Transplant

I have always hoped that, given the opportunity, I would be a brave person. Greg and I tell our kids that being brave doesn’t mean not being afraid. It means being afraid and doing it anyway. I’ve done plenty of things that required personal fortitude, but nothing that I would consider essentially brave. No actions taken when lives are at stake and risks are measured in percentages instead of remote possibilities.

Then this happened:

Last April, I learned that my friend George has hereditary polycystic kidney disease (PKD) and was close to beginning the transplant process. And it’s a doozy of a process. In characteristic form, he noted that if anyone wanted “to become one with the George,” this was their opportunity. His post stuck with me in a way I was not expecting. We have known each other for a long time. We work together, he made me confront my fear of heights on multiple occasions, we share recipes, we know each other’s families, we enjoy burning things, we make fun of each other, I give him the jalapeños from my garden that are, frankly, too hot for reasonable people to consume. We’re friends.

So I researched and prayed and thought and decided I wanted to be tested. It seemed so simple. I have two kidneys, and I only need one. I waited for it to get more complicated, for my anxiety to kick in and tell me all the reasons why it was a bad idea, but it never happened. So I talked to Greg, because we are partners in all things. And we read more, and talked a lot, and slept on it, and repeated, and decided, together, that I should get tested. It was the right thing to do. What were the odds it would work out?

A year later, it was the time to call the donor coordinator. From there it was phone calls with a social worker, financial counselor, donor eductor, living donor advocate, and health screener before I was cleared to get tested. I decided I was only going to get tested if I was willing to go through with the surgery. In late June, I went in to meet with members of the transplant committee, learn more about the surgery, get my blood typed, and get lots of blood drawn to do the cross-match.

Here’s what I thought would happen. I would be one of several potential donors who called in and got tested. I wouldn’t be a match, but I would be a candidate for surgery so I’d go into the donor chain pool. (In a donor chain, you donate a kidney to someone other than your intended recipient, and your intended recipient gets a kidney from another recepient’s donor pool.) If none of the other potential donors were matches, I could get the call that I matched someone in a donor chain, and I’d still donate, but it would take a while to get  to that point.

Instead, on July 3, the donor coordinator called to tell me that I was a direct match. And I felt really good about it. Scared, but really good. To be honest, calling George to tell him we were a match was one of the greatest phone calls I have ever made. Next came intensive testing–blood work, 24-hr urine collection, CT scan, chest x-ray, and EKG to clear me for surgery. The week between testing and getting results was brutal. When I went for my appointment with the surgeon, they told me about the surgery again, redid a couple of tests, hooked me up with a 24-hour blood pressure monitor, and told me the transplant committee would make a decision the next morning.

So I went to work, looking like a cyborg, and told George we’d know in the morning. Thus began one of the longest 18 hour waits of my life (tied with laboring my first born into the world). I got a full day of arm hugs every 15 minutes, dropped off the monitor at 7:30 AM and waited. Two hours later, our donor coordinator called to tell me we were approved for surgery and could do it on August 5 (2 weeks away). I said yes, and then got to have a truly excellent conversation.

We got re-matched, did more pre-op, got COVID-19 tests, and made it to 5AM Wednesday, August 5–two months after I called to say I wanted to be tested. The process was, in turns, incredibly fast and excruciatingly slow. But it always felt like the right thing to do. Greg was with me in pre-op while I had blood drawn, got gowned up, and met with nurses, surgeons, and anesthesiologists. He was there when I woke up, high as a kite and a kidney lighter. Then he had to go because of the COVID-19 restrictions.

I was in the hospital for two days, and have been recovering at home in the days since. It hurts, but it hurts different and less each day. My kidney is working out well for George. He already mentioned that it is an overachiever. We had to agree to stop making each other laugh for a little while. It hurts our incisions.

Lots of people have made this donation possible, and I appreciate you each in ways that make me teary, so I’ll save those thanks for another time. There’s more recovery to come, and lots of time in the recliner in my future. But my friend is alive, and I discovered that I’m brave after all. It’s not what I expected would happen; it’s so much better.

Here for a moment, at least

It’s been a long time since I’ve written here.

I write a lot, just not here. I contextualize history and science; I excavate past content and rework it in new formats; I edit others’ words. Right now, that’s my job. Check out the museum’s website if you’d like to see my handiwork. I’ve become adept at churning out content, at building the backlog I’ve been assigned. What I miss are my friends/coworkers, creating multidimensional exhibits, brainstorming and riffing in a room together, writing in between walking to people’s offices, wandering through the collection and finding inspiration. And still I write. In the moments between teaching my kids, adjudicating their fights, making snacks, and taking conference calls

I’ve been keeping a journal of this time of social distancing. It’s a scrapbook in the truest sense. I printed memes that moved me, sketched my CORVID-19 crows, pressed a 4-leaf clover from a walk with Louise. I write my anxieties and joys and things that I don’t want to share, just get out of my head.

What I haven’t done is write on this blog. Frankly, I forgot it existed. Maybe I’ll remember. At least, I’ll try.

Gramps

My grandfather died this morning. There were things that we diverged on–the churches we attended, the politicians we voted for, the sports teams we cheered. There were so many more things that we shared–faith, a love of knowledge and reasoning, joy in time spent together, family dinners, corn hole games, basketball, gardening, cooking. When a man at his church gave him cases of sorghum, he passed them to me because he knew I’d actually cook with it. When his neighbor had a bumper crop of plums, he brought me a bag full at my brother’s wedding. I brought him back some plum cinnamon jam.

I have early memories of driving to Oklahoma to visit him and Memaw on Thanksgiving. That’s always been our holiday. The one that he and Memaw would wake up in the middle of the night to change out the ham for the turkey in the oven. They moved to Tennessee when I was still in grade school and went from a day away to an hour up the road. I have the path to their house memorized. I know where to stand on their steps for the annual family portrait. I know that dessert will always get eaten while the kids are outside playing.

Gramps was a Pentecostal pastor, and I’ve always been Catholic. I remember him asking me one time what I was doing in a picture. It was May Crowning, and I was the one crowning Mary. Looking back, I’m sure it looked like his granddaughter was not only worshiping Mary, but worshiping a statue. What I remember from that conversation is that he asked me questions and respectfully listened to my 14-year-old explanations about Catholicism. There was no judgment, only a desire to know me better.

We got to have one last conversation this Thanksgiving, which we celebrated together even if the food was made by others and we skipped the picture on the stairs. He used the opportunity to tell me that all grandparents are proud of their grandkids, but that he’d be proud of me and brag on me even if I wasn’t his. He told me that he was so happy that I took my mind and have applied it to my career. He told me that he bragged about my academic achievements to his friends. Gramps didn’t have many degrees, but he had a brilliant mind. He loved me, and I miss him.

Inch by inch

There’s a song I love by the Okee Dokee Brothers called Walking with Spring. This duo is my favorite kind of kids’ music in that they are talented singer songwriters who write songs without cussing that I can, in good conscience, play around my kids. There’s a lot of things going on right now. Some of them are external and some of them exist only in my mind. But the thing about stuff that happens in your head is that it can be as real as the things happening outside of it. Sometimes in the quiet spaces I’ll hear their lyrics:

We’ll take it mile by mile by

Hour by hour by

Day by day as we climb

And then it’s week by week by

Month by month by

Year by year

For a lifetime.

And it makes me smile. It’s funny what can make you remember to take a breath.

Other mom

Dear other mother,

I cannot fathom the depth of your grief and confusion. Nor can I understand the nuances of your story, what made it a better option to take the substantial risk to leave your home and come to foreign land with your child instead of living in the home you’ve known. I cannot know what you experienced.

I do know that hearing your story breaks my heart open. Part of my brain wants to protect myself by not imagining our positions reversed. By halfway mentally acknowledging your pain without experiencing any myself. But you don’t have that option. This grief is your life. When I try to picture having my two-year-old or four-and-a-half-year-old taken away from me in a place where we are not native language speakers, without being told how to find them again, I know that the sadness I feel in merely imagining fails to meaningfully compare to your reality. All it provides is a crack to let empathy pour through. Empathy without complete understanding seems better than no empathy at all.

I hope you find your child. I hope that the agencies holding you both find a way to work together to make it happen. Since there are many people on the ground working from their hearts to help, I hope some politician has the will to give them the tools to expedite the process. I write to my elected officials every day; so far the answers are platitudes with no action, but I promise to keep telling them that I, their constituent, demand that they be better and hold people accountable to the facts of the situation. Because facts still exist. And the fact is that you do not know where your child is. And that is unacceptable.

I don’t know your story. I don’t know the details of why you came. I can’t understand the depth of your pain. I believe you and your child belong together. I pray for you both. I’ll keep writing to those with whom the buck stops.

I can barely stand to imagine your pain, which is, after all, the literal least I can do.

Sincerely,

Another mother

More

“There is more to life than the perfunctory, mechanical, aspirational day-to-day vibe. Behind it all is a passion that gets you up in the morning or keeps you up at night. You let the gifts inside of you pour out.”

Today I had the privilege of conversing with Rabbi Micah Greenstein at Temple Israel. I have always admired his ability to look beyond religion to express spirituality, philosophy and ethics. His opinions and beliefs about our city are inspiring. It’s been a rough few days, and he expressed, more elegantly than my circular thoughts, ideas that have been going through my brain about where we go from here.

All this to say, today I had a conversation that gave me pause and hope. It was a gift.

That girl

That girl looks so much like my girl.

I recognize her curls and her reaching hand.

I know her pink shoes.

What I thankfully don’t recognize on my own girl’s face is the fear.

Since I’ve first seen the picture, we’ve all learned more about the girl and her mother. We know parts of their story and that they were not separated. But they could have been. And so many were; that’s where I find it tragic. And kids are under foil blankets and playing behind fences and living in tent cities without their moms and dads. And they are kids.

They are kids.

How can that be controversial?

They are kids.

 

It’s been a minute.

It’s been a year since I posted here. Despite starting a writing group (that has morphed into the lowest obligation book club imaginable), I haven’t done much writing at all. What I have been doing is reading, which has been even more reckless than usual–jumping from sociological studies of how race and class influence southern identity to YA novels that take 18 hours to finish to fiction by my personal literary heroes (Lauren Groff, I’m looking at you).

There are so many things that are about to happen. Which, as those of you with chronic anxiety know, is one of the worst states of being. That which is about to occur is so much scarier than that which is occurring. All these projects and deadlines and life events converge in September and October. I can do so little about them now, except prepare by making lists and DIYing a pickle barrel (for work–seriously). What I can do is read and sink into vast oceans of words that take the other thoughts away.

Thought to page

I go through period where I feel an intense need to write. A thought burrow into my head when I’m taking a shower or chopping vegetables that I cannot let go without releasing it onto a page. It’s been a long time since I felt that need to connect my thoughts to paper. I’m still not there, but maybe it’s closer than I think.

Alone

The parameters of my life are flexible and kind. Marriage, children, family, work, projects, books. Life feels less like a balancing act and more like a revolving platform. Some days feature more kids and work, other mornings, like today, feature books and projects. 

One thing I struggle with is guilt. When doing one thing, I worry that I should be doing another. When sitting alone on my day off on a porch with a cup of coffee and a book, I think lingering thoughts that I should be at home with my children playing silly games and monitoring toy sharing. I try to remember to be glad to be here. With my book and my coffee and knowing that silly games will be there this afternoon. Like I said, the parameters are kind.