6 Weeks

At this point it is so hard to believe that  I underwent major surgery just a short 6 weeks ago!  I really feel no different than before surgery, and if I didn’t have these scars, I might wonder if it really happened!

I saw Katherine yesterday and she looks AMAZING!  What a blessing.

Katherine and I have talked about never wanting to forget this whole thing.  We wonder about a way to have a permanent remembrance….  The only thing I’ve thought of is a tattoo.  Now anyone who knows me well know I don’t have tattoos nor have I ever had a desire for one, but maybe they can make something pretty out of these scattered scars on my abdomen. Haha.

But seriously, if you have an idea for some permanent remembrance of this kidney transplant experience, please comment below. We need some help brainstorming.

One Month Later

winter-1367153_1280So yesterday marks one full month since I donated my left kidney and Katherine has had a new fully functional kidney. Wow!  In so many ways it feels like so much longer ago.

First of all, my physical health is pretty close to where I was before surgery.  Well, ok, my stamina at the gym isn’t quite there, but everything else seems to be back to normal.  The physical energy needed to get through a full day is sufficient.  I don’t have those urgent nap needs anymore.  I actually felt like that broke 2 days ago.  I’ve had 2 such moments where I clearly recognized that I had turned an important corner.  The first time was when my body mobility seemed like it was prior to surgery…bending, crouching, all those things seemed fine.  That was 2 weeks ago today.  Then this Thursday, I felt like my normal energy had returned.  I guess that means I can’t use the “I’m just tired” excuse anymore!

Secondly, when I remember the day before surgery or even the surgery itself, it seems like years ago, even though I can recall every little detail of that morning.  Some days it’s hard to believe it was a little over 4 weeks ago.

I marvel at how much we can care about one another.  I eagerly look for messages from Katherine each day.  I love hearing how her weekly bloodwork results are fantastic and what new things she has clearance to participate in!  God has brought the two of us together for this wonderful transfer.  Again, I think about how grateful I am that God chose me for such a great thing!

Yesterday, I encouraged a nurse and my doctor when I went in for an unrelated annual checkup.  Interestingly enough, I was their second patient that day who had donated a kidney!  They were both somewhat in awe of the whole thing and I just said, “There’s still good people in the world.”  He replied, “You just made my day.  That was an awesome thing you did.”

Again I am reminded of that verse that started it all, “You are not your own; you were bought with a price. Therefore, honor God with your bodies.” 1 Corinthians 6:19b-20

A Slow Go

So we are 3 weeks post transplant and physically both Katherine and I are doing great. I am a little surprised at how this has affected me emotionally though.  
I had read that many people just feel down once the transplant is over because all the attention is gone, and I haven’t experienced that.  However, I have felt somewhat down without identifying a real cause. It was really easy to identify when mom left on Sunday! She’s my best friend, I so enjoyed having her around, and I was sad when she left.

I’ve never struggled with depression and I don’t think that’s what I’d call this, but I have this strange tension.  I want to be all alone, and yet I want to be surrounded by people at the same time.  Because I have been somewhat isolated over the last 3 weeks, it becomes even easier to stay isolated. I feel totally capable and normal, but then I realize I’m just not there yet.  For me, I know this is all temporary, but it made me wonder.  What about people who struggle with long term illness who are homebound?  Do they struggle with discouragement, depression and just feeling down?  What about people like Katherine who are homebound for months at a time?

Those moments when I realize my stamina is just not where I want it to be yet, and I am again in bed at 6pm…I know this will pass, and quickly for me.  But what about someone who can’t get out much, maybe an elderly person with failing health?  What about a friend who is struggling with a medical condition that leaves him or her home on disability and alone?  

I can’t help take these thoughts to the next level and ask God why he is showing me this.  What am I supposed to do with this different understanding of what it is like to be home and alone and sometimes just not feeling like normal?

I do believe God works in all things so I wasn’t exactly surprised to have an email today about training #3 through a program at a local hospital that specifically addresses the importance of home visits after a hospital stay! I am part of my church hospital visitation team and the next training session is about home visits…the very thing God is opening my eyes to. 

Going forward I will definitely have more tenderness toward others who are homebound and/or ill. I see the importance of phone calls, cards, meals, and visits in a different way.  If you know someone like this, maybe today take a few minutes to reach out in some way. It means more than  you realize!

The Reality of Recovery

flower-1944535_1280So it’s been 16 days since surgery and both Katherine and I are doing great!  I received another call from the transplant department, and I mentioned that this has been such a positive experience.  She asked if I would be willing to speak with other possible donors in the future – sometimes, when a possible donor meets with the social worker they ask to speak with someone who has donated before.  I immediately said, “Absolutely!”

Some people like to know exactly what they are in store for and others don’t want all the details.  This post is for those who want to know everything.  If that’s not you, you may comfortably discontinue reading now. 🙂

There were many things that I expected and even more things that I wasn’t exactly expecting or prepared for.  First of all, the pain for those first few days was way worse than I expected.  I knew the worst of the pain would be from the gas for laparoscopic surgery, but yeah this non-pill popping girl was really happy for pain meds.  That’s another thing, the pain meds work!  Not being a pill popper, I don’t have a lot of experience with drugs of any kind so I was happily surprised that the pain meds worked so well!  I’d say the same for the anti-nausea meds, which I highly recommend.  I refused it initially and suffered for 6 hours unnecessarily.  I finally called the nurse and said ok give it to me and within minutes I felt better!  So I definitely recommend the pain and anti-nausea meds while in the hospital!

My incisions were not in places I expected, but the “extraction point” incision was only 2 inches and that made me very happy!  I have 2 small incisions in the middle of my abdomen and then one on my side.  Incision pain has been negligible.  I didn’t expect that either – I actually thought that would be the majority of my pain after coming home.  Nope.  No pain at any of the incisions. 🙂

I’m surprised at how quickly I feel like myself…and yet I’m unable to walk at a reasonable pace.  This probably has me the most shocked because I expected the pain to give me boundaries, but since there is no pain I am easily tempted to overdo things.  Normal things like going up stairs, cooking dinner and just staying awake all day make me breathless and weary.  Given that I feel so well physically and mentally, it seems so odd that I am so limited with my daily activities.  I am learning every day to listen to my body and rest more…no matter what, rest more.

Another somewhat interesting effect has been a lot of gas!  Fortunately for me and others, it comes out on the topside.  I have been belching like a dude for 2 weeks now.  It’s completely embarrassing and not at all like me!   Actually, it has settled down now, but I had my family cracking up for quite some time!  It was ridiculous.  That seems to have passed just like the docs said it would.

I was also surprised how well I could do stairs and get out of bed the first day I got home.  I expected to need help for both of those activities when I first arrived home.

One huge thing I didn’t even think about…abdominal swelling.  Yep, my belly got a lot bigger and I haven’t worn a real pair of pants with a zipper and button since the surgery.  Extra size leggings and sweats have been wonderful!  I can actually tell you my abdomen was 1.5 inches bigger for 2 weeks.  Now it is down to only 0.5 inches larger. And if you are wondering, I work with a trainer, and we use measurements to gauge progress so I know where I was prior to surgery.  Everything in my lower abdomen is still pretty sore to touch so I’ll probably stick with my leggings for a while now.

Another thing I didn’t think about is FOOD!  I know that’s a shocker for those of you who know me, but I didn’t realize how this surgery would affect my food intake.  First of all, silly me was expecting to eat as soon as I got out of surgery. Um, no.  Actually, I couldn’t eat the entire day!  Definitely didn’t see that coming!   Oh wait, not only no food, but I still couldn’t have anything to drink either…until 12 hours after surgery.  And then it was only liquids.  My husband and I laughed because they gave me apple juice (which I strongly dislike) and I kept saying, “This apple juice is so good.  I don’t even like apple juice, but this is just so good.”

So continuing on this food topic, I was barely able to consume any volume of food for about 2 weeks after surgery.  I would take 3 bites of something and feel full.  Perhaps my insides were so swollen that there wasn’t much room in my stomach.  I found I easily refused some of my favorite foods and just wasn’t all that interested in eating.  I ate because I knew I needed food for healing.  Now that we are 16 days out, I am eating normal quantities, but certainly much less than before surgery.  My workouts have stopped so the nutrition demand for my body is much less.  It will be interesting to see how resuming workouts in 2 more weeks will affect my appetite.

10 Day Follow Up

My “10 day follow up” was actually 13 days later due to the holiday weekend.  I was feeling great and it was my first day driving.  I hadn’t taken any pain meds since 4 days after surgery and I felt great, so I drove to the hospital for that appointment.  I had a list of questions (like the embarrassing gas part) and they checked me over.  They again thanked me for what I did, reviewed my labs, and sent me home with all my medical records and a 6 month recall appointment.  That’s it!  As far as they were concerned I was done and only needed follow up check-ups at 6 months, 1 year and 2 years.  Done!

As I reviewed my labwork at home (cuz I’m that kind of a geek), I looked at my creatinine levels prior to and following surgery, and I had a brief moment of sadness. My creatinine levels were slightly elevated after surgery and are likely to remain there for the rest of my life.  (Normal #s are 0 to 1.1 – My post surgical level was 1.15 which is barely high)  My GFR had decreased as well (now abnormal).  Both of those were expected and fully disclosed in our very first meeting with the doctor, but somehow seeing it in black and white affected me a little more.  In the grand scheme of things, it is insignificant, but I had this “oh no I’m not normal” feeling.  It passed and I’m over it but it was a little strange.

So here I’m including 2 photos of my wounds.  There are 4 incisions.  The large one, aka “the extraction point”, is just inside my left hip.  The photo on the left is 2 days after surgery and the photo on the right is 16 days later.

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I’m hoping that slight lump just above my hip is from the stitches and will disappear as I heal completely.  And I’m rubbing Vitamin E on those scars to help the appearance as they heal.

All things considered, I am completely thrilled that I had this amazing opportunity to give a marvelous gift to a wonderful person.  Yes, the experience was traumatic, and yes, the experience was miraculous and wonderful.  I feel like it is much like childbirth – talk about traumatic!  But just like every momma could talk endlessly about having her babies no matter how long ago it was, I will remember this gift, and I will enjoy sharing this miracle with anyone who wants to hear about it.

 

Sisters Forever

When people stop by and see me they are amazed at how well I look and how great I am doing.  I felt the very same thing when I saw Katherine on Thursday!  We both look and feel great.

Mom and I stopped over at her house so my mom could meet her, Tod and her parents.  It was really nice.  We have certainly created a special bond.  We are equally excited to hear how well each of us is adjusting post surgery.  I am really amazed at how well we can both get around, stairs and all!  It hasn’t even been 2 weeks and we are feeling really great!

As if that wasn’t enough, Katherine’s numbers in her bloodwork have been fantastic!  Praise God – we prayed for a super kidney and I think she got one!  We both have follow-up appointments scheduled for Monday and that will be the first since we left the hospital that I will hear what my numbers are.

Such an amazing experience to be a part of a real life miracle.  It’s something you can’t quite explain.  I have a friend who I met through this whole thing, and she feels the same way about it.  I can’t help but wonder if more people had a giving mindset how it might change the world.  I’m not planning on becoming a living donor advocate or anything, but I would definitely recommend it!  It truly has been a wonderful experience even from day one.

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Here’s a photo of Katherine and I about 10 days after surgery.  Amazing!

A Most Precious Gift

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So we are 5 days post surgery.  WOW! I can hardly believe it!  Today I am feeling so well that I am showered, dressed and I can almost walk completely upright.  I feel amazing today which is great because yesterday was lousy.

I was able to talk to Katherine today and that was really fun!  We compared surgery stories – which were surprisingly very different!  She is improving and we celebrated the fact that she was able to leave the hospital without kidney disease!  How awesome is that!

Major life events like this can bring out the best in people!  My mom is here from FL to help take care of the family and me while I recover.  A friend dropped off a meal.  A friend came for a visit and brought soft, cozy LuLaRoe leggings.  My teen boys are willing to do anything for their mom, and my husband has been bearing the full burden of our business for the past 5 days.  My parents bought me a beautiful bracelet to remember this occasion forever.  This girl is definitely blessed. 🙂

Overall, this was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.  I see the grace of God in a whole new way.  He gave us a gift, one we can never repay or be good enough to earn; it’s simply a gift.  Katherine has learned to receive that kind of gift.  She can never repay for the gift of life she has been given.  That somehow makes the giving of such a gift incredibly precious.  I am honored that God chose me to give this precious gift of life to His daughter, Katherine.  Through this giving, our families have become woven together, and we will forever be family.  That’s another beautiful gift.

Home

I was surprised at how strong my emotional response was when I left the hospital.  As the guy wheeled me down the hall, I remembered being wheeled up in a bed shortly after surgery.  I remembered the moment of fear when I had to say goodbye to my husband…and I couldn’t stop the tears.  The OR techs wiped my face and reminded me that they were going to take good care of me.  I remember how I wanted to cry when Tod first told me the kidney was working in Katherine’s body, but it hurt too much so I tried not to think about it. I think about the incredible gift of life that I was privileged to offer.

Words simply cannot do this experience any justice.  I have created a special bond with a wonderful woman and we have extended our family to include hers.  I am humbled and honored to have had the great privilege of offering a physical part of my body to a friend.

Our celebration the night before surgery was awesome – it was a great opportunity to meet each others family and friends and have a powerful time of prayer.  We all chuckled when Judy prayed for these to be “super kidneys.”  We were also remembering those prayers when after surgery Katherine’s numbers were even better than the average person with 2 kidneys!  Talk about a super kidney!

I don’t want to forget all the great things that happened because of this choice.  Things like my long 30 minute conversation with my nurse that first night. Things like how God showed himself faithful to his daughter Katherine by using someone she would have never even thought about.  Things like how I adore my husband for coming along this journey with me and supporting every decision.  I am thankful for the peace God gave me the night before and morning of surgery.  It was that peace that enabled me to hop on that stretcher and get wheeled off away from Chip when it was time for surgery.  I remember the eyes of so many people who love Katherine….their eyes said what their mouths couldn’t…I will always remember those eyes. And about my dear Katherine, in one way I am sad because this portion of the journey is over, but at the same time I know we will never be the same.  I started off not really knowing this woman, and now I have such a deep love for her and for her family, and we share a story which has affected many lives.

I have more I’d like to write, but I cannot do it because I will cry and it still hurts too much for that!  They are tears of great joy because I am continually amazed at what God has done in and through me.

Katherine and Tod, I am so happy we have had the chance to get to know you better.  I continue to pray that that “super kidney” continues to provide for your body for the rest of your life on this earth. Knowing that my kidney is working so well in your body makes every bit of pain worth it.  I love you.

Merry Christmas

So today is Christmas and this year, I am thinking much differently than in past years.  Christmas is a time for giving – what a wonderful time of year to offer the great gift of LIFE to someone by donating a kidney!  Christmas is certainly a time for gifts, and I try every year to focus on the greatest gift ever given.  Many of us know that the reason we celebrate Christmas is to recognize Christ’s birth.  If you know your Bible, then you know the purpose of the Christ child coming was to die….for you and for me.

Now, none of this is new information for me, but the voluntary act of choosing to come to this earth and suffer for someone else really has my attention this year.  Now if you know me well, you know I don’t beat around the bush.  I’m a pretty straight talker, and so that makes me a pretty straight writer.  I realize that I am at a place where I am voluntarily choosing to suffer for the benefit of someone else.  I cannot explain how much that changes things!  I’ve had 3 relatively minor surgeries, but NEVER have I experience the fear and anxiety of this one and I believe it’s because this is a voluntary choice!  I do not have to do this. I can walk away at any time and have no effect. I do not have a deep emotional connection to Katherine, so I don’t carry that sense of expectation that one might have with a family member. I have nothing to gain.  I am choosing a path of suffering and sacrifice because of love.

As I reflect on Christ’s birth and his choice to voluntarily come to this earth and die an awful death for the benefit of others, many of whom hate him, I find myself with a greater appreciation of His sacrifice and also admiration for His obedience to the Father’s will.  I understand a little more of that struggle in the garden.  The human will is strong and to set aside that desire to avoid pain and follow God’s plan has me so in awe of Jesus.

We want to avoid pain at all costs….so how do you consciously choose pain and suffering?  It’s all about love.  Christ came and Christ died because of his love for you and for me.  He didn’t have to come.  As far as I’m concerned he could have wiped us all out and started over with some new created beings!  But instead, his love for God the Father and for us led him to voluntarily choose suffering and pain so we could have fellowship with God our Creator.  Wow.  I’ve thought about this constantly over the past month.

Now please don’t misunderstand – I am not saying that giving up a kidney is anywhere close to what Christ did for me, but the voluntary choice part has me looking at His birth from a fresh perspective this year. I want to forever remember these things I have learned as I ponder.

Enjoy this message below where our pastor talks about courage, generosity and worship this Christmas season.  Merry Christmas!

Christmas Message from ChapelNJ on Vimeo.

Becoming Selfless in Solitary

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I think one of the things I’ve appreciated most and struggled with the most is the sense of being alone in this decision to be a living donor.  I have a tremendous amount of support starting most with my husband.  He has made incredible sacrifices to meet doctors and go to appointments with me, and I want to say he supports my decision, but it was really our decision.  We decided together that this was a good decision, and we would continue down this path until God closed the door.  My kids are all supportive – even my 25 year old in Spain who is wishing she could be here during the surgery.  My parents and siblings and coworkers (they’re like family) are all incredibly supportive.  Even still, I am alone with my thoughts.
It is in those alone times that God spoke loudest to me.

I remember that very first day as I considered this wild idea of offering one of my working kidneys to a woman I really don’t know. Trust me, I had all the “what ifs” run through my head that day.  And with every “what if”, I heard “your body is not your own; you were bought with a price.” (1 Cor. 6:19-20)  Every. Single. One.

So I’m running a constant dialogue with the God who knit me in my mothers womb (Ps. 139) thinking about my body and actually offering a part of myself as an offering to God.  He made me; he surely knows what my future holds and if I trust Him, I should be able to trust him with my one remaining kidney right?

It caused me to wonder – why would I not offer my body to another?  Self-preservation? Selfishness? Fear of risk?  I say I trust God, but do I trust Him enough to put myself at what seems to be a physical disadvantage for the rest of my life?

The more I thought, the more I realized I had to say YES! I had to say YES because I had this unique opportunity to offer life to someone else.  Life!  LIFE!