Monday, August 25, 2014

The Parable of the Party

Bewee, Birthday Girl
After months of preparation and a final 24 hours that felt like my stomach had rented a room in my throat, I pulled off my first surprise birthday party last weekend. My amazing spouse, Bewee (a contraction for "Best Wife Ever;" her parents named her Karen), turns 50 this year, and I felt such a half-century milestone deserved special recognition.

So earlier this summer I arranged a conference call between her mother, who lives about an hour away, and her sister in Nashville. The most important question I had for them was, if I do this, will Karen (a) never speak to me again (b) kick me out of our home or (c) seek to have me killed. Assured that my life was in no eminent danger, I solicited them as co-conspirators for advice on the date, location, guest list and other essential details.

Little yappy dog
Originally my mother-in-law graciously consented to have the affair at their home – which, since it once had been Karen's home, too, seemed fitting in a full-circle kind of way. But the more I thought about it the worse that idea seemed: the house sits in a pleasant but isolated suburb, their little yappy dog, Sophie, would bark herself into a coronary at all the invading strangers, and there is no parking to be had. If I could connive Karen into driving to her parents' home on a Saturday night, the sight of 30 cars wedged up and down the street might just tip her off.

Even though Karen and I live in a resort-style complex, the thought of using the property's clubhouse within walking distance from our front door never occurred to me. Hey, I don't get out of the house much around here! Praise God my frantic, breathless call to the clubhouse manager less than two weeks before the event was met with compassion rather than cackling: in the middle of wedding season, end-of-summer bashes and countless other reasons for the room to be booked, yes, the clubhouse was available for the night of Aug. 23.


Then the real work began. Buying the decorations. Selecting the menu. Defining the guest list. At night, while Bewee was asleep. I would sneak onto her iPad and pore over her Facebook friends and Words With Friends opponents to make sure there were no obvious invitees I was forgetting. I sent out invitations and followup messages via Facebook, text and email so as to leave no paper trail. Some of those who could not attend were encouraged to call in on FaceTime or Skype at a predetermined time to deliver their birthday wishes in person.

(BTW, I had no idea how difficult it is to provide a final head count to the caterer. You know not everybody who RSVPs is going to show up, some people will show up who didn't confirm, some folks are not going to eat at all, and others can eat enough for two or three! I have a whole new respect for party planners!)

Then there was the cake. After being totally shunned by one bakery department I won't bother to mention (although it was located in a county market), God led me across the street to a Schnucks grocery store, a big chain in the Midwest. There I found a young, enthusiastic artist-slash-cake decorator who totally got my sense of humor and made my wild suggestions even better.

I figured the most memorable event of Karen's 50th year – other than the surprise party, of course – was the mishap she suffered last April when she tripped over the hose while pumping gas (don't ask), fell on the concrete and broke her left arm in three places. The accident required a subsequent operation to insert a metal plate and nine screws into her damaged wing.

How about a cake showing her left arm with the stitches? Giving the "thumb's up" sign? Holding balloons? Do you think that's too over the top?
I don't know – what do you think?
The hardest part of all, though, was simply keeping the secret. I value Bewee's opinion so highly that I frequently had to catch myself before asking her a question about the planning. "Hey, honey, how many people do you think – oops! Never mind."

To pull off the ruse, Karen's mother called her several days earlier and said she and Dad wanted to take us to a favorite restaurant, The Beach House, for her birthday. Karen leaped at the invitation. Days later Mom called again to confirm the reservation time – exactly one hour later than the start of the party, to ensure we would leave home on time.

As we're driving out of the complex, I come up with a good cockamamie story. "OH! Drat!" I exclaim. "I'm sorry, honey. I totally forgot. They want me to drop off my key to the fitness center this weekend at the clubhouse because they're changing the locks. It will just take a second." 

Bewee grumbled, but agreed. I must say, the funniest moment of the evening for me was watching my father-in-law and Karen's teenage sister, Emma, scramble over each other to get back inside the clubhouse when they spotted our car approaching.

I ran inside, made sure everyone was prepared, then ran back outside. "Honey, get out of the car for a second, please," I said. "You've got to see this!"

"We're going to be late," she muttered. "Why couldn't you have done this earlier in the day?"

Seconds later, she realized what was going on and responded just the way I had predicted. First shock, then self-consciousness, delight – and a jolt of reality.

"Does this mean," she asked, "we're not going to The Beach House?"

That may have been the only flaw in an otherwise joyous, memorable evening.

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Now I told you all that to tell you this.

I was bitterly disappointed not to have a party for my 60th birthday a year ago. I told Karen as much. I realize that logistically, geographically, it would have been a near-impossible task to pull off satisfactorily. But who cares? It was my BIRTHDAY! The sixtieth! And after receiving a successful kidney transplant two years before, effectively cheating misery and death while prolonging my life, I believed something verrrry special was in order.

I held onto that bitterness and disappointment for some time, I'm embarrassed to admit. And maybe a therapist might determine the real reason I wanted to throw a party for Karen was some twisted form of passive-aggressive behavior. Whatever.

Here's what I know for certain: The whole process of arranging her surprise, right down to the tiniest detail, gave me so much more pure joy than I ever expected. I really got into it, and all the stress and clandestine work became labors of love.

I enjoyed planning Bewee's bash far more than I would have reveled in having a party of my own. Who knew? That Jesus guy, He really knew. In Acts 20:35, He tells us that it is more blessed to give than to receive.

In a society seemingly gone mad with receivers, that's a bit of wisdom always worth remembering.

Happy Birthday, Bewee.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Darker the Organ, the Sweeter the News

As I'm certain you must know, we are smack-dab in the middle of National Minority Donor Awareness Week.

Just a minute. If you're part of America's wondrously diverse color wheel and not waiting desperately for an organ transplant in order to survive, or don't have a friend or loved one who is, why would you be aware?

That was the question Dr. Clive Callender may have been pondering in 1991 when he founded the national Minority Organ Tissue Transplant Education Program, more widely (and easily) known as MOTTEP. A professor of surgery at Howard University, Callender also established the Howard University Hospital Transplant Center in D.C., the first minority-operated center in the United States.

Here's the issue: Of the more than 100,000 people currently on the waiting list for a kidney transplant in this country (of course there are other organs, as well as eyes and tissue, but I'm partial to kidneys), at least 64 percent of them are minorities. African Americans, Hispanics, Asians and Pacific Islanders are far more susceptible to high blood pressure and diabetes than any other ethnic groups (don't ask me why), and those are the two leading causes of kidney failure.

Every 10 minutes, another patient is added to that waiting list. Every day, 18 patients die while on that list.

However, though minorities dominate the waiting list – We're No. 1! We're No. 1! –  our rate of organ donation, either as a living donor or after death, has been vastly disproportionate. Maybe we think we'll have a use for them after we're gone, or that Jesus won't want to see us all cut up like that.

The great news is, thanks to groups like MOTTEP and other education and outreach efforts, the number of minority donors has more than doubled over the past 15 years. The sobering news is, there is still so far to go.
Dr. Clive Callander

"When we started this effort, we were told that minorities don't donate organs; we've proven that wrong," Callender said in an interview with "Instead, we've learned that by overcoming common misconceptions and creating awareness about organ donation, communities come together and help take care of each other."

A single organ donor can save a dozen lives or more. And because the organ match is likely to be far more compatible with a member of the same ethnic group (again, don't ask me why – what do I look like, a transplant surgeon?), the need for minority donors is critical.

Here's the call to action, what you can do. First and most obvious, sign up to be an organ, eye and tissue donor. It's really simple and only takes a minute: you can find more information here.

Then share the message with your family and friends via email, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or any other mode of communication you wish. (Share my blog – please!) Hey, you might even want to talk to them! And make sure you let your family know of your desire to be an organ donor, so there can be no doubt going forward.

I'm alive today because of the selfless act of one minority family who improved and extended my life through the gift of a "perfect" kidney. The more organs donated, the more lives saved: simple as that. You have the chance to make a huge difference in so many other lives. It's the next best thing to immortality.

Like Spike Lee would tell you: do the right thing.

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Did you know there was a Hemodialysis University? Boy, their final exams must be rough!

Calling all nephrologists, fellows, dialysis nurses and dialysis technicians: ISDH, the International Society for Hemodialysis, with assistance from Network Strategies and Innovations, Inc. (NSI), is conducting a two-day "Hemodialysis University" program Aug. 15-16 at the Chicago Marriott O'Hare, its first such event in the Midwest since 2012.

The conference, "Critical Solutions for Dialysis Care," features an emphasis on home hemo, with an internationally recognized faculty on hand to conduct the sessions. Group rates are available. For more information or registration, go to or call (800) 228-9290.

Wonder what Hemodialysis University's team mascot might be? The Fighting Fistulas?