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A Gift I Couldn’t Give

March 23, 2013

I didn’t donate a kidney today.

That probably doesn’t sound like news. Chances are you didn’t donate one either. Even though we both know there are plenty of people who need them. One of those people is my friend, Tom.

Tom and I have been friends for several years, he’s about my age or slightly younger. He’s got kids at home, a wonderful wife, Sara, and like me, he’s currently in a job search. Unlike me, Tom’s kidneys don’t work. They’ve been failing for years and finally got to the point where they completely shut down and he had to go on dialysis. He’s known the day was coming.

“When you get to that point, I’ll donate a kidney.”

“Rodney, that’s a big commitment. You don’t have to do that.”

“I know, but let me know when you get to that point.”

“Ha, ha. Okay.”

Apparently, offering to donate a kidney is surprisingly common. Less common is actually following through and giving the kidney. As I found out, the emotions involved in offering are much different than the emotions involved in going through with it.

A few weeks ago, Tom came to me.

“They tell me I’m now to the point where I’m ready to be put on the transplant list. I know you said. But, don’t feel obligated. Really, it’s not something I feel I can ask anyone to do.”

“What do I need to do?”

“You’re sure of this?”

“I told you I was. Nothing’s changed.”

“Here’s the name and number of the transplant center. They’ll give you all the details.”

The truth is A LOT had changed. The most important change being that I was now looking for another job. I still had health insurance. I still had money to pay my bills, but I was working on finding another job. Could I still donate a kidney and pursue another job?

I called the number. Again, I was assured that at any point I could withdraw and there would be no problem. Many people get into the process and then decide it’s not for them. THERE WAS NO OBLIGATION.

They sent me the packet of information and told me that I could take as long as I wanted to get the tests done. They also included information about what to expect. That’s where more doubts started to come in.

One story talked about a woman who gave a kidney to her husband. He was up and around after just a few days, while she was wiped out for weeks. Could I afford to be wiped out for weeks? How would that affect my ability to interview and network?

I also saw this story about a man who donated a kidney to a girl and it pretty much ruined his health. Those cases are not common, but they do happen. What if I couldn’t work again? Was I willing to risk that? Was it fair to my kids and my family? Why was I donating this kidney? Was it for Tom, or was it because I wanted to feel good about what a great guy I was?

I should also say that I hate hospitals, along with doctors, needles, blood and even people in white coats. (Okay, only white LAB coats.) Oh, I know how important they are. And I’m grateful for those willing to work in that profession, but I’d rather be sick for a week than have someone stick a needle in my arm.

Believe it or not, you have to get a needle stuck in your arm to be tested for a transplant.

I went to the hospital where the lab work was done. And they drew my blood. And they they drew some more. And then they drew some more. And still more. Finally, they made me pee in a cup and I was done.

Now the waiting started. . .and the doubts.

You can withdraw at any time.

No obligation.

You don’t have to do this.

You could hurt your job chances.

About ten days later the phone rang. Caller ID said it was the hospital.

“Mr. Bliss?”

“Yes.”

“We’ve got your test results.”

My heart rate jumped to about 120.

“Your GFR flow rate is lower than we’d like it for a transplant. Anything above 60 is fine, and you’re at 65. We’d really like to see it at least 80 to consider you for a transplant. So, we’d like you to come in and test again. And come well hydrated.”

I had to wait another week for them to send me the additional paperwork.

You can withdraw at any time.

There’s no obligation.

You don’t have to do this.

Well hydrated. I started drinking water and soda the day before. I was so well hydrated that I felt like I needed to stop at every gas station between Pleasant Grove and Murray, UT.

Back to the hospital for more blood work. I try to distract myself from the fact that someone is going to put a needle the size of a garden hose into my arm.

“So, how long have you been a phlebotomist?”

“Oh, I don’t normally do this. I’m actually a chiropractic student. I’ve only been doing this for a couple weeks on an intern exchange.”

Oh goody.

Now, more waiting. . .and waiting.

After a couple weeks, of not hearing from them, I finally call them back.

“Well, we still need some blood pressure readings from you.”

I passed!

“Last time you told me that my GFR rating was too low?”

“Oh. . .wait. That’s right. Just a second. . .”

Another lifetime, really two lifetimes of waiting.

“Your GFR rating is only 68. I’m sorry.”

I failed.

The emotions that I went through were not what I expected. It’s one thing to be able to provide service and choose not to. It’s something else entirely to be told that you can’t serve.

I really have no control over it at this point. And that’s what’s maddening.

I didn’t donate a kidney today. . .but I really wish I could have.

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2 Comments
  1. Hi Rodney, something struck me when I read this and that was your words “I failed.” My reaction (from a stranger I know, but I’m passionate about kidneys) was that you did not fail at all. That you were willing to be tested and even contemplated donating was fantastic. Good on you. Well done.

    • Thank you. I’m a pretty competitive guy. The idea that I’m not allowed to participate is really hard to take.

      I used “fail” to accentuate the contrast with “pass.” And it really did feel like I had run a race and come short of the finish line.

      But, I appreciate your comment and I admire anyone who is willing to sacrifice, whether they get the chance or not.

      Thanks for reading.

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