Muskrat Love

August 28, 2020 | My Jottings

This is a repost from the archives… this happened years ago, but the memory of this evening still makes me giggle.

Earlier this week it rained and the temperatures dropped. The wind blew and a hint of winter was in the air. Michael had been outside and he came in to tell me that there was a critter in the front yard, over by the neighbor’s fence. I asked him what kind of animal it was and he said a muskrat. A muskrat? I thought. In our front yard? I don’t think I’ve ever seen a muskrat before and wouldn’t know one even from a photo.

I followed Michael outside into the cold drizzle and this is what he showed me:

Do you see the round furriness and the long, hairless tail? (You can click on the photos to enlarge them.) As we approached I thought it looked like a beaver, but once I saw the tail I knew it wasn’t. At this point we thought this little beast was just resting near the fence and we didn’t want to get near her because we figured she could viciously attack us at the speed of light and permanently disfigure our faces. So we backed off. She was calmly sniffing the air and sitting in the rain and I wondered where she had come from, and what she was. Michael left to run his errand and I went back inside to check online to see what I could learn. Sure enough, not a woodchuck (which was another thought we had), but a Minnesota Muskrat. They swim in lakes and ponds, and they dig and they make messes of people’s yards. They are also known to be carriers of rabies and leptospirosis.

Michael returned a little while later and came in to tell me she was still there. So back out we went into the rain, and it was then we saw her wriggling, and we could now tell she wasn’t resting near the fence, she was stuck in the fence. Apparently she had tried to squeeze herself through, gotten the front half of her thick-furred body through one of the square holes of the chain link fence, but couldn’t get the back half through. We bent over and talked to her and clapped our hands and said in high-pitched voices, “Come on, you can do it!” to give her a bit of friendly encouragement to try again, but she wasn’t having it. She began to look tired and she closed her eyes.

I did not like this one bit. A large rodent was painfully stuck in a fence bordering our yard, and if we didn’t do something, she would die there. In the cold and rain. And away from her family and the soothing warmth of her cheerily blazing hearth.

“She’s going to die here!” I said to Michael. “What can we do?”

Please forgive my husband for what he said next. He grew up in Minnesota where he has hunted and fished since he was a little boy. It’s the culture here.

Michael responded helpfully, “We could kill her.”

I cringed. “How?” I asked timidly.

“Hit her over the head.”

Oh, no, we don’t, I thought. Not on my watch. I’m not a fan of anything that ruins yards and spreads diseases, but seeing her stuck so tightly in that tiny square of wire made me feel strange twinges of compassion for this little animal, and we were not going to kill her. Moths? Smash ’em. Mosquitoes? Whack! Flies? Swat them dead! But Minnesota Muskrats? No killing.

What were we going to do with her, then? Well, if you are Michael and Julie, you spend thirty minutes in the rain, going back and forth with various unlikely implements, trying to help the poor muskrat get free.

First, I took a shiny yellow gardening boot that belongs to our daughter Sara. I grabbed it because I was looking for something to prod the muskrat’s rear end with, something not too sharp to cause more pain than she was already in. So I let myself in the neighbor’s back yard through their gate, and cautiously proceeded (in my slippers, in the rain) to the trapped muskrat. I inserted my hand into the boot and used the toe to gently prod and push her rump, to help her squeeze through the fence. She turned in a flash of fur and tried to bite me, but of course she couldn’t because she was stuck, and I was on one side of the fence and her little yellow beaver-like teeth were on the other. The other defensive thing she kept doing was swatting both her front paws quickly down on the ground in front of her. I kept gently prodding with the yellow boot, but I could feel that this little muskrat was really, really wedged in tight. And her hind quarters had begun to swell. Oh dear! I thought. What are we going to do?

Back into the garage. This time Michael found a large pronged garden hoe. He carefully placed the prongs under the upper part of the wire square she was stuck in, hoping to pull upward to bend it slightly enough to release her. This was a strong fence. He pulled, I pulled, she wriggled, to no avail.

“Do you have any thick gloves?” I asked Michael. He had begun to shiver a bit and our muskrat was looking feeble, closing her eyes. Back into the garage. We looked for gardening gloves and couldn’t find any. So I went into the house and found a pair of my winter leather gloves, and a large pair of Thinsulate mittens. I put them both on my hands and tromped back out into the rain. I went into the neighbor’s yard and bent down to push, but she was so swollen it didn’t work.

Next I came back into our yard and decided to gently pull her out. But that meant dealing with her little yellow teeth. So I crooned to her as I carefully placed the leg of the vinyl yellow gardening boot over her head to keep her from seeing me. She did not appreciate having a yellow gardening boot put on her face. Do you want to know how I knew this? Let’s just say I could tell. She did settle down and once she did, I grasped her front sides and tried to pull her out. I believe she moved forward an inch or two, but she made the most pitiful little muskrat whimpers and I stopped. I tried again, but couldn’t move her any further. She was truly stuck fast.

Michael and I were praying out loud now. “Lord, please help us get her out!” Michael hadn’t really wanted to kill her to be unkind — he was wanting to put her out of her misery. As we worked together to see what we could do for this helpless creature, he kept praying and we kept brainstorming.

“Do you have wire cutters?” I asked. He did. Back into the garage, and he came out and handed me this heavy, long-handled, mammoth tool that I knew I would be unable to use. I tried. I went back into the neighbor’s yard, and from behind I placed the wire cutters on one of the wires that made up the little square she was caught in. I exerted all my strength and could not snap that wire. I was starting to feel very sad. We kept praying.

I came back into our yard and was almost on the verge of tears. It was getting dark and we were expecting company for dinner. I had Chicken Parmesan to finish and Panzanella to toss. I thought I’d try the wire cutters one more time.

As the muskrat sat there looking exhausted, I bent down and placed the cutters on a wire right above her back. “Lord, give me strength!” I said as I squinched my eyes shut and brought those handles together with all my might, and snap! the wire was severed. Wow! Now we brought out the pronged garden hoe again, placed it under the newly cut wire and pulled upward, hoping to bend it enough to enlarge the hole a bit. No good.

I then took the wire cutters and placed them on the other connecting wire above the muskrat’s back. Once again, click! — that wonderful sound, and I had cut right through. Michael gently placed the prongs of the garden hoe under the area where these upper wires of the square had been cut, and pulled upwards, grunting with the effort. The hole was getting bigger! He pulled again — now it was a little larger. I went back to the neighbor’s yard, my slippers completely muddy by now, and used my double-gloved hands to push her rump through the hole.

It worked! She was free. Free to spread rabies, leptospirosis, to make tunneled messes of people’s yards, free to trundle back to Birdinal Creek at the back of our property and do whatever it is muskrats do.

She didn’t run at first. She sat still for a minute, breathing heavily, and we wondered if she had been permanently injured from her ordeal. But soon she started waddling away, toward our back yard and down toward the creek.

“Thank you Lord,” I said with relief, and as we put away our wire cutters, pronged garden hoe and Sara’s shiny yellow boot, we were both smiling and feeling so happy. The dinner got finished and we had an enjoyable evening of nice visiting with our old friends Bob and Linda.

I am a little worried that I’ll have to explain to the neighbor why his fence was cut, but I’ll deal with that when I must.

And to end this little adventure, I leave you with the song that came to mind as Michael and I were working hard to free this little muskrat from her fence trap. I remembered the words from The Captain and Tennille’s song as the rain was soaking us, and I said to myself if this story has a good ending, I’ll find the song online so I can share it on my blog.

Those of you born in the seventies or later may not remember this song, but I have vivid memories of it.

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I’ve been asking God to increase my capacity to love. I want to love Him above all, and I want to love people better than I do. I know He answers prayers like that.

And maybe while He’s at it, He’s giving me some muskrat love too. 🙂

A Year of Nots

August 25, 2020 | My Jottings

(From the archives…)

First grade at Workman Avenue Elementary School was a year of nots for me.

I did not have a really close friend yet, so I spent recess time wandering around deep in my thoughts, talking to myself a little bit.

I did not like most foods, so spent lunch time in the cafeteria hoping others would offer me their peanut butter balls that came in the tiny paper cups. When it was time to go outside for lunch recess, I always took the mashed potatoes and hamburger gravy, peas, and cherry cobbler that I did not eat, walked to the cafeteria garbage can and threw them away. I also did not eat the fish sticks, the pizza, or the spaghetti and meatballs.

It wasn’t a concern because I was not that hungry. Abba Zabbas and cottage cheese were usually waiting at home if I was.

In first grade my hair did not have bangs. My mother always took an uncompromising moral stand against bangs. She believed little girls’ foreheads should be seen and not covered. And the rest of them covered and not seen. 

Consequently, one small drawer in my room was not lacking in a wide variety of plastic headbands.

I did not think I’d better chop off my hair right before picture day, like I did when I was in Kindergarten, here.

At age six, I began to be aware that my parents did not have a solid marriage. I felt this deeply and probably spent a lot of time walking around at recess begging God to please not let them split up.

In Southern California in 1963, I was miserable and petulant if I was not allowed to swim as often as possible.

I was not close to my older brother Steve, who regarded me as a pest he did not want to have around.

I did not see my oldest brother Larry enough, as he was twenty-one when I was six and did not live with us anymore.

I did not miss very many afternoon episodes of Mighty Mouse.

One afternoon during story time on the rug, my teacher Mrs. Weber asked the class if they believed in the devil. I was a Sunday School goin’ girl so said yes, and when I described to her what I thought he might look like, Mrs. Weber laughed and mildly snickered at me. I was a little embarrassed and did not like that. (Mrs. Weber was in her fifties then, so I do not think she’s alive today. I would imagine that no matter what side of the spiritual fence she ever came down on, she is not snickering about that topic now.)

My mother had a friend named Mary Wyles who did not ever miss a Wednesday visit at my house with my mom. They did crafts together and talked over the matters of their hearts.

I had a little red bike with training wheels and did not like it when it was stolen from our garage less than a year after I’d received it for Christmas.

In first grade I had not yet eaten anything green except celery and iceberg lettuce, had not had a nibble of cheese, or a taste of an egg.

When I was in first grade, I did not realize how wonderful it was to have a back yard with two nectarine trees, one apricot tree, one peach tree, one plum tree, and a lemon tree with fruit the size of oranges.

I did not know that two chocolate donuts mushed up in a bowl of whole milk was not a healthy breakfast. And apparently my parents did not realize this either.

I did not realize then how I could have been the poster child for Gummy Bears, but hindsight is everything. (Click on the photo for further confirmation.)

I did not know that twice-yearly trips to Disneyland was not the norm for other little boys and girls of the world.

In 1963 I did not have a clue that I would do better in school the following year.

I did not know that someday I would drink from a water fountain and not have the water run out of my nose.

In first grade I realized my mother had a slightly crippled foot (due to a botched spinal anesthetic), and that was why she sat in the car and did not go into the local Alpha Beta grocery store, and sent me in with a list and a check instead.

There was never a time when Knutsen Cottage Cheese was not on the list.

Right around this time I decided I would like to be a grocery checker (we didn’t call them cashiers) when I grew up, and not a nurse or a teacher after all.

Even at age six, I was not afraid of deep water.

I did not understand puns yet, and had no idea how humorous it was to have a dentist named Dr. Payne.

I did not know a lot of things.

What I also did not know when I was in first grade was that God was really there with me at all times. I did not know yet that He had made me and was going to see me through a lot of things in the coming years. I knew He loved me because my Sunday School teachers told me so, but I did not realize what kind of love and keeping that would turn out to be.

I did not know that He would save my life over and over again, and that He would not ever let me go.

I did not know that no matter how tied up in nots, Jesus can take any life and make His light and presence known in the deepest of darks.

Even today, I sometimes do not remember that this is His promise to His children.

During the year of nots, Jesus was there. He never left me.

He will not leave me now.

And He will not leave you.

Have you called out His name lately?

If not…why not?

From This One Place

August 17, 2020 | My Jottings

20091014082310_0_Fireflies_and_SongsThis is a repost from the archives…. I still love this song so much.

I’ve shared before on the blog how much I love the music of Sara Groves. And if you’ve visited here for long you know that I often like to let the words of one song speak to me over and over again, especially a song rooted in scriptural truths and encouragement.

I don’t know of any other artists (with perhaps the exception of Bob Bennett) whose music so represents many of my own thoughts and feelings. Sometimes when I listen to Sara Groves, it’s like she has eavesdropped on my heart and penned the words I would have written if I had the gift of songwriting.

Most of you know that cardinals are my favorite bird, for very good reason. If you’d like to know why, you could click here to learn more about it.

Recently I went back to listen to some Sara Groves music, in particular the song “From This One Place.” She wrote and sang this piece about a dark, fearful time, and a cardinal outside her window. I have cardinals all over the inside of my house to remind me of God’s love and faithfulness during a dark and fearful time in my own life many years ago.

I’m so thankful that even when we don’t see much happening in answer to our prayers, He is still at work. He promises. I’m so grateful that when we’re in the dark and can’t see clearly, God sees “something else.”

I thought I would share this beautiful song with you. Make sure your speakers are turned up a little bit, and click on the dark red song title below. I don’t think it works on phones. Then once the little player opens, click on the play arrow and you can read the lyrics as you listen to the song:

“From This One Place” by Sara Groves

I was about to give up and that’s no lie
Cardinal landed outside my window
Threw his head back and sang a song
So beautiful it made me cry
Took me back to a childhood tree
Full of birds and dreams

From this one place I can’t see very far
In this one moment I’m square in the dark
These are the things I will trust in my heart
You can see something else
Something else

I don’t know what’s making me so afraid
Tiny cloud over my head
Heavy and grey with a hint of dread
And I don’t like to feel this way
Take me back to a window seat
With clouds beneath my feet

From this one place I can’t see very far
In this one moment I’m square in the dark
These are the things I will trust in my heart
You can see something else
Something else

From this one place I can’t see very far
In this one moment I’m square in the dark
These are the things I will trust in my heart
You can see something else
You can see…

Words and music by Sara Groves

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How about you? What do you remember, what do you do, what do you cling to, when you’re feeling “square in the dark?” Is there a verse that you go back to? A friend you call? Do you take to your bed? Do you bake? Do you operate on autopilot? Do you put on music?

I know a lot of people in the dark right now, even though they’re devout believers. Maybe something you share could help someone else. You may even post a comment and keep it anonymous if you like.

Thank you so much for reading…

Waiting with you,

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,