So as I was saying to Tracy Morgan not long ago….
Yes, of course I’m namedropping. Morgan, the Saturday Night Live alum, star of the TBS comedy series The Last O.G. and emcee for the 2019 ESPY Awards at 8 p.m/7c Wednesday (July 10) on ESPN, was talking to me over the same cell phone I keep in my back pocket a while back to promote a standup date he was playing in Detroit.
|Tracy 'Transplant' Morgan Emcees the 2019 ESPY Awards (ESPN)|
Why me, you may ask? (I would.) Well, I’ll tell you.
It’s because in my many decades as a professional writer, television critic and movie reviewer, I’ve been called upon to conduct thousands of phone interviews with “celebrities.” In the process, I have learned how to navigate the protective layers of managers, publicists, agents and other hired buffers to get my prime target on the horn.
Plus, I have a knack for getting the best out of my subjects. At this age I’m rarely starstruck, and I always do my homework before the interview.
I’m the ego whisperer.
Not that any of this was working with Morgan. Maybe he was having a bad day. More likely he was prickly over having to do a last-minute phone interview to help heighten interest in his Detroit gig. For whatever reason, it was clear immediately that testy Tracy did not want to be speaking with me that day.
His answers were short, terse, almost combative. Not that this is particularly unusual where comedians are concerned, in my experience. In fact, one of the reasons I dabbled in standup comedy years ago was to hang out with other comics and try to understand the psyche: how men and women whose job it is to make others laugh until it hurts often seem to be hurting inside themselves.
And so it went, until I remembered my ace in the hole: Morgan and I received our successful kidney transplants the same year. (Like I said, I do my homework.)
I made a sharp left turn in my questioning, noting our kidney coincidence. “How are you feeling?” I blurted out. “Is your kidney still functioning well? How’s your creatinine level?”
Over the phone, I could hear him smile.
“Yeah, my creatinine is low, the kidney’s doing well, and everything is good,” Morgan replied. “We are both survivors.”
“Yes, we are, sir. Your A1c?”
“That’s good, too. And I take my Prograf at the same time every day.”
“I’m on Prograf, too! How many pills do you take?”
“One in the morning, two at night.”
“I take five, twice a day. You must be doing very well.”
“I feel good.”
After the rest of our interview — which went extremely well — concluded and I hung up the phone, it occurred to me: kidney transplant recipients have a language all their own. Who else would ask you about your creatinine level and know what it means?
(If you don’t know, here’s the glossary: creatinine is a compound created in the body and excreted when you pee. The level remaining in your body is an indicator of kidney function. An A1c test measures the amount of sugar in your blood. Prograf is one of several anti-rejection drugs, mandatory for transplant recipients.)
My takeaway: whether big-name celebrity or lowly scribe, the experience of a kidney transplant unites us. We truly are all brothers and sisters under the skin.
In this case, “O.G.” could stand for “Organ. Grateful.”
* * *
The music world — heck, the entire world — is still coming to grips with the announcement by Stevie Wonder last weekend that the Motown maestro is stricken with kidney failure and has a transplant scheduled for September.
|Stevie Wonder Halted His Piano to Talk About His Organ (Getty Images)|
“I’m all good, I’m all good, all good,” Wonder told his audience at a concert in London, opting to reveal the news publicly rather than have others speculate on his health. “I have a donor and it’s all good.”
One of my most cherished memories as a music critic in Detroit is spending an afternoon with Wonder and a few of his people many years ago in a penthouse suite at the Renaissance Center. It was several hours before he was scheduled to take the stage, and I remember him sitting at the keyboard of a miniature electric piano, embellishing almost everything he said with musical accompaniment.
It was songs in the key of conversation, a warm and wonderful memory of a warm and wonderful man. Unlike my experience with Aretha Franklin, I don’t believe I ever did anything to piss Stevie off.
Having gone through what he's about to go through, if I was still sitting across from him at his keyboard and he were to ask for any advice, here’s what I would tell him:
“Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing:” The vast majority of kidney transplants are successful with few complications. You have a living donor, which increases the odds of longterm survival. And I’m guessing you have a near-perfect tissue match and a top-notch medical team. You’ll be wonder-ful.
“Superstition?” Nah.: If you’ve had any “Why me?” moments — and I’ll bet you have, since almost everybody does — don’t let them linger. Kidney failure is no respecter of persons. It can strike anybody, at any stage of life. And while African Americans seem to be leading the league in terms of kidney problems, primarily because of our predilection for diabetes and high blood pressure, it’s all just God’s will. Believe me, you’ll come through a better person on the other side.
“I Just Called to Say I Love You (or, if you prefer, That's What Friends Are For):” Many, many people will be reaching out to you offering help and support. Let them. Both sides will be the better for it.
Major announcements like this tend to refocus national attention on kidney issues and transplantation, and that rising tide lifts all hopes. I know I join millions of music lovers worldwide in praying for a successful September transplant that goes off as scheduled, and for Wonder’s complete return to health.
Kristen Jordan Shamus, health reporter for the Detroit Free Press, penned an extremely detailed and informative article this week, interviewing Dr. Jason Denny of the Center for Living Donation at Henry Ford Health System about what Stevie has to look forward to following surgery and facts about transplantation in general.
It’s well worth reading. Here’s the link: https://www.freep.com/story/
news/local/michigan/2019/07/ 09/stevie-wonder-kidney- transplant-living-donor- recovery/1672743001/