One Year Kidney-versary
August 5, 2021 | My Jottings
Good morning friends. Are you all staying cool wherever you are? We almost aren’t here, in the Air-Conditioned City of the North. In Northeastern Minnesota. The state known for bitter cold, for snow on the ground over half the year. For no one needing air conditioning because we are so far north, so close to the cold shores of cold Lake Superior. But times they are a-changin’, as one Northern Minnesotan famously wrote, and we have had sweltering, humid, smoky air for weeks and weeks now. I live a block away from Lake Superior and can’t see that exquisite sapphire blue because of the smoke in the air. I can’t imagine how it must be for those close to the fires that burn out west. I am one of the ones blessed with central air conditioning and it has been running around the clock for so long.
Today is my one year anniversary of donating my left kidney Justine. Last August 5th I went under the knife in a freezing operating room at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and a transplant surgeon opened up my belly, reached into the parenchymal depths all the way to my back, peeled away my adrenal gland and removed my healthy kidney and corresponding ureter (and some kidney fat is always taken as well, who knew?), put it on ice and handed it to a courier, who rushed it in a red cooler to the Minneapolis airport. It was flown to Madison, Wisconsin where another surgical transplant team was gowned, masked, gloved up and waiting, along with Justine’s recipient.
I have always hoped to hear something from the person who now has my kidney. The one that the Lord knit with His own hands while He was forming me in my mother’s womb in early 1957 in Covina, California. My son-in-law Chris, who needed a new kidney desperately but who is a different blood type so couldn’t receive mine, received a wonderful note from his donor months ago. I donated as part of Mayo Clinic’s Paired Donation Program, which allows people who want to help a loved one but aren’t a match, to give to someone else, while another donor gives to their loved one. Sometimes donation chains can involve up to two dozen people — can you imagine organizing the details and the operating rooms and flights for that kind of a situation?
Our situation involved only four people. On the morning of August 5th, I donated my kidney in Rochester, and at the same time Chris’s donor, a 27 year-old Good Samaritan donor named Blaine who listened to a podcast about kidney donation at work, signed up online with The National Kidney Registry, and generously decided to give a vital organ to a stranger, was undergoing his donation surgery in Denver. Blaine is from Amarillo, Texas, but had his surgery in Colorado.
Once Blaine’s kidney, a perfect match for my son-in-law, was on ice and put on a plane from Colorado to Minnesota, they began to get Chris ready. Once my kidney was on its way to Madison, my recipient was also being prepared. All four of us, so closely tied, yet two completely unknown to the others. It’s such a miracle to me still.
All I was told about Justine was that her person had done well during the transplant, and his/her kidney function was excellent. Is that amazing, or what? A fist-sized piece of tissue from my then-62 year old body was placed into the lower front abdomen/hip area of a very sick person in Wisconsin who had waited Lord knows how long for hope, and within a day, his/her blood pressure was normalized, the toxins that had built up were finally being flushed out of their exhausted body, new red blood cells were being made, and things put to right. How did you do that, God? Because I know it’s science, but I also know no scientist could make a kidney, and make it do all the precise and powerful things it does. That piece of flesh above might look gross to some, but I see God’s fingerprints all over it, and I am in awe.
Chris’s new kidney from Blaine in Amarillo did the same for him. He named his Magnus, and there was a lot of cleaning up to do since Chris had been in severe kidney failure for a long time. Magnus really rolled up his renal sleeves and took over.
I had hoped by now to hear from Justine’s new owner, but I haven’t. It’s possible I never will, and I accept that. I have never expected fanfare or even a thank you, but my intensely curious nature would be so happy to know a few details. Is Justine’s new owner old? Younger? Man, woman, black, white, brown, married, single? Children or grandchildren? Church organist, former drug user, gardener, sailor, news anchor, knitter, sitter. Anything? My friend Vicki faithfully prays that Justine’s person will send me a card, and I prayed that very thing this morning. Unless you’ve gone through this, it’s hard to explain, even though I’ve just spent a thousand words trying to do just that.
The other evening Lloyd and I were working on a puzzle, a circular 1000-piece puzzle of planet earth from space that is making me cross-eyed and is one of the hardest ones we’ve ever done. As I took a break and glanced out the window in the dusk, I saw a rabbit digging. We watched her dig her nest for a full thirty minutes, going horizontally underground past her neck, but doing so in a manner that left the grass above her undisturbed. She acted like she knew what she was doing.
Her mate stood off in the distance watching, and when he approached to give a paw, she chased him off. She rested for about ten minutes, then began to vigorously pull dry grass (of which there is no lack, due to the aforementioned heat and lack of rain) out of the ground with her mouth, until she looked like she had a thick straw mustache sticking out on either side of her face. She hopped over to carefully fill the nest with these piles of grass, then plucked again, filled the nest again, and so on.
Then Mama arranged some dead grass over the hole, and this is what it looks like. I went out the next day and could see at one end of this patch that it’s deeper and goes underground. I haven’t checked to see if she has given birth yet. She will come and nurse at night, then leave the nest relatively unvisited during the day.
It made me wonder how many rabbit’s nests I’ve seen before and never realized it, because it truly just looks like a patch of dry grass.
These photos aren’t the greatest and this next one was taken through a window screen, but if you look closely you can see the process. She’s there digging, and hasn’t gotten to the part where she gets down underground yet.
I saw Mama sitting on top of the nest the night before last, and after a couple of minutes she hopped over closer to the fence that divides my narrow back yard from the neighbor’s garage, and began grooming herself and gathering fur from her chest. She most certainly added this to the piles of grass so the bunnies will stay warm and covered.
We are fairly overrun with rabbits in our town and I realize they’re considered pests, as are squirrels and chipmunks and marauding black bears, but I love seeing creatures do what they were created to do. It seems like it’s hard to find human creatures doing what they’re supposed to do sometimes. Some of us have our purposes confused and think our main jobs are to vehemently disagree online with others, foster unrest and division, and forget what it might be like to walk in someone else’s shoes.
So I turn to the stars and planets when I can see them, to ponder the bigness of God. And I study a mother rabbit expertly preparing for her litter, so I can remember that He is able to show anyone how to live. I see the goldfinches at our feeder and this reminds me that it’s worthwhile, healing and encouraging to contemplate how much He loves beauty and variety.
Last night I spent some frivolous time working on a song pertaining to my kidney in Madison. (By the way, my remaining right kidney is named Verna, and a recent blood and urine workup revealed that she is finally taking up the slack after the shock of losing her partner. My kidney function numbers have increased and most likely Verna has stopped pouting and is actually growing physically larger to make up for Justine’s disappearance, something the nephrologists call hypertrophic compensation.)
This song about my donated kidney Justine is called Justine. I realize I’m slaying you with my originality and creativity. It’s set to the same tune as Jolene by Dolly Parton.
Justine, Justine, Justine, Justine
I’m telling you I just don’t understand
Justine, Justine, Justine, Justine
To have no news is not what I had planned
Your ureter was so pristine
The toxins flushed like a machine
All the water that I drank had kept you clean
You passed the tests, you made the grade
For months so many prayed and prayed
And they cut you right out of me Justine
It took a while for me to heal
My GFR tells me it’s real
And I thought that I would hear by now Justine
I wonder who you’re helping now
Do they just say “hurray!” and “wow!”
And I hope I still might learn someday Justine
Justine, Justine, Justine, Justine
I’m begging of you please just say hello
Justine, Justine, Justine, Justine
Have them reach out before it’s time to go
There are a few more verses to Dolly’s Jolene, so I really think the song about my kidney Justine should have some additional verses too. Anyone volunteering? 🙂
I hope your kidneys are functioning well, and if they are, I hope you’ll consider donating. You really could save someone’s life!
Did you know you don’t have to pay for anything if you donate an organ? Meals, travel, lodging, can all be covered. Did you know that you would never be chosen as a donor unless the testing revealed you could live healthily without a kidney? They go to great lengths to make sure the donation is right for the donor as well as for the recipient. Click here to see if you could be a donor.
I also hope you’re staying cool wherever you are, taking time to watch the wildlife nearby. If you need something miraculous to watch, try seeing what kind of breathtaking magic God has put in the brain of the plain, tiny Japanese puffer fish.
This video never fails to thrill me, and I’d be willing to bet there are a few of us who could use the right kind of thrill these days. Click here and prepare to marvel.
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