Resting and Reflecting — My Kidney Donation, Part 5

August 14, 2020 | My Jottings

Thursday, August 6th through Monday, August 10th, 2020

I was told that I would spend two nights in the hospital, and a third would be added if I felt I needed it. I thought I might need that option when I first learned of it, but I was so ready to be discharged Friday morning after two nights at Rochester Methodist. I think I may have slept three-four hours at night, and felt tired and antsy to recuperate in a larger space, a more comfortable bed.

My first meal was scrambled eggs and strawberry yogurt. I wasn’t hungry enough to finish it all, but it tasted wonderful. I drank and drank water, thinking of how important that’s going to be forever. I love water and have an app on my phone to help me keep track of my daily intake. I aim for 100 ounces a day and have for years — maybe that’s why my old lady kidneys were so young for their age and could be considered for donation. Most days I don’t reach 100 ounces, but it’s a rare day that I don’t drink 80-90 ounces of water.

Rochester water isn’t that great tasting, but Duluth, Minnesota water, from Lake Superior, is the best tasting in the world. So how fantastic was it that Lloyd thought ahead and saved plastic jugs from distilled water, filled them with fresh, iron-y Superior water, and brought it all to Rochester? He is like that — always quietly thinking of ways he can serve or make things better for someone.

The care I received on the transplant floor was excellent – I’m so grateful for every person who helped me, but I wanted to shower at home, or at least at our Airbnb house. I wanted to walk around a little and sit on a couch rather than on my hospital bed. By the time my discharge paperwork was ready it was noon on Friday, and Lloyd was there to push my wheelchair to the patient loading area. Sharon went to the Eisenberg (another Mayo name) Pharmacy to pick up my prescriptions and she saw us off with hugs before returning to Chris recovering on the same floor, just a few rooms down from me. I went home with Tylenol, a stool softener (they told me aside from anesthesia always slowing the bowels, in a nephrectomy the bowel has to be moved aside, and it does not like that at all), and ten little pills of Oxycodone 5 mg. for pain.

A kidney donor can never take Ibuprofen again, because that drug is metabolized through the kidneys, and of course from now on I’ll have to be aware that I have only one kidney, my dearest Verna. Tylenol (which is so effective for me I might as well pop a Tic Tac) is safer since the liver processes acetaminophen. I was instructed to take the Tylenol every six hours to keep a baseline in my body going, and to take the Oxycodone when needed for breakthrough pain. For the first couple of days home I took two of the Oxys, usually one in the afternoon and one before going to sleep at night, since it really helped me sleep and turn over comfortably in bed.

I have to say I was a little surprised at the first couple of days at our home away from home. I was more tired than I expected and had more discomfort than I thought I would. I had four places on my belly that had been invaded — three holes where laparoscopic instruments had been inserted to view, pump in gas, and to cut tissue and staple veins and arteries. And there was a four-inch vertical incision right below my navel, where after all the laparoscopic prep had been done, the surgeon reached in from the front, past my bowel and who knows what else, up under my ribs near my back, to remove my left kidney, Justine.

The adrenal glands sit on top of the kidneys, and are slightly adherent, but can be separated easily from them, and they are not taken. But like the bowel, when the adrenal gland is disturbed, it goes to sleep for a while. This would also explain my tiredness — half of my adrenaline source is on a little vacation, and is not working right now to supply my muscles with strength.

I don’t have any outward stitches — only Steri-strips. They will fall off in a couple of weeks, my internal stitches will be absorbed by my body, and I have only to shower and let soap and water run onto each site. No scrubbing or removing of anything. I will really miss being able to take a bath for six weeks, however.

My pattern seemed to be: have a pretty good day, have a I’ve-been-hit-by-a-Mack-Truck day, have a pretty good day, Mack Truck day, have a good day, and so on. So I adjusted my expectations and have been letting my body dictate to me what I should do. It’s a peaceful, restful way to recover. If I feel wiped, I don’t fret and wonder why, I just drink lots of water, let Lloyd wait on me, walk around as I feel like it, and lay down a lot. With no guilt, just a pure sense of intense gratitude that the Lord is taking care of us. If I die early and suffer from this, the Lord is taking care of me. If I live long and never give Verna another thought, the Lord is taking care of me. May He give me the grace to keep yielding to Him and becoming who I am supposed to be. I didn’t do enough yielding in my early years; I’m eager to give way to Jesus now.

My friend Ginny grew up in Rochester, so she introduced me years ago to a lovely woman there named Peggy, who has commented on my blog and blessed me in many ways. Imagine our surprise when Peggy came to the door of our rental on Arctic Fox Road, bringing flowers, a card from Ginny, and fresh-baked zucchini bread. We kept our distance of course, but it was a joy to finally meet Peggy and to visit with her a bit. I felt her love and Ginny’s through her, and she took this picture of Lloyd and me before she left.

These are the flowers that cheered us for the next four days — so beautiful.

Chris continued to recover, and felt pretty well the first days after his transplant. His lab values improved each day, showing that his kidney from Colorado (he named him Magnus) was rolling up his sleeves and working hard for Chris. He has had some rough days even though the daily tests show things are progressing as they should be. Being in pain and not sleeping is really hard. Thank you for praying for Chris and Sharon and their family!

And here’s a picture of where we stayed for nine nights. The host/owner was a welcoming, attentive woman named Denise, and oh, how we appreciated all her little homey touches. The home was sparkling clean and sanitized, had two bedrooms and two full baths on the main floor, a laundry room, and open-concept living/dining/kitchen. And an attached garage, so we parked the Outback inside each time and entered the house through there.

This house was cheaper than most hotel rooms, and certainly provided a much more comfortable and cheerful place in which to heal. The thought of spending all that time in a hotel room, no matter how nice, seemed so confining.

Chris’s insurance pays for all expenses incurred, so I will be reimbursed for what I spent on my lodging. This isn’t important to me, but it could be to someone who lands here researching donation, so that’s why I mention it. In my state, a kidney donor is also given a $10,000 tax credit for any expenses incurred that may not be fully covered elsewhere. I won’t be using that tax credit because my expenses were minimal, but it could be helpful for others to know.

My surgeon gave me these photos of fist-sized Justine before I left the hospital. He texted them to the waiting surgeon in Madison, apparently so that doctor could see the arteries and get an idea of their dimensions and accessibility. Kidneys are encased in fat, and not all of it is excised during the surgery.

The second photo shows them being isolated by the surgical scissors/hemostat:

Oh, Justine. Please settle in quickly and make yourself at home in your new person! Please work hard and give him/her many healthy years to come, will you? Will you make some good Vitamin D and strengthen their bones? Will you keep their blood pressure healthy? Will you please filter out toxins and keep the urine flowing? Please don’t give them any trouble, and be a blessing to them and to their family, Justine? Will you live up to your name and give him or her a fair shot at life now? Will you do right, just what God made you to do, and balance things and keep them upright? Will you ease their suffering and help them know some joy and energy? And Justine, if your new person doesn’t know how much God loves him/her yet, will you hang on until they do?

Indeed, I pray right now that my Heavenly Father, who formed that kidney in my mother’s womb and made His claim on my life known when I was three years old, would do the same in my recipient’s life. That kidney has had my name on it as well as my recipient’s in Wisconsin. May Justine live and serve in two bodies who know their Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Lloyd and I were glad to learn that our Airbnb had Netflix, so we settled in each evening with a delicious homemade salad, and we watched the latest British detective series we’ve discovered. I can’t recommend it because it’s too dark, so we fast-forwarded through many scenes. It was compelling enough that we wanted to learn how the mystery was solved, but I’m not sure we’d watch again.

We started a new book together too, Dream Big by Bob Goff. Lloyd and I like to read out loud to each other, taking turns. We stop every once in a while and discuss what we read, and this is one of my favorite things about our relationship.

The humidity in Rochester was so oppressive we didn’t go outside much. I would have liked to take a little stroll now and then, but the temperature was high and the dewpoint was in the low 70s, and felt like a sauna. The central air of our house was a godsend.

In recent weeks I have thought a lot about the health insurance we have and the country we live in (however unrecognizable) and the housing around our heads and the medical care and the love and support from family and friends, the clean water and the abundant food. I don’t know why others don’t have this, and I have felt pretty useless and ineffective when I write my measly checks to ease some of this for others on occasion. I don’t know why I was born with access to so much that others, very beloved by God, don’t have. I do know that He is very present and close to all, and we don’t know His whole story yet. We don’t see what awaits us yet, and what those who’ve done without will have when their lives here end. We see through a glass darkly.

I read this quote by Beth Moore recently and thought it was worth sharing:

Prosperity according to the gospel is the full recognition and embrace of our complete reliance upon Jesus Christ. Abundant life is the effervescent abundance of His Spirit in our lives. The Sermon on the Mount in a nutshell: Blessed are you if you need Me for you shall have Me.

Yes, Lord.

Wednesday’s Word — Edition 143

August 12, 2020 | My Jottings

My heart’s desire….

“There is not in the world a kind of life more sweet and delightful, than that of a continual conversation with God; those only can comprehend it who practice and experience it.”

~~Brother Lawrence

“So long, Farewell, auf Wiedersehen, Good night!” — My Kidney Donation, Part 4

August 10, 2020 | My Jottings

Wednesday, August 5th, 2020

I was up at 4:00 a.m. to shower for the second time with Hibiclens, and to make sure my overnight bag had everything in it. Flannel plaid nightgown, flannel plaid robe, washable slippers, underwear, toothbrush, socks, a couple of somethings to read. I left my four rings at home, and Lloyd had to help me get one of them off since my hands are getting arthritic and one of them only slid off with cold water, slippery soap, Lloyd’s back and forth coaxing, and me squinching my eyes and gritting my teeth. On my left hand I wear my wedding ring (Lloyd, 2019) and my mother’s wedding ring from 1940. On my right hand I wear my wedding ring (Michael, 1981) and my maternal grandmother’s wedding ring from 1919. They’re all plain gold bands of different widths.

Lloyd and I drove the ten minutes from our Airbnb house on Arctic Fox Drive, which my friend Ginny now calls The Foxy House, to the Charlton Building at the Mayo Clinic, where he dropped me off in the dark and I went in to be admitted. He was not allowed to wait with me, so I encouraged him to go home so he could rest, pace, do whatever he needed to there, rather than be cooped up in a one-room family waiting room for hours. The hospital texted him updates regularly.

I arrived at 5:35 a.m. and my surgery, the first of the day (and the only nephrectomy that day) was scheduled for 8:00 a.m. You leave your dignity and privacy at the door when you sign up for this. They did all the things they normally do for a surgery patient — made me undress and put on an awkward three-armed paper gown that took me two tries to get right, a turquoise hair covering which I put on with my bangs out, because some cuteness had to be allowed, non-slip socks, a wristband with my info on it, and I sat in a recliner in a small room and answered questions from a very kind nurse named Steve. He was envious that I was from beautiful Duluth and said he liked to hike and ride there as much as possible. We talked about ebikes and he asked questions about mine. I tried not to let my eyes well up with tears when I had to stand up in front of Steve and let him stick a large triangular padded bandage sort of thing above my bare butt and across my lower back so I wouldn’t get bedsores during my hospital stay. Oh yah, I am so nonchalant about random men being eye to eye with my behind… “Noh beeg deel” as they say here in Minnesota in their most exaggerated Minnesota accents. Are you not familiar with a Minnesota accent? It’s real. I’ve been told I have one now that I’ve lived here for almost forty years. Click here to see a short clip of what a lot of us hear almost every day.

Another nurse came to transport me on a gurney to the pre-surgical area. They covered me with warm blankets and got me settled in with Katie, my new nurse. By this time I was feeling a little anxiety and noticed my breathing was a little shallower, so I tried to remember to take deep, calming breaths as I answered for the hundredth time my name, birthdate, why I was there, who my emergency contacts were, if I was allergic to anything.

Soon Dr. Dilger, my anesthesiologist came in, and he was older and kind. He suggested I have a spinal anesthetic as well as a general, because with a spinal I have some pain relief after the surgery, and they give me less general anesthesia, which is a good thing. A “surgical fellow” came in and put my surgeon’s initials – MP – on the left side of my belly with a black Sharpie. He asked if I had any questions and since I’d taken a pill a few minutes earlier for pre-surgery sedation, I couldn’t think of any more things to inquire about.

It wasn’t very long before another nurse told me she was taking me to the Operating Room, and as she wheeled me down a corridor to some elevators, up to another floor, then down another long, sterile corridor, I could see what looked like the multiple doors, one right after the other, to very futuristic space ships on my left, and she turned me feet-first into the door to OR80.

I had a knee replacement in 2012 and I remember the overhead lights and the general look and feel of an OR, but this one was more intense seeming. I would give lots of reasons except by this time I was slightly sedated and could hear a rapid beepbeepbeep and I asked, “Is that my heart rate?” to which a young man in scrubs replied, “Yes it is, we’re going to give you something for anxiety,” and I realized my body was going into an ohmygoshI’mgoingtodonatemyleftkidney reaction that was beyond my control. So maybe it was the adrenaline and/or cortisol that made me think the ORs at The Mayo Clinic looked more ORish than I’d expected, more hardcore, but that is the best I can do right now, my friends.

I was moved sideways from the gurney onto a stainless steel operating table that was so narrow I thought, “I’m definitely going to fall off of this while they’re taking out my kidney,” but in hindsight I’m pretty sure I didn’t, because yesterday I Googled “nephrectomy surgical positions” and was so very, very sorry I did. My old and multiparous body was strapped down like that and laid out like that?  The words Oh.My.Gosh. just don’t cut it.

I do not remember one thing about the two-three hours I was in the recovery room. I know I was given Propofol before my general anesthesia, and that drug causes a lack of memory for any events before and right after it’s administered. It has worked well — those hours aren’t just fuzzy in my mind — they are blank. The surgery took an hour and forty-five minutes.

I was wheeled into my hospital room in the Transplant Center around 12:45 p.m., and Lloyd was there. Sharon came later after Chris was admitted, and she took this picture of us both. I like the photo filter she used, as it makes Old Lady Skin look more like Middle Aged Lady Skin.

Chris’s donor in Colorado probably went into surgery early in the morning, and after his nephrectomy, his kidney was cooled, put on ice, and flown from Colorado to Minneapolis. Then a courier picked it up at the main terminal and drove it an hour south to Mayo in Rochester, and Chris’s transplant team started getting him ready for his surgery in the late afternoon.

Today a kidney is transplanted into the lower abdomen, and the remaining two diseased kidneys are left in the body. Years ago they cut into the lower back, and it was a much more dangerous surgery and harder to recover from. Here’s a graphic and you can see where the new kidney has been put in, just in front of the hip bone.

I was so thankful to have my surgery behind me, and kept praying for Chris’s amazing, healthy donor in Colorado, and my recipient in Madison, Wisconsin.

I wasn’t hungry at all, had complete feeling in my right foot and leg, and only a tingly sensation in my left foot and leg, as I waited for my spinal to wear off. It was good to visit with Lloyd and Sharon, and text with people faraway I love.

I could understand why I had the special pad on my lower back now, because I couldn’t have turned on my side had I wanted to. My belly was alarmingly swollen, but I guess they poke three holes for various laparoscopic instruments, and a 4-5 inch vertical incision was made just below my navel where the surgeon reached in to bring out Justine, and they fill you up with gas while they operate, to give them room to look around and work in. Even though they try to suck the gas out before they close you up, apparently some stays in. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. My belly? It’s just gas.

I’ll share more about how Chris and I are doing in the next few days’ installments, but this is the first picture I received of him after his new kidney had been transplanted. He looked younger than ever, and was resting peacefully.

The journey for a transplant patient is much longer and more grueling than for someone like me who just donated a kidney.

There are weeks of testing and anti-rejection drug tweaking, and feeling wonderful and terrible and being totally at other peoples’ mercy just to get through a day.

My nurses on the 10th floor of Rochester Methodist Hospital were fantastic — so knowledgeable, attentive and compassionate. My favorites were Katie and Emily.

The first time I got up to walk on Wednesday evening, I sat on the side of the bed while my nurse Thomas went to retrieve the walking podium patients use to take their first spins around the hospital floor. As a firmly cherished rule of life, I do not throw up or get nauseous much, so was dismayed and shocked to feel a hot wave of sickness sweep over me, and someone grabbed something just in time for me to be sick for about three minutes. Gahhh. Literally. Thomas told me it happens to every single nephrectomy patient. I wonder why that is. It made me feel weak and shaky, but grateful when the nausea passed and I could go back to bed.

And while a Foley catheter is not usually anyone’s idea of a good time, I give it five stars for enabling a person to have a good night’s sleep, with no urge to pee or having to make hunched-over post-surgery trips to the bathroom, and I didn’t mind being catheterized one bit.

Apparently COVID means no flowers or even fruit bouquets, so my dear friend Su had this sent to me that first day. A candy bouquet! I shared some of it with the nurses and thought it was unique and fun. Thank you Su!

I’ll share more about the following days in the hospital very soon. I’ll tell you what little I know about Justine, settling into her new human in Madison. And I’ll tell how I’m caring for Verna (my remaining right kidney) and coaxing her along to start upping her game for me now that Justine has left the building. Forever.

So really, I should not have included auf Wiedersehen in my blog title as I did above (from a song in The Sound of Music), because in German it means “until we see each other again.” I will never see Justine again. I do have a picture of her, which I will share with everyone here when I feel you’ve all steeled yourself adequately.

Okay, Verna is telling me to end this post and rest awhile for now.

Until next time,

Full speed ahead or slam on the brakes? — My Kidney Donation, Part 3

August 8, 2020 | My Jottings

Tuesday, August 4th, 2020

Tuesday was slated to be a full day of tests for me — chest X-ray, EKG, more bloodwork, and meetings with lots of Mayo people. I met with my transplant coordinator Kay, who will follow me (her words) for the rest of my life, checking in, arranging appointments to monitor my health and kidney function over the coming years. I met with a social worker, probably checking to make sure they still think I’m stable enough to donate an organ. I signed a release giving my email address to my recipient in Madison, and whether or not he/she decides to write to me is yet to be seen. I would love to know more about the person who receives my kidney.

The most noteworthy appointment was with a transplant nephrologist (not the surgeon), who decided at the eleventh hour that I needed a chest CT scan and a mammogram, even though I had both of those tests a little over a year ago.

I won’t go into thousands of words of details because it would be boring to most, so I’ll just go into hundreds of words of details. In the early 2000s I was diagnosed with an autoimmune-system disease called Sarcoidosis. Weird and icky symptoms took a year of doctoring before someone finally said this is what I had. When I came down to Mayo to be screened for kidney donation last year, this same transplant nephrologist saw the residue in my lung x-rays of what my doctors in Duluth had always said was Sarcoidosis, and he had a different idea. He ran additional tests that revealed a surprise — antibodies in my blood showing I’ve had Coccidioidomycosis, a fungal infection that can be quite deadly, also known as Valley Fever. It’s contracted by breathing in fungal spores from disturbed soil (as in what would be found at building sites) under windy conditions, specifically in the Southwestern part of the United States. And the symptoms are almost identical to Sarcoidosis, which I now know I never had.

Years ago my family doctor in Minnesota never thought of Valley Fever because he didn’t know I was born and raised in Southern California, and that I’ve gone back to visit numerous times. So sometime around 2000-2002, I went to visit friends and family in SoCal, inhaled some spores in the wind, and returned home and was truly ill for six months, some days so bad I didn’t get out of bed except to go potty.

Thankfully I recovered, but the reason it’s relevant now is that the transplant team wanted to make sure what they saw in my chest x-rays is the old, calcified residue of fungal infection in my lymph nodes, not something active that would affect my recipient, who would then have to take an anti-fungal med for a year. I sat for over thirty minutes in the nephrologist’s office while he made two long phone calls with infectious disease specialists, giving them my info, and it sounded by Tuesday afternoon that whether or not I’d be allowed to donate was questionable. I couldn’t help but wonder why this uncertainty was saved until the day before a scheduled transplant and donation, with entire families uprooted and settled into their rentals, barrages of tests behind them, a donor and recipient ready for surgery in Colorado and Wisconsin as well. I was told not to worry too much, that the chances Chris’s transplant would be scrapped were slim, but that my chest CT scan would be read by a specialist that night and I would be called around 9:00 p.m. with results and final decisions.

I texted a few close friends and asked them to pray, because the thought of my son-in-law Chris being told things weren’t working out broke my heart. I’m so thankful for friends who pray and care. I have to admit, I sort of panicked inside instead of immediately praying and placing my trust in the Lord. I would like to get to the place where when something dire happens I go to the Lord in confidence right away, but I am not a very mature believer at times. I’m still learning.

I was finally called that night and informed that my CT scan looked unchanged from last year’s, indicating that I probably don’t have an active Coccidioidomycosis infection, and I should arrive at the hospital at 5:30 for admission on Wednesday morning as planned. I was so relieved.

I showered with a special pre-surgical scrub called Hibiclens Tuesday night and went to bed early, setting my alarm for 4:00 a.m. I was to take a second shower on Wednesday morning, scrubbing with Hibiclens again.

I realize how monotonous these accounts are, so feel free to yawn and click away.

I’ll share about the day of the surgery next time. Thank you for reading, and especially for your prayers!

Tests and more tests – My Kidney Donation, Part 2

August 4, 2020 | My Jottings

Monday, August 3, 2020

Monday we were up early so we could get ready in a leisurely manner for all my appointments at the Mayo Clinic. Lloyd likes a hot cup of black coffee in the morning, and his favorites are Caribou Daybreak, and Gevalia House Blend. It was Gevalia for him, and I like Stok Cold Brew coffee every morning. It’s so smooth and doesn’t taste burnt and bitter. I drink it cold with organic half and half.

After we got dressed we drove the ten minutes to the Mayo Campus, which is quite impressive. So many tall buildings with peoples’ names on them — the Gonda Building, the Mayo Building, the Charlton and the Eisenberg Buildings, and more.  And the main ones  all connect underground. There are two hospitals here and numerous clinics and schools, and the best and the brightest minds come to practice medicine here. World leaders and U.S. presidents have been treated at Mayo for decades, my dear Michael had a shoulder replacement surgery here, Lloyd had a cardiac ablation here, because if you can get the care you need at Mayo, you do it. So I think my son-in-law Chris feels pretty good about the team that’s going to open him up and put a younger man’s kidney in him Wednesday afternoon. And I feel the same — if I have to have my body cut open and a vital organ removed, it might as well be here.

Mayo is a well-oiled machine, but in their efficiency and brilliance they haven’t lost their hearts — the staff are so kind and respectful and helpful. You feel like you are really being served here.

Everyone is screened at the door, temperature taken, questions about COVID symptoms and exposure asked, then given a sticker to wear to show you’ve been allowed in. No mask, no entry, also. We’re talking lots and lots of people at Mayo, huge lobbies in huge buildings, floor after floor of specialized departments.

Chris and I both had to have the dreaded COVID-19 test first thing on Monday. I was escorted into a small room where I sat and tilted my head back, and the fully gowned, masked, visored nurse told me the test would be uncomfortable, might “tickle the back of my throat,” and would only last five seconds. I didn’t have to sit on my hands like some do. The super long filament swab she inserted into my nostril, up into my sinuses and all the way to the back of my throat was thin, flexible and it curved easily as she swished it around to gather any potential microbes. I have given birth to three children without a drop of pain medication so I know I can tolerate some discomfort. It was bearable, but I did hear a groan rising in my throat as she seemingly swabbed my cerebellum while she was at it. I was so happy when it was over.

Next was a blood draw by a phlebotomist who filled eight tubes with my maroon colored blood. I left a urine sample, and then had an appointment with Dr. Mikel Prieto, the surgeon who will be removing Justine (my left kidney), placing her in a specialized cooling wrap to drop her temperature for transport, putting her on ice, and sending her on her way to Madison, Wisconsin. He explained that he has done over 1000 donor nephrectomies, and that in fifty-five years Mayo has never lost a donor.

When I told him I was still a little surprised that out of all the people who came forward to be screened as a kidney donor for Chris, I, an overweight 62 year-old woman rose to the top of the list over younger and more chipper and fit people. He said the screening process is so rigorous at Mayo, no one is allowed to give a kidney unless they have really good ones. That made me feel kind of nice, since there isn’t much on my body that would fall under the “really good” category. I don’t have “really good” knees, or “really good” eyes, or ears or hair or what have you. I guess I could say my teeth are fairly decent. But the rest of me wouldn’t make an objective bystander look my way and suddenly say to themselves, “If I ever experience severe kidney failure, I want that woman’s kidney.”

One by one, my test results at Mayo appeared in my online Patient Portal — almost before I could walk out of the buildings and get to the car. If you’ve ever had to wait a few days to get a test result, hoping your doctor’s office would call, try the Mayo Clinic. You’ll know your creatinine levels and HDL and LDLs and enzymes count within just a few minutes.  I had so many blood tests and urine tests I’ve never even heard of before.

After Monday’s tests were completed for me, Lloyd and I grocery shopped at a place I’d heard of but never been — HyVee. It was a very nice store, and we bought salad fixings, chicken breasts, oats and pecans so I can make Muesli, Rainier cherries, which are better than Bing in my opinion, and our favorite ice cream, Haagen-Dazs Peanut Butter and Chocolate. Lloyd had never eaten that ice cream before meeting me, and now he’s hooked. We buy a little pint once a month or so, sit together on the couch, and he eats the ice cream and gives me bites of the peanut butter chunks (my favorite part) when he digs them out. We drove home, put our groceries away, and enjoyed some down time working on a stupid, idiotic, ugly, ridiculous jigsaw puzzle for a while.

On Monday evening, Lloyd and I met Chris, Sharon and their children at Soldiers Field Memorial Park in Rochester, for some delicious Thai takeout food. We sat at picnic tables in perfect summer evening weather and had things like Pad Thai and Chicken Green Curry with Vegetables and Potstickers and Shrimp Fried Thai Rice. It was so nice to share laughter and to know that in a few days, Chris would have a new, healthy kidney. He has been on the brink of complete kidney failure for so long, we have prayed and friends have prayed for so long, it felt so wonderful to think about the wait and the wondering was over.

Lloyd and I waved goodbye to everyone, no hugs exchanged which makes me sad, and returned to our Airbnb. We watched some Netflix British Crack, then went to bed tired, knowing that my next day of appointments began early. We would have to be at Mayo by 7:20 a.m.

Chris’s and my COVID test results showed up on our Patient Portals in the afternoon — both of us are negative, thanks be to God. We can proceed, and when each door opens, we step through.

More soon,

Verna and Justine – My Kidney Donation, Part 1

August 3, 2020 | My Jottings

I thought I would try to keep a journal of my journey toward donor nephrectomy (kidney donation) for a few reasons. First, maybe someone else might be getting ready to donate a kidney someday, and would possibly Google it and find a friendly place here where they could learn what they might expect. Second, I want to document for myself the ways God worked in my life and in the lives of those I love, because there may come a time when details fade and I’ll want to look back and feel in awe again. Thirdly, this is a way I can keep interested friends and family informed about what happens each day, rather than sending long and interruptive texts to a goodly number of people. Thank you for reading…

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Lloyd and I woke up early and were both so glad to see the hot, humid air that had blanketed our area for weeks had blown out. The central air has been on non-stop for longer than I ever remember. Lloyd opened the bedroom window to test the morning air, and the cooler, drier air rolled in. I ran around the house opening windows everywhere, and the fresh air was delicious. So delicious, in fact, we decided to take our time getting packed up for our trip to The Mayo Clinic, and go for a long bike ride instead.

Lloyd had ridden my new Rad Power e-bike enough times to like it a lot. He ordered his own, and we have had such a fun time going on Old People Bike Rides along the Lakewalk, down by the Aerial Bridge, and sometimes toward Brighton Beach right on Lake Superior.

We got dressed and headed out before breakfast. As we rode along the lakeshore, the waves whipped up by the wind sounded exactly like the ocean. The birds were singing in the overhanging trees and I kept calling out to Lloyd who was riding ahead of me, “Isn’t this beautiful? Doesn’t this air feel heavenly?” I don’t think he heard me, but I know he was thinking the same things.

It sprinkled the tiniest bit just as we rounded the climbing curve near home (which means, miraculously, that we don’t have any trouble pedaling up a steep hill anymore because we have e-bikes now!), and after we stored our bikes we thought Muesli for breakfast sounded good. Have you ever had Muesli? I make it at least once a week and it’s so good. Plain, tart yogurt, dry rolled oats, shredded coconut, a little honey, raw pecans, cinnamon… Lloyd likes his heated, with raisins and a drizzle of maple syrup. I like mine cold.

Lloyd and I take turns asking the blessing before our meals. I’m a wordy Protestant, he’s a concise Catholic, so we’ve both learned to appreciate and enter in to the other’s way of praying. If it’s my turn to pray, I usually just begin to tell the Lord what I’m thankful for that day — so much! A good night’s sleep, another day of breath, a break in the weather, beloved children and grandchildren, mercy and forgiveness, and His provision of the good food in front of us. Then we always say the beautiful prayer Lloyd grew up with:

Bless us, Oh Lord,
and these thy gifts
which we are about to receive
from thy bounty,
through Christ, Our Lord.

And after I memorized that prayer I thought, yes! These oats, these pecans, they are gifts. From His bounty. Through Jesus, our Savior. Think of that. Prayers I used to think were rather rote have become rich and meaningful to me these past couple of years.

It was Lloyd’s turn to pray, and he also had some things to thank God for, but I was particularly touched when he said, “Thank you for another day, Lord, and thank you for our marriage.” At this late stage of our lives (Lloyd is in his seventies and I am in my sixties, both of us are widowed after many years of marriage), it means something to me that my husband considers our relationship a gift to thank God for.

We filled the back of my Subaru Outback with our suitcases, overnight bag for the hospital, laundry basket full of things like books, laptop, Bose mini speaker, hair dryer, sanitizing wipes and house slippers, and a cooler full of favorite things and enough to get us by until we could grocery shop in Rochester.

Our four hour drive south was blessedly uneventful. We listened to quiet classical music on MPR and stopped at a Kwik Trip in Hinckley to go potty and stretch our legs. We also stopped at Union Cemetery in St. Paul to place flowers in the vase on the columbarium niche where Lloyd’s wife’s ashes are. Neither of us can believe it’s been almost six years since RoseMarie and Michael died.

We were happy to find that our place in a residential Rochester neighborhood is clean and spacious and has everything we’ll need for the next several days.

We are staying in a modern split level home we rented through Airbnb, and it’s cheaper than most hotel rooms, yet we get a kitchen, laundry facilities, a deck to have our coffee on, a connected garage, and two bathrooms. And a comfy bed. And puzzles.

After we punched in the code on the door, carried all our stuff in and unpacked, we enjoyed a couple of episodes from the latest British detective series on Netflix. We ordered burgers and sweet potato fries from a place our Airbnb owner recommended, and had a quiet dinner together.

We went to bed fairly early since I was scheduled for several medical appointments at Mayo Monday morning.

So why is this post called Verna and Justine? Because I decided to name my kidneys ever since I’ve learned so much about them, how much they’ve done for me for over sixty years, how well they’ve served me. They are highly specialized in what they do (they remove wastes and extra fluid, help control blood pressure, make red blood cells, help keep bones healthy because they make a form of Vitamin D, filter 200 quarts of blood per day to make one to two quarts of urine, and more). I’m going to call my right kidney Verna (she’s staying) and my left kidney Justine (she’s leaving on Wednesday). There’s a reason for each name, and whoever can figure out why I picked each one, wins a big prize.

It was so lovely to sleep with windows open, a chill breeze billowing the curtains out in the bedroom. I woke in the middle of the night feeling cold, but I pulled the covers close up over my neck and chin, and refused to get up to close the window. It was a welcome discomfort after all the tropical heat we’ve had in Minnesota this summer.

A kidney donation could be something that brings some understandable anxiousness, but so far I’ve felt peace. The thought of my son-in-law receiving a new kidney from a caring, younger, healthy, tall man in Colorado this week is what I honestly care about most. We don’t know anything else about him, but I ask the Lord to bless that man in the Rockies, and to bless my son-in-law Chris as he prepares for all that’s ahead. I ask our heavenly Father to bless my daughter Sharon as well, and their four children, because the whole family goes through a transplant, really. I ask God to bring them joy and health and hope and love and faith and patience and laughter and I could go on and on and on as most of you already know….

Justine’s farewell journey has begun. Verna’s hardest job ever is just around the corner.

More tomorrow,

For Kin and Kidney

July 29, 2020 | My Jottings

I love the ways of God. I love His mercy and throw myself upon it daily. I love His works, and thrill when I see the patterns in the bark on a tree or the glittering stars on a dark night or smell a new, perfect baby.

I love His Word, and have spent over twenty years attending Community Bible Study and holding summer studies in my home because I marvel that He actually wrote letters to us so we could know Him better, know what to do, how to wait, repent, rejoice, pray, hope, trust.

I love God’s brilliance, the way He thought up and created so many species we can’t count them all, and how new ones are still being discovered. The way He designed the human body, how intelligent it is, what a masterpiece DNA is, how precisely atomic particles spin, how brain cells build new pathways and splintered bones reach toward each other and heal and how tongues taste and fingers feel and hearts pump oxygen and nutrients to every cell three billion times in a lifetime.

I love how God is bigger and more powerful than the universe, yet sets His sights on a pale blue dot that hangs in that vast cosmic expanse and beams His love at every person who dwells upon it, every person that has ever lived and ever will.

I love how He is the fearsome source of all energy, yet He bowed low and became a humble human being, to come be with us on this pale blue dot, to show us how to live and what the character of God is like, what real love is. I love that the Bible says Jesus fills the whole universe, yet if I, broken and lazy and prideful, welcome Him, He’ll keep company with me in my house on my little street near Lake Superior in Northeastern Minnesota.

I love how trustworthy He is, and how He takes wreckage and sorrow and seemingly hopeless situations and (in His time) creates something breathtaking and beautiful out of them. I have seen Him do this in my own life.

I love how when we are truly wicked sinners, He reaches down into our sewage pits to pull us out, to cleanse us, dress us, and put us on His High Road, to show us how to repent and change and rejoice and happily obey and bear with other peoples’ nonsense and meanness, with His empowering, and how lavish His forgiveness is for us.

I love that He doesn’t sugar coat our sin like we do, and that He’s the only one who can show me I’ve been a murderer, an unfaithful woman in a thousand ways, a thief, a liar, a proud and arrogant hypocrite, and so barren of mercy for others, yet because He tells me these things, I am not destroyed. I am hopeful and grateful, because He reveals these things to me so I’ll learn of His deep fathomless sea of mercy, dive into it and splash around even, so I’ll experience His infinite universe of patience, His Fatherly heart that cannot do evil to His children.

I love how He will work with me for as long as it takes, not for five years or for 500 sins or for fifteen seasons of rebellion. I love how God reveals Himself to us, especially if we’re seeking hard, but I also am comforted by the fact that He is a great mystery, and just because we don’t understand what we perceive to be His slowness or His indifference or silence, in no way means He is those things. I’m thankful we can’t figure Him all out.

When I was conceived by my parents, their marriage was in trouble. I was a surprise, and a kindly neighbor named Ruby Greener told me that my mother had sobbed over the fence when she learned she was pregnant, saying she could bear it better if she only knew it would be a girl. After two sons who were then fifteen and ten, she wanted a little girl.

God doesn’t share all His secrets, and one of the ones He kept until recently is that while He was knitting me together in my beautiful mother’s womb and forming my inmost parts (see Psalm 139), one of the kidneys He was making for me wouldn’t stay in my body forever, but would eventually be taken out decades later and given to someone else. He knit my kidneys for me, and for someone else. Just the thought of that makes me want to put my face on the floor and weep. I don’t know that other person’s name or anything about them, except that they are sick and have been waiting, maybe even praying, for news of an available, healthy B kidney, and they live in or near Madison, Wisconsin. But that is a secret of love our Heavenly Father has kept close to His heart for over sixty years, or perhaps even since before He laid the foundations of the earth.

Another one of His mind-boggling ways is that God knew that when I was growing up in Covina, California and was a whiny little brat biting the arm of my friend Jackie because she wouldn’t let me play the cashier first with the old adding machine in my garage, was that there was a dark-haired little boy in Long Beach, about a half an hour away, who would become a man and love and marry the daughter I would grow up to have, would help give me four of my eleven beloved grandchildren, would be one of the best behind-the-scenes servant-hearted men I know, and would suddenly, desperately need a kidney someday.

Two weeks ago I was called by a transplant coordinator at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester (about four hours south of us), asking if I was still willing to be part of their Paired Donation Program, because a kidney had finally, finally, become available for my son-in-law Chris. A much younger, super healthy kidney from a live donor. I said yes, and was flooded with peace and joy.

Chris needs a kidney from someone with the blood type O, and since I’m a B, I can’t give directly to him. So Mayo has several transplant coordinators that work this all out, from all over the country, and a recipient has also been found for me. Four of us will be in surgery on the same day.

Chris and I will be tested for COVID-19 on a Monday, at the Mayo Clinic. The results come in the next day, and if we are both negative, we will have many preoperative tests on Tuesday. I will undergo a donor nephrectomy early on a Wednesday next month, and my left kidney will be surgically removed, put on ice and flown to Madison, where my recipient will be waiting for a chance at a better life. Chris’s O donor, wherever he or she is, will have a kidney removed early on that same day, and that kidney will be flown to Mayo, and Chris will receive a transplant on Wednesday afternoon. He and I will be in the same hospital in the Mayo system — Rochester Methodist.

Barring any complications, I will be in the hospital for 2-3 nights, and then will be recuperating in an Airbnb I rented, and Lloyd will be with me. Other family members will be holding down the fort here at home. I have to stay in Rochester for 3-4 days, going in for daily testing to make sure my remaining right kidney is doing her job. Another of God’s marvelous ways is that the kidney I have left will enlarge and strengthen as time goes by. He planned for that when He was forming it in my mother’s womb.

Chris and Sharon and their family have also rented an Airbnb home because they need to be near Mayo for 4-6 weeks, as Chris will go in for daily checks to make sure the immuno-suppressant drugs he’ll take forever are tweaked to the perfect dosages, so his body doesn’t reject his new kidney. I will come home with my granddaughter Margaret by my side, who will be my assistant and helper for the couple of weeks of my recovery.

Here is a picture of Chris and Sharon, taken at Lloyd’s and my wedding last October:

And their whole family, L-R: Eleanor, Chris, Sharon, Louisa, Margaret, Cullen.

Will you join us in prayer for all the details of our surgeries coming up? Thank you, dear friends.

I will be updating things here as I can. I am surrounded by God’s peace, and want that for those I love as well.

For kin and kidney,

Biking, big birds, Bible study and broken things

July 8, 2020 | My Jottings

My city in northeastern Minnesota used to be known as The Air-Conditioned City because of the powerful cooling effect frigid Lake Superior has on the land and air around it. When I moved here from SoCal in 1981, the average summer temperature was 74º, but that can’t possibly be true anymore. The last few summers have been hot and humid, and this summer seems to take the cake for me. Being a humidiphobe means I look at what the dewpoint and temperature is supposed to be each day and into the coming week, and if the numbers are high, the dread creeps in. I become a hermit and don’t like to leave my house, which has air conditioning, which makes me functional. I’m very grateful for central air.

I have some friends who own ebikes, one for each member of their family, and they invited me to try one out. I did, and then spent about six weeks considering whether or not I should make a substantial purchase like that. I finally bought one online, and have been riding it in the mornings and evenings on the Lakewalk. It looks almost like a regular bicycle, but has a chargeable electric battery that provides “pedal assist” to help old people or unfit people or plump people or people with knee replacements (in other words, me) ride wherever they want without limitations. Duluth is a hilly city, and I would normally not try to ride up our steep streets heading away from the Lake, but now when I reach an incline that’s beyond my ability to pedal on my own, I turn the silent little throttle on my right handlebar and it gives me a smooth boost that gets me where I want to go. I can go over 50 miles on one charge, although I have yet to ride that far.

Here’s what my bike looks like:

See the battery under the seat? It’s a powerful thing. If you’d like to know more about the company, it’s highly rated, has great customer service and their bikes aren’t the most expensive on the market…click here.

Sometimes I ride east on the Lakewalk, and a few miles from my house Lloyd spotted a bald eagles’ nest in a tall tree skirting some woods. I wish the picture I took was better than this, but I’ll share it anyway, because it’s awesome to see even if it’s blurry. I circled the triangular nest. If you look to the left of the nest on a bare tree, you can see one of the bald eagle parents perched. Lloyd and I have gotten as close as possible and taken binoculars, and the branches the birds used are almost as big around as my wrist.

We’ve seen the baby eagles sitting on the side of the nest, flapping their wings as they prepare to fledge. It takes my breath away.

One morning when Lloyd and I walked as close as we could get to the nest, I took this picture with my iPhone:

He watched us as we passed beneath, turning his head and following us with his piercing gaze. Eagles can see fish in the water from hundreds of feet in the air, so I’m sure he caught an eyeful of us. Maybe he could see the red blotches on my skin and the whiskers in Lloyd’s beard. Sharon has seen these eagles on her morning walks, and when it’s early enough, one of the parents flies out over the Lake, probably looking for a hefty salmon to bring back for his family’s breakfast.

If you’ve been a blog friend for long you know that each summer I host a Bible study in my home. We’ve done studies by Beth Moore, Priscilla Shirer, Margaret Feinberg, Mary Kassian, Lisa Harper, Corrie ten Boom. This year we are studying The Sermon on the Mount by Jen Wilkin and it’s beautiful and challenging. I crave the words of Jesus during this time when loud voices and violence have added to the division in our country. A group of us has been meeting for 15-16 years now, and this year we could not gather in the same way we always have. I’m so glad each woman said yes when I suggested meeting by Zoom. Every Tuesday morning we gather in a Zoom meeting room online, and thirteen of us get to see each others’ faces as we discuss what we’ve studied during the week. Then, instead of watching a video in my living room, I email the week’s video to everyone and we watch it at home.

Here’s a photo of my beloved Bible study friends on my computer:

I am so blessed this year to be able to do this study with the childhood friend I’ve known the longest — Tauni. Tauni and I grew up in West Covina, California, just over the fence from each other. She still lives in SoCal (San Diego), but because of Zoom, she could take part. She has fit right in, and has been such a blessing to our group. From left to right, top row: Fiona, me, Sue D., Connie. Second row: Sue R., Tauni, Laurel, Dawn. Third row: Lana, Kay, Sharla, Kristi, and Deb is there underneath. I learn so much from these lovely women.

About two weeks ago my dishwasher stopped working. After talking with a repairman, I decided to buy a new one since mine is old enough that I didn’t want to plunk a few hundred dollars into it. I decided on my first Bosch (with a third rack – yay!) but apparently they are back ordered so we’ve been doing dishes by hand, which is what I did for years and don’t mind at all. Except that I tend to do it only when the sink gets full, so I’m slouchy about it. A few days later my washing machine stopped working, just like that. After talking with the repairman I decided not to replace the computer components of it, since it too is older and has been used almost daily for eight years. So I bought a new washing machine, my first LG. Lloyd and I humped it up many stairs into the house and he set it up for me. That was a relief. Then, my iMac desktop decided one afternoon to give me the Black Screen of Death, after having been fine for seven years. The AppleCare tech on the phone led me through a series of things to try, but the hard drive seemed to have disappeared — not a good sign when one has reams of important foster care paperwork stored on that hard drive. The nearest Apple store is three hours away, so I drove to Minnetonka to have it repaired, and the hard drive was shot. What?!?! I did have an external hard drive that had successfully backed up on June 26th, so when I got home WITH MY NEW COMPUTER I was able to migrate all my documents over. Except, my old Microsoft version wasn’t compatible with my new computer, so I had to go online and buy the latest Microsoft suite so I can read and access all my Word docs. Yes. And then my printer decided to not work anymore at all, and I had to order a new one. Mine was a good workhorse and I got my money’s worth out of it, but still. And then my iPhone began to die just a few days ago. It’s old, so it’s not a terrible surprise, but the timing of all of this was a little daunting. Almost laughable. I realize these are all first-world problems and I’m not complaining, just sharing.  🙂

Lloyd and I finished watching the series Endeavour and are now into Shetland. It makes me want to drop everything and head to the Shetland Islands, or at least to the north of the Scottish mainland. I’ll bet it’s not 92º and steamy as a sauna in Scotland. I’ll bet my dishwasher, washing machine, computer, printer and phone wouldn’t have broken if I were in Scotland.

I hope you’re doing whatever it takes to keep yourself and your family healthy these days. And I pray that Jesus will be your joy and comfort and help.

Wednesday’s Word — Edition 142

June 17, 2020 | My Jottings

C.S. Lewis on Joy…

In speaking of this desire for our own far-off country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you—the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence: the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves: the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both. We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name.

Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that had settled the matter. Wordsworth’s expedient was to identify it with certain moments in his own past. But all this is a cheat. If Wordsworth had gone back to those moments in the past, he would not have found the thing itself, but only the reminder of it; what he remembered would turn out to be itself a remembering. The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.

Apparently, then, our lifelong nostalgia, our longing to be re-united with something in the universe from which we now feel cut off, to be on the inside of some door which we have always seen from the outside, is no mere neurotic fancy, but the truest index of our real situation.

And to be at last summoned inside would be both glory and honour beyond all our merits and also the healing of that old ache…

The whole man is to drink joy from the fountain of joy.

 ~ C. S. Lewis

*         *         *         *         *

Wildflowers in June

June 11, 2020 | My Jottings

A few mornings ago I was driving home from seeing the baby geese and ducks at the cemetery. It was perfect weather — a deep blue sky with a few billowy clouds, a low dewpoint, and the temperature was about 52 degrees. There was enough of a breeze to need a sweater. I noticed that some of Northern Minnesota’s wildflowers are blooming. As I saw the purple and pink lupine, yellow buttercups and orange hawkweed on the sides of the roads, a memory wafted into my mind and I was instantly transported and filled with a longing ache for Michael that brought tears to my eyes.

Our wedding anniversary was June 28th, and for as many years as I can remember, we tried to go away for a weekend together to celebrate. When my mom was still alive, she would have Sharon, Carolyn and Sara stay at her house so Michael and I could have our time alone, and the girls always loved being with Grandma Sooter. She catered to them like nobody else, and it was a joy to know they would have such a good time while Michael and I headed north.

We usually drove up the North Shore of Lake Superior on Friday afternoon, and stayed in a cabin either in Grand Marais or Lutsen, and a couple of times on the Gunflint Trail close to the Canadian border. We returned on Sunday afternoon, anxious to see the girls but happy to have celebrated another year of God’s faithfulness to us.

June is when the spikey lupine begins to bloom on roadsides and in sweeping meadows almost everywhere you look. The delicate buttercups and invasive but pretty hawkweed flowers always mingle with the lupine, so a drive up the already spectacular shore of Lake Superior is made more breathtaking by the acres of color, waving in the wind.

Seeing the June wildflowers blooming this week brought our anniversary trips back to me, and stirred something in me that is more than just missing Michael. Yes, the flowers helped me remember that he and I loved going down the Alpine Slide in Lutsen, racing each other and laughing, to see who could reach the bottom of the mountain first. How he and I sat in front of the huge fire in the lodge and read together, shoulders touching. How we hiked to the top of Carlton Peak, ate top sirloin steak at The Birch Terrace Supper Club in Grand Marais, canoed on Flour Lake while he fished and I read a book on Ireland, sat by the largest freshwater lake in the world and talked about the kids, the Lord, our future.

I loved him so much. And after five years, I still miss him. After remarrying eight months ago and feeling so grateful for Lloyd, my heart still catches when I think of Michael. Maybe it’s because we had so many years together. I can’t explain it, but I am not going to apologize for it either. For those who grieve a spouse and love someone new at the same time, I understand.

The lupines and the other wildflowers arrayed in their fine clothing called out to me as I drove this week, and even though I couldn’t hear their flower voices with my limited human ears, I caught the faint strain of their message deep inside me.

C.S. Lewis wrote of experiencing “the echo of a tune we have not heard, the scent of a flower we have not found, and receiving news from a country we have never yet visited.” The swaths of textured, living color were more than just reminders of times Michael and I had together. They seemed to bring me news of a country I have never yet visited, a land to which Michael has gone, a place (and a Person) I pine for every day.