Some weeks go by and I don't spend much time reflecting on my transplant. Life goes on a a seemingly normal pace.
But these weeks are rare.
Usually the transplant experience occupies a prominent place in my consciousness. As well it should. Reminders are constant, like being alive for starters. And being alive and not being tethered to a dialysis machine.
The symbology of Easter is always cause for reflection with its stories of death and renewal of life. Transplant surgery is by definition renewal of life. The drastic and extraordinary act of taking a vital organ from either a living or deceased donor and placing it in another body would not be undertaken unless the recipient was otherwise at the point of death. In my case it was "end stage renal failure."
End Stage. End of the line. Point of no Return.
Good Friday is always cause for encounter with grief. The music is monastic and medieval, the setting stark. As a chorister it is the most emotionally dynamic music we sing. Sadly, it has the smallest attendance of any of the Easter Week services in which we sing, but somehow that seems to intensify the spirituality and changes performance into emotion. Through life is death. Through death is life.
Ten years ago I finally began to accept the stark reality of my diagnosis and made an appointment with a vascular surgeon to create the fistula that would allow my veins to carry the increased blood flow necessary for dialysis. Dialysis which was always inevitable, but now imminent.
My nephrologist had told me to schedule the appointment eighteen months previous and had brought the surgeon in to see me while I was hospitalized for a blockage caused by my enlarged polycystic kidney. The date is anchored by the Texas Rangers failed pennant run which collapsed when Frankie Francisco threw the legendary chair into the stands in Oakland. 2004, look it up. We watched it in the hospital.
Of course, my response to my nephrologist was classic. I didn't see a doctor for the next eighteen months. I finally collapsed from anemia and spent two days in the ICU receiving blood transfusions and the next two weeks hospitalized.
Finally, in April 2006 I had vascular surgery to create my fistula.
The fistula matured for six months and was still developing when in November Dr. Rinner told me that while I had fought a valiant fight, it was time to start dialysis. Either that or wind up in the ER at some point during the holidays. My natural kidneys had failed. My options were dialysis or death.
Two years of dialysis were followed by a deceased donor transplant in November 2008;
Now, ten years later my strength and vitality surprise me every day. In 2006 I had no idea I was as sick as I was.
The fistula is still working and still maturing. My vein, which was deep and difficult to stick is now strong and prominent. It is my lifeline and constant reminder that everyday is a gift and a blessing.
Crux Fidelis, King's College, Cambridge.