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.