I was in the middle of a deliciously hot shower not long ago, singing lustily to some bygone '80s hit (probably by The GAP Band), when my mother-in-law came into the bathroom and thrust her cell phone behind the curtain.
She dropped a bomb on me, baby.
"You MUST take this phone call!" she announced.
"Uh, I'm kinda wet, soapy and naked at the moment," I replied. "This can't wait five minutes for me to dry off?"
"NO!" Mother-in-Law declared. "You have to take it RIGHT NOW!"
I understood the reason for her urgency moments after I took the receiver. My wife, Karen, was on the other end. The transplant office at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis, where my kidney case is located, called her when they couldn't find me. And how could they? I was singing in the shower!
The hospital had located a replacement kidney for me.
My eyes began stinging, and not because soap was dripping into them. Apparently, a gentleman from Detroit whom I had never met (and whose name won't be repeated here out of respect to his family), upon learning of his terminal illness, designated in his will that I was to receive one of his kidneys.
I've wracked my brain ever since trying to recall any part of my past where his name might be familiar, but come up empty. I can only assume he may have read my medical confessional in HOUR Detroit magazine a year or so ago, or somehow became aware of this blog. However it happened, the thought that a complete stranger personally chose me to receive a life-giving organ upon his death is beyond humbling. It's overwhelming. Praise God.
Since Karen was still in her office, she set up a three-way conference call between her, the transplant coordinator and me. The coordinator explained that the kidney being donated to me fell under what they call the "extended criteria" category. It was a match, but the donor was eight years older, suffered from hypertension (high blood pressure) and had a history of smoking in his past.
"Geez," I thought, "this sounds like my own kidneys, only with more mileage."
If I wanted the kidney, they would start to make arrangements for the transplant operation straightaway. If I decided not to take it, there would be no harm, no foul for me because of the condition of the organ; I would simply be placed back on the transplant waiting list. Whatever I decided, I had to give my answer immediately, if not sooner. The kidney was being harvested, and if I didn't want it, someone else could benefit from the transplant.
I asked the coordinator if we could have a little time to make our decision, and she agreed. (And it is our decision, by the way; the entire family lives with kidney disease, suffers through a transplant operation and assists in the recovery. Everybody gets a vote in this election.) Take as long as you like, she said. You can have a couple of hours.
I thought I had agonized over other major decisions in my life, but they were easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy compared to this. I tried to contact my kidney specialist, Dr. Attia, for a second opinion but couldn't reach him. Karen and I talked intensely, and my mother-in-law had a few more words of wisdom for me once I was out of the shower.
We prayed. We discussed. We debated. Then we prayed and discussed and debated some more. Ultimately, the verdict would be mine.
Two dizzying hours later, I had made up my mind. My decision might have been different if I was in worse condition, or if I wasn't coping so well on Peritoneal Dialysis. But somebody else might need that kidney more desperately right now, and I could afford to wait for a younger, healthier, more ideal organ to come along.
I called the transplant coordinator back and politely said thanks, but no thanks.
It was a gut-wrenching call to make. I felt as if I was slapping a dead man in the face, spitting on his final wishes. Think about his family, Karen offered. They've probably gone through so much already with his illness and death, and rejecting his kidney is almost like you're rejecting him, and the rest of them as well.
Thanks, honey. That helps a lot.
For what it was worth, at my next scheduled appointment with Dr. Attia we discussed my decision at great length. He agreed with my thought process. If some surgeon is going to cut you open and stick a foreign object inside you, he said, do it once, do it right, and do it with the best organ you can find.
Which doesn't mean I don't think about that man I never met and his amazingly selfless offer every day. Did I insult his memory? Did I make the right choice? Who can say for sure?
And what if that perfect kidney never comes along?