was worse, after running that emotional gauntlet, she found three different people who each made a firm commitment to grant her the hoped-for kidney and then let that commitment linger for weeks or months and become firmer and firmer in her mind.  Only then, after she maybe (at least the first couple of times) let herself believe that her life would be saved, three different people disappointed her. I have never had anything in my life that could possibly have led to that level of despair, and she went through it three different times.  Luckily, a fourth person, a modest acquaintance from work, came through. Continue reading