Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Time of Thanksgiving

Now, let's see: What's different in my life today from one week ago?

• I have a third working, perky little kidney inside of me. Contrary to what most people think, nothing is typically removed from one's body when you have a kidney transplant. Surgeons simply add the donor kidney to the two you already have, and eventually (just like in business) the new guy gains strength and starts taking over. More accurately, the procedure should be called a kidney implant.

• The proverbial racehorse has got nothing on me. I am turning urination into an art form. As kidneys fail, often they lose the ability to manufacture the urine that flushes waste products from your body; in fact, doctors tell me one way they check to see that a new kidney is functioning properly is how quickly it begins to produce urine on its own. Well, since I never stopped peeing regularly, it's like my bladder has become turbocharged. I'm going at least once an hour; I feel like I'm constantly either thinking about going, going, coming back from going or trying not to go on myself. This eventually will taper off, but right now the new member of the body is obviously just showing off. Whiz kid.

• I have two tubes sticking out of my body instead of one. In addition to "YouTube," my PD dialysis catheter and constant companion the last two years, I also now have what's called a Jackson-Pratt, or "JP" catheter, to pull the excess drainage from my incision into a bulb pinned to my clothing to speed the healing process. Eventually both catheters will be removed from my midsection, but the "JP" won't get yanked until its daily fluid output is less than 0.5 percent. Right now it's at 4.0. Grrrr.

• I am now diabetic. At least, temporarily. Because the steroids used during the transplant played hanky-panky with my blood sugar levels, I now have what is called "steroid induced diabetes." I received my own blood glucose monitor, test strips and instruction session at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis, and until my levels drop and stabilize I have to test myself in the morning, nighttime and before every meal, just like my wife, Karen, who suffers from the more permanent brand of diabetes. Oh, we're just poking ourselves now all over the house! You know, the family that pricks together, sticks together.

• I am in considerable pain, although amazingly far less than I anticipated. I think I may have written in a previous post that surgeons say the transplant operation generally consists of a small, hardly noticeable incision on the right side of the abdomen where the new kidney is neatly tucked in. They lie. They cut me like I was being dressed for the butcher's window, including a hip-to-hip slice beneath my waistline that's being held together with staples. I couldn't help but mention this discrepancy to my transplant surgeon, Dr. Jason Wellen, the surgical director of kidney transplantation at Barnes-Jewish – or, as one of my pre-op nurses described him, "Our golden boy of kidneys." "Hey, you're a big fellow," Dr. Wellen explained. "We had to go deep to make sure those blood vessels were tied off properly." I knew there'd come a day I'd regret being this tall.

• My daily pill regimen has increased to more than 30, almost twice as many as when I was on Peritoneal Dialysis. It's necessitated a slight change in my pillbox carrying case: old one on the left, new one on the right.

The majority are new drugs for anti-rejection or to suppress my immune system, which I will have to take for the life of my transplant. (Hopefully, the rest of my life.) But there currently are also some really outstanding pain medications, and I can completely understand how someone undergoing major surgery could get hooked on pain pills and not want to stop taking them. They make the pain just faaade awaaayyy...zzzzzz.

I have an even deeper admiration and adoration, if that's possible, for my incomparable wife, Karen, who will put her life and career on hold for the next several weeks to take an extended FMLA leave so that she can care for my needs. I can't drive for at least two weeks, so she will be ferrying me to my followup appointments in St. Louis and in Champaign, along with doing all the cooking and the housework I usually take upon myself. And all with a smile on her lips and a song of compassion in her heart. (At least, for now!) How lucky can one guy be? I am so looking forward to hanging out with my best friend every day in these days to come and just enjoying each other's company as my health and strength continue to improve.

• Thankfulness. I don't think I've ever been more humble, thankful or appreciative than I am this holiday season. When you hear phrases like "golden boy" and "you got a dream kidney," you begin to realize that everything fell into place through the power and grace of God. All the prayers, all the friends, all the health care professionals, the surgical team: I could be saying "thank you so much" for the rest of my life.

So I'd better start now. To all of you: Thank you so much. Happy Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

L'chaim: To Life!

By Karen McFarlin
Jim asked me if I would serve as guest blogger today to share the details of our Great Adventure while he continues to try and sneak a peek at his incision. I'm honored, and happy to oblige.
I thought it might be interesting to offer you a timeline of our last 10 wild, wooly, dramatic days.

Tuesday, Nov. 8: My Mom leaves on a dream trip to China. Jim and I move in with Dad to help out with the Wonder Twins, Madison and Emma.

Wednesday: Jim drives to Deerfield, Ill., for three days to give one-man speaking presentations for the company that makes his dialysis supplies.

Saturday: Jim and I, Wonder Twins in tow, drive to Grand Haven, Mich., where we were blessed to attend the wedding of possibly the most beatific couple ever, Andrew & Kathryn Huhn. Ah, young love.

Sunday: I wake up with a sore throat. We drive home with the Wonder Twins, plus six brand-spankin’-new goldfish (originally the wedding reception table decorations, rescued by Jim at the twins’ pleading). I was swayed by the refrains of “Poor, poor Roddy, flushed down his own potty” from that unforgettable film Flushed Away.

Monday: My sore throat morphs into full-blown stomach flu. Five goldfish remain. (R.I.P., Winston.)  Jim drives back home to receive the monthly delivery of dialysis supplies. (If only we could back up that truck now!)

Wednesday, Nov. 16: Mom returns from China. Aunt Marcia arrives for a holiday visit from Ketchikan, Alaska. I emerge from the sick bed.  Four goldfish remain. (R.I.P., fish whose name changed too many times to recall.)

Thursday, November 17: Jim and I finally drive home to Champaign in separate cars after being on the road for nine straight days. Jim goes to Da Vita Dialysis for his monthly checkup with his nephrologist, Dr. Attia, who registers surprise that we haven’t received another kidney call. (This is called foreshadowing.) Exhausted and a bit grumpy, Jim returns to the apartment and ignores his phone when it flashes, “Unknown Caller.” When my phone rings moments later, I answer it. Trish, the kidney transplant coordinator from Barnes-Jewish Hospital, is on the other end. I rush into the living room and Jim is now parked in the bathroom. The call of the lifetime…nearly missed because of a bowel movement. Jim finishes his business – verrry slowly in my opinion – and returns Trish’s call at approximately 3 PM.

3 PM:  Barnes has located a kidney for Jim, and he’s the primary recipient. How soon can we get to St. Louis? “Four hours,” we declare, totally guessing. We praise God that our bags are still packed and in the car from Decatur trip.

3:15: I frantically coordinate logistics with my office. I am scheduled to make two major presentations the next day in Kankakee, Ill., at an all-staff retreat. My brain is stuck in quicksand and cannot find words that I desperately need, such as table, keys and phone.

4:15 – 7:30: We leave Champaign and race to St. Louis. I am furiously making notes and tweaking my presentations to send to my boss. We finally see the Gateway Arch rising over the Mighty Mississippi. In my transplant-addled state, I blurt out, “Honey – the Golden Gate Arch!” and immediately realize that I have mashed up McDonald’s, the Golden Gate Bridge and the Gateway Arch. We laugh and burn off some tension.

7:30: Arrive at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. Wait in Admissions.

8 PM: Admitted. Quickly become concerned that the wheelchair guy, who works here, can’t find the elevator to the 16th floor. I Impatiently show him to the elevator, which is a single turn from where we started. Wonder, fleetingly, if I really might have control issues.

8:05: No rooms at the inn. Miraculously, Barnes received SIX donor kidneys on Nov. 18! Primary and backup recipients for each kidney have filled all available rooms on the 16th (renal) floor. We spend the next 14 hours in a holding room designed for quick assessments with three beds and sliding curtains between them (stable and manger, anyone?). Frustrated that no one is telling us anything, but tempering the frustration with thankfulness. We discuss at length how this time feels different from the non-starter last June. We consider how so many details, great and minute, have worked out this week and conclude this is God’s handiwork at its finest. We start to allow ourselves to hope.

8:05 PM – 10:30 AM: Restless hours. Heavy Facebooking and texting. Little sleep. No food or drink for Jim. Purposely ask family not to drive to St. Louis until we have a surgery time.

10:30: Nurses come in and say we’re going. NOW. Panic begins. Alert parents to mobilize. I stash our worldly goods in a wheelchair and sprint after Jim’s gurney. We rush down to the surgical prep area. The joint is packed and jumpin’. We meet the transplant team together and learn for the first time that the cross-matching is good and Jim is getting a new kidney. We leave nothing unsaid between us and pray together. And then Jim was gone.

12 noon: In the surgical waiting room alone. Massive Facebooking and texting. Prayers pouring out on Jim’s behalf, literally from around the world. I remember that this vast family of faith will uphold us, that God is always faithful, and I relax a little.

12:30: Mandi calls from the operating room. Jim is under. Let the transplant begin! Finally eat lunch in the cafeteria.

1:30: Parents arrive.

2:30:  Mandi calls from the operating room. Nearly finished. Smooth sailing, no transfusions needed.  Flooded with relief. Reality starts to dawn.

3:00: Our pastor, Tony Caffey, his lovely wife, Sanja, and their ridiculously darling son, Alastair, join us from Arthur, Ill. Alastair and I play Angry Birds with a vengeance. This sweet boy distracts me as time passes slowly.

3:30: Dr. Wellen, the transplant surgeon, calls. Jim McFarlin has a perfect little kidney inside him. Going into post-op. Much rejoicing. Many tears. Prayers of thanksgiving. More Angry Birds.

4:30: BUZZ! McFarlin, party of two – Your husband is ready. Tony and I visit with Jim for five glorious minutes! Unbridled joy.

4:35: Return to surgery waiting room. Circle of prayer. Wrapped the donor’s family in prayer and cried for their loss.

5:45:  BUZZ! Mom and I get five more minutes with Jim.

6:30: Quick dinner in cafeteria with Mom and Dad while we wait for Jim to arrive on the 16th floor.

7:45: HALLELUJAH! Jim is settled into his room and is groggy, but lucid. No pain! We spend the rest of the evening pretty much just looking at Jim. My parents eventually leave to enjoy the gracious hospitality of dear friends Eric and Cheryl Schweitzer. I spend the night with Jim, watching him and offering prayers of thanksgiving.

Conclusion: Our new day has dawned and we cannot wait to dash off to parts unknown at a moment’s notice, unfettered by a cycler, heavy solution bags and all the dialysis accoutrements. One day in the future, we hope to have contact with the family of our donor. But today, we want to thank all our friends and family – and many unknown, yet interested strangers – for the prayers, love and support. We could literally feel your arms around us. We love you all.

Psalm 27:13-14 says: I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait on the LORD; Be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; wait, I say, on the LORD!

Promise fulfilled.

P.S: Goldfish total unknown.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Don't Badmouth the Blessing

Any fool knows better than to look a free horse in the choppers or belittle any blessing, no matter how great or small. But I'm not just any fool.

I'm speeding toward Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis again as I write this, trying hard to feel more excited and appreciative about The Second Calling.

First, however, I think I need a nap.

The transplant office at Barnes-Jewish called around 3:30 p.m. on Thursday the 17th. They have a cadaver kidney that looks to be a blood and tissue-type match for mine, and I am the primary recipient. How fast can you get to St. Louis? the transplant nurse asked, excitedly.

It's about a three-hour drive from Champaign to St. Louis. And the good news was, we didn't even have to pack our bags. Karen's suitcase, in fact, was still in her car.

We had been on the road and away from home for nine consecutive days. Mostly we were helping my father-in-law, Larry, care for the tempestuous twins, Madison and Emma, while my mother-in-law, Linda, took a well-deserved, once-in-a-lifetime week's trip to China. In the interim, I traveled to Deerfield, Ill., north of Chicago, to deliver two patient presentations at the company that manufactures my dialysis supplies, and Karen and I took the twins with us to West Michigan to attend the wedding of our great good friends Gayle and Walker Parmelee's wonderful daughter, Kate, to the equally wonderful Andy Huhn. (Congratulations, kids.)

In my spare moments, I was ghostwriting one book and editing another. I was homesick and exhausted when we stumbled into our apartment Thursday afternoon. I had just dragged my suitcase over the threshold, willing to trade all my riches for a hot shower, a change of clothes and the chance to sleep in my own bed again.

Then the phone call came. Don't tell me God has no sense of humor.

Now I'm in Barnes-Jewish, waiting to hear if the surgery will be a go or no-go. As we've mentioned previously in these pages, about a dozen things have to go exactly right before a transplant can take place, and medical people always err on the side of caution.

So I've been trying to catch some sleep overnight on a hospital bed (HAHAHAHAHA!) and thinking that if the surgery does go off Friday morning, it'll be at least another week before my head hits a familiar pillow again.

I am thankful for this, really I am. Had the call come one day later, after I'd had a chance to swap out my dirty underwear, I'm certain I would have been ecstatic. This is an event that will affect the rest of my life, but ironically it's a lot like death – it comes when it comes, and you're never quite ready when it arrives, wishing you had just one more day.

Let's just praise God and pass the scalpel, shall we? I'll keep you posted.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Always in Love With Amy

You know how there are people in your life who quietly inspire you every day just by their presence, but you don't take the opportunity to tell them so? I'm going to correct that oversight for myself right now.

Or should it be, "correct that oversight for me"? Amy Lynn Smith would know. This is my dear friend Amy:

Several years ago we worked together (or to be perfectly accurate, she worked for me) at the Campbell-Ewald ad agency where I was an editorial supervisor and she was the publishing division's No. 1 freelance writer. I was constantly impressed by her work, and her work ethic. 

Her versatility was surpassed only by her productivity. Whether she was writing about automobile batteries or skillfully constructing a CEO profile, her finished product was always thorough, interesting and perhaps most important for an editor, on deadline. As punctuality and I never have been bosom companions, her ability to take on and juggle multiple assignments at once and get them all done on time remains her most amazing attribute in my eyes.

Writers, like most creative people I know, are insecure, jealous little creatures. (If you disagree, I invite you to watch any televised awards show.) Whenever a writer I know completes a major, well-received project or earns a prize for their work, a little surge of "Why can't I be that good?" of "It should have been me!" wells up in my throat. I never once remember feeling that way about Amy. My admiration for her talents – and they are myriad, on the page and on the stage – is genuine and absolute.

I'm a full-time professional writer, but I have the backstop of a wonderful wife who pulls down a management salary at the University of Illinois should my energy wane or my assignments dwindle. Writing is Amy's total livelihood: If she's not stringing words  together, there's no food on the table and the banker's at the door. That's called pressure to produce in my book, yet she performs every day with consummate grace and skill.

Yet through it all, she has found time to create and launch a very beautiful and informative business website (take a peek around it here) – please don't look at mine; it's still in bits and shambles after a year, because I keep convincing myself I don't have a spare moment to work on it. 

Yeah, suuuure. Amy, please try not to laugh and point.

And now, the ultimate: Amy has accepted the challenge of National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo) to deliver a fresh blog post every single day in November. Thirty consecutive new blogs, on top of her daily workload.

Hokey mokey.

Well, Amy, m'dear, I treasure you, but I'm going to admire you from afar on this one. That's not going to happen here at Little Jimmy's Just Kidneying outpost. It doesn't help my enthusiasm that I get paid to write about television and your recent blog about House is as good as anything I've written lately.

Is there nothing you can't do? You big showoff.

But you do inspire me, Amy Lynn Smith, to be a better, more productive, more trustworthy scribe every day. Hey, this is my second blog posting this week! See how I'm influenced by you?