Thursday, December 31, 2015

HAPPY NEW YEAR, CHEYENNE! (Sorry About Missing Your Birthday)

You know that feeling that washes over you when you are shocked and embarrassed at the same moment?

It happened to me last month as the result of a single, four-word midday text from my amazing Bewee (Best Wife Ever), Karen.

"Happy Transplant Day, Darling!" it read.

Holy dialysis, Batman.

November marked the fourth anniversary of the organ transplant that undeniably saved my life, the introduction of a kidney that was described as "near perfect" by the surgeon who performed the operation on my failing body.

It was donated by a six-year-old girl – or more accurately, her parents, after their child suffered a brain aneurysm one horrific day and died on her school playground. Karen and I dubbed the kidney Cheyenne, reminiscent of a Western hero who gallops onto the scene in the darkest hour and saves the day, as a tribute to her and the unbelievable display of benevolence by her parents in the face of devastating grief.

And until I saw Karen's text message, I'd completely forgotten. Cheyenne's tenth birthday, her fourth inside of me, a true modern-day miracle if ever there was, and the anniversary just slipped my mind.

What does that say about me?

This is the photo I posted on Facebook that week to observe #TBT, or Throwback Thursday:

It's one of the last pictures of me with the two most important people in my life. It was taken at the going-away party for my mother, Caribell, and father, the original "Mac" McFarlin, from the retirement home where they lived for several years before moving home to Georgia and, eventually, going home.

Had I been thinking or retained even an ounce of memory, however, this is the personal history photo I should have displayed:

It's one of the first pictures taken of me and the lovely Bewee in the recovery area of Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis after I emerged from the dense fog of anesthesia with a nearly-new little transplanted kidney. (Did you know that if a child's organ is sewn into an adult body it will increase in size by itself to accommodate the needs of its larger host? Somebody try to tell me there's no God!)

Yet now, four years later and feeling great, with outstanding monthly lab results and an unrestricted diet, I seem to have kicked my kid kidney to the curb emotionally.

Am I ungrateful? Unappreciative? Have I begun taking my unbelievable blessing for granted?

Actually, I think it's just the opposite.

Ever since my 2011 transplant, and the arduous recovery and constant monitoring that followed, I believe my life dialed up to a sharper focus. I was so happy to be off years of daily dialysis, and I heard myself being thankful for what may seem like the smallest things – even going to the bathroom to pee, knowing that there are so many patients on dialysis who cannot.

I remember reading that Jack Benny, the late, great comedian of the '40s-'60s, used to drive his friends crazy extolling the wonders of the most mundane life events. "You know," Benny would enthuse, "that may have been the greatest ham sandwich I have ever tasted. The ham was sliced just right. And the cheese! My goodness!" That's how I felt, and still feel today: everything is a wonder.

The sky is a little bluer, the air just a bit sweeter. And as I weave through the renal community and meet so many people who are desperate for a kidney transplant or faring poorly on dialysis, my blessings leap into focus once again.

Whenever Cheyenne causes me a bit of sharp or prolonged pain – she's only 10, after all, and adopted, so she does become defiant from time to time (fellow transplant survivors, does this happen to you?) – I'm reminded that her stay is not guaranteed, or necessarily permanent. For any reason, or no reason at all, she could decide one day to reject me and just stop working.

So while I may not think about my transplant as much as I did three or four years ago, I do think about it every single day, whether gobbling down my handfuls of pills, monitoring my vital signs or remembering to squeeze in some exercise. However, as in most relationships, it's not enough to just think about how much your beloved means to you. You've got to express it as well.

Hey, I'm really forgetful, and I am sorry.

Happy Belated Birthday, Cheyenne. And Happy New Year, too.