Six years ago, on August 19th, I donated my left kidney. Every now and then I think about it and it startles me, because I forget.
A friend from the Native community, and a fellow tribal member, had a husband that had failing kidneys. We would talk and she would tell me about what they were going through. Several family members had gotten tested but for whatever reason they couldn't donate. So Luis was on the list for a cadaver kidney. Being on the cadaver list means you carry a beeper around and are ready to go into surgery when you get the call. You have to be ready to drop everything, and everywhere you go, you have to take the transportation and timing involved into getting back into consideration.
Luis was at the point where he was getting dialysis and it wasn't going so well. He was constantly tired and he was getting infections from the port in his arm. I had only met him a couple of times. I felt really bad for them, he and his wife had a teenage daughter and I knew them to be a clean-living, really tight family. I started thinking about getting tested, knowing that my O negative blood type makes me a universal donor. I would have felt guilty if he died, knowing that I may possibly have been a match.
I got checked out. All I remember is a physical where I got to tell about my drug using history, and it still didn't disqualify me. I must have given blood so they could match up the antigens and whatnot, and I had a scan where hot-feeling dye was injected into me, and then a picture was taken to see if indeed I did have two kidneys.
I didn't start feeling nervous about the surgery until just a couple days prior. It's freaky to get the obligatory "you could die" speech from the doctors. The plan was to take the kidney laproscopically, but if for some reason that didn't work, I could have woken up to see that they took it "the old way", which means slicing up the side of my body for direct access to pluck the kidney out. Much more invasive and requiring a longer recovery.
As it turned out, I ended up having three punctures in my belly: one for the camera, one for light, and one to put some dealie in that pumps in carbon dioxide that inflated me so my innards could be lit up and make room to move around. An instrument was inserted into a larger incision at my so-called bikini line (yeah, right) which traveled up through the inflated region to snip the kidney and then escort the ruby filtering wonder back down to be removed. It was all done with a robot that was operated by the surgeon. The kidney was then attached to Luis in the next room.
He felt better right away. I remember that the family was so excited that he was peeing on his own, because before he had to take medication to be able to pee. The whites of his eyes cleared up immediately.
I felt fine. One of the techs that dragged me from the gurney to the bed after surgery told me I look like Natalie Wood, so I got to bask in that compliment through an anesthetized haze. The incisions weren't so bad, I think the most painful part was how the carbon dioxide would cause this intense crampy-type of pain in my shoulders when I sat up. But that was how the gas was eliminated, so I had to sit up for awhile, take a break and then sit up again to make it go away.
I felt like such a modern woman, having a robot extract my kidney. I felt satisfaction in helping this person get a few more good years of life. It felt like somewhat of a vacation, getting to spend a couple of nights in the hospital doing nothing, since I had a two year old and seven year old at home. I also felt some satisfaction that I could give something without expecting anything... that it was pure. I hardly knew Luis, and he is very different from me. A Latino-American Catholic with pretty conservative/traditional views. It wasn't about how much I personally "valued" him as a family member or friend, or a judgment at all on how he went about his life. We are all just people, eh?
Their family moved to San Jose and last we talked, Luis was doing great.