A Transplant Story

July 28, 2008

It’s been four days since the surgery took place and I’m finally feeling the haze begin to lift. The word last night was that, after a couple of days of ups and downs for my dad, his blood pressure had settled right where it needed to be and the kidney was producing beautifully! Things were a little scary there for a while, and he’s by no means out of the woods yet, but I’ll take last night’s report as a good sign!

I made it through most of the yesterday without any Vicodin, finally taking a dose at bedtime when fatigue was beginning to settle in and a bit of pain had resumed. I woke up very early this morning, at about 2:30 and felt no desire to fall back asleep. I guess I’ll need to work at getting my body back on schedule eventually, but for now, I’ll take advantage of the quiet and feeling well enough to begin to tell the whole story.

Thursday, July 24, 2008 – Music began to play from my clock radio at 3:30 am. I had set the alarm so that I’d have time to hit the snooze button, but I don’t know what I was thinking. There was no way I could just doze off again on this day. I really didn’t need any “snooze” time. I laid in bed for a few minutes, before shutting off the alarm, getting up and taking a shower.

I gave myself too much time. I had packed a bag the day before with everything I might possibly need during my hospital stay; lounge pants and t-shirts, books and my mp3. I didn’t need to put on any make-up or worry too much about my hair, other than keeping it out of my eyes until the surgery. I found myself wandering around aimlessly before it was time to leave, just waiting for Mark to catch up with me.

At 4:50 am, I snuck into the kids’ rooms and kissed each of them goodbye before we pulled out of our driveway and made the short trip to my parents’ driveway so they could follow us to the hospital. My sister and niece were riding with my parents so that they could be with my mom in the waiting room during the surgeries. By 5:00 they were ready to go and we made our way to downtown Minneapolis and into the surgery center by our 5:30 check-in time.

We actually had to wait a few minutes in the outer lobby before the surgery center opened. We sat together in a row of seats, my sister and I actually joking around and snapping a few pictures. I was not yet feeling nervous, much to my own surprise.

(Well, maybe just a little nervous….)

It didn’t take long before we heard the click of the security lock and we were allowed to enter. My dad and I signed a few forms and soon we were called back to our separate rooms to change into our hospital garb and answer a few more questions. I was given a shot of something, in the stomach. I don’t remember what it was or why I needed it, but remember thinking that it burned. It may have been a blood thinner to prevent clotting in my legs. Not long afterwards, our family was told they could come sit with us until it was time to move us to the operating room, which seemed to be only a few minutes.

We were called, along with another man who was having surgery, and his wife, to follow a nurse to the operating room and surgical waiting room. We took an elevator up to the fourth floor, then walked a few long hallways, finally stopping in front of two big doors where we were told that this is where the patients parted with their families.

I quickly hugged my mom, my sister and my niece, finally getting to Mark. After all the past months of feeling ready, confident and comfortable in my decision, this is where I decided to lose it. Without warning, tears began to fall as Mark hugged me goodbye. He realized I was crying and wanted to know what was wrong. All I could do was whisper that I was finally scared. I was trying not to be obvious. I didn’t want to scare my mom or my dad, so I sat there hurriedly wiping the tears from my eyes, as quickly as I could, feeling like a little girl trying to reclaim my bravery. Mark assured me that everything would be fine. He had confidence in the surgical team and he would be right there waiting as soon as I woke up. I managed to dry my eyes before I totally lost it and walked with my dad through the big doors ahead of us.

Inside were rows of beds on each wall and my dad and I were placed on opposite walls so we could see each other until we were wheeled into our operating rooms. I tried to remain calm as I waited and the nurse, noticing I was shivering, brought me an extra warm blanket to cover up with. The anesthesiologist for my dad came and talked to me about how he would take care of Dad during his surgery, knowing the heart condition was a concern. Next, my dad’s surgical team came and talked with me briefly about his surgery. Then my own anesthesiologist came to talk to me about what I could expect. I honestly don’t remember what he said to me. By this time the surgical team was talking with my dad and I was doing my best to hear what was being said. I didn’t think my dad had his hearing aids in and was afraid they would ask him a question and he would misunderstand, but he seemed to be doing ok. Finally, my surgeon came by and talked with me a bit, marked my left side with a Sharpie marker and told me I’d soon be on my way.

The nurse who had been sitting with me told me she was going to give me something that wouldn’t knock me out, but just take the edge off. I remember her injecting it, then getting wheeled off to the operating room as I could feel myself relax. It tried to wave to my dad as I left, but he was surrounded by his team and I don’t think he saw me. I relaxed so much that I remember watching the walls pass by as my bed was wheeled along and thinking, “It’s a good thing I’M not driving right now. WOOOOOOOOOO!” The walls were spinning around me and I smiled at that point. I found myself so amusing that I actually smiled! Those must have been some good drugs!

I remember reaching the operating room and noticing how full of equipment it was. I know that someone was talking to me, but I can’t remember at all what was said and soon I was completely out.

The next thing I remember was someone saying my name, it seemed, very loudly. “TERRI!” I opened my eyes and felt the oxygen mask on my face and could see a nurse sitting beside me. She was telling me that my surgery had been completed, but I was distracted by the oxygen blowing in my face. I felt like I couldn’t breathe and tried to adjust the mask. The nurse gently placed it back where it belonged and told me I needed to keep it there, but I was sure there was too much blowing in my face and once again, I tried to adjust it, this time managing to disconnect the tube from the mask. Once again, the nurse was calm and gentle, saying, “Let me fix that for you.” But again, I was sure I was suffocating and managed to knock the tube off the mask again. Finally the nurse decided I might be more comfortable with the nasal mask instead and gave me the tubes that sit just under the nose. Ahhh, much better.

I’m not sure how long I laid there before I became aware of my dad in the room. I could hear him moaning in pain, but was relieved to know he made it through his surgery alright. It was right about this time that I began to realize that I, myself was in pain and began to hyperventilate. The nurse asked if I was in pain. I tried to answer her, but found I couldn’t speak. I could only whisper, “YES.” The nurse informed me that she would give me an injection of Delaudid and I remember thinking, “Yeah. Delaudid.” A friend of mine had said to ask for that one! The Delaudid took effect immediately and the pain seemed to ease.

The next thing I knew, Mark was by my side and I was being wheeled off to my room. Things were getting fuzzy again at this point but I remember Mark asked how I was doing as I was being moved and I whispered, “I can’t talk! I have no voice.”

We finally got settled in my room, and the rest of the day is kind of a blur of visits from the surgical team, nurses and HCAs (nurses’ aides.) I was assured several times that my dad did fine through his surgery and my kidney was beginning to function in his body. Mark stayed by my side well into the evening, just sitting while I slept and making sure I was comfortable when I was awake, and trying to get me to eat a bit of chicken broth for lunch and dinner. My mouth was extremely dry and he fed me ice chips and offered me ice water as often as I could take it. He expressed concern about my loss of voice, and we were told that during surgery, the breathing tube sits between the vocal chords and sometimes causes a bit of trauma. One of the nurses told me later, when there were signs of my voice returning, that she had been fairly concerned. She said it’s not often that there’s a complete and total loss and she was worried the damage might be more serious. Thankfully, it appears it’s not.

My incisions were checked several times on Thursday and I was not thrilled to see how bloated my stomach was and that there were four small incisions and one large one where the kidney was removed. I had been told to expect three small ones and one large one, so I’ll need to find out where the extra came from. The large one was really the only painful one, but there was other pain to work through, like learning to fill my lungs with a deep breath again. I couldn’t believe what an effort it was to fill my lungs with air, but I was told to keep working at it to prevent pneumonia from settling in.

I was awakened on Friday by the arrival of “breakfast.” I lifted the cover on the plate, tried one bite of some very bland, pasty scrambled eggs and called it quits. My mouth was still insanely dry from the surgery and all I wanted to do was drink ice water. By Friday, I was encouraged to sit up in a chair, which I did, with some pain, while the HCA changed my bedding for the day. I was slightly more aware of the comings and goings of the staff and was able to ask for my pain meds when I felt I needed more. Again, Mark came to sit with me for most of the day as I drifted in and out of sleep. I managed to eat some lunch and took a few short walks down the hallway with Mark’s assistance. When dinner arrived, Mark tried to get me to eat, but the sight of it made me sick to my stomach. I just could not eat. We tried walking one more time, but I was no sooner out the door when a wave of nausea hit and I hustled back to my bed. The nurse told me I was trying too hard and didn’t need to walk anymore that day. I had been hoping to make it to my dad’s room, but had no such luck yet. Mark assured me my dad was ok. I was given some anti-nausea medication in my IV and soon was falling asleep, so Mark left for the day.

Saturday morning found me awake at 3:00 am, feeling much, much better. I found I was able to walk to and from the bathroom on my own, rather gingerly, but I was doing it. The nausea was gone and I was better able to sit upright. I dozed off and on throughout the morning until the surgical team paid me another visit. I was informed that I could now take charge of my direction, and was free to leave whenever I felt comfortable going home, even that same day, if I felt up to it. To be honest, I wasn’t sure I was ready to go home, but the roommate from Hell had arrived Friday in the early morning hours and I had had enough. I wanted to go home. I told the surgeons that I would love to go home, “TODAY.” The head surgeon smiled and said, “Ok, then. We’ll get you all set to go!”

I called Mark and told him I was being released. He couldn’t believe it and sounded uncertain, but I  reassured him that the surgical team had approved me to go. Besides, it would be a few hours before my release forms would be processed and my prescriptions arrived from the pharmacy. So he came back to the hospital to wait with me for the final ok to go.

While we waited, we walked again, finally making it to my dad’s room. He was SO sleepy. He must have been given something to help him sleep and ease the pain because he kept falling asleep mid sentence while we talked. I felt bad because my dad had been doing SO well on Friday, when I couldn’t get to see him, and then today, he had taken a slight turn for the worse. We finally left him to get his rest and returned to my room to pack up my belongings. Mark carried some flowers and my bag to the car while I waited in the room. My prescriptions arrived before he returned and I was told I was free to go.

I’m telling you, that walk out of the hospital was the longest walk of my life. I hadn’t ventured more than a few hundred feet from my bed in the last couple of days and it was a long walk out of the hospital, but I made it. It was slightly painful, but I did it.  And being at home has made it feel as if I’m improving in leaps and bounds. I worried about my dad most of the day on Sunday, but got the good news Sunday night that he seemed to be doing phenomenally well. I have no doubt that this sudden improvement is due to all the prayers and support of our family, friends, and all of you! Please pray, as I will for my dad’s continued improvement. We’re not sure how much longer he’ll remain in the hospital, and I hope he can be home soon.

12 thoughts on “A Transplant Story

  1. Pingback: A Special Anniversary | Into The Mystic

  2. Ok. Once again, please don’t minimize your selflessness, sacrifice, and bravery. It is one thing for people with injuries \ illnesses to go to surgery. But it is very much a whole different thing for healthy people to do so to help those they love.

    You’re the best daughter I’ve ever heard of. And from the above “Mark” (is that your husband?) was awesome too.

  3. I have caught hints of this story here and there but this is the first time I have read this. I wish there were more people in the world like you Terri. A quality daughter and obviously loving and selfless mother and wife. Blessings to you Terri. Blessings to you.

    • Carl, thank you for such kind words!

      I always tell people that donating a kidney wasn’t all just a conscious choice. Once I knew I was a match, there was just no question of what to do. And I’m glad that I did it. It wasn’t a difficult or overly painful thing to do and it felt good to have helped my dad that way.

  4. Wonderful story, wonderful person! I have a friend who donated a kidney to a total stranger. She was quite a bit older than you. When I saw her several months after the surgery, she didn’t seem to be faring as well as you seem to be. I am so glad to hear all is going well for both of you. As was stated earlier, what you did was selfless and courageous! I loved the way you wrote the story and lead us in to realize that it was not just your Dad, but both of you were to be having surgery. Well done and well done!

  5. *love* 16 years ago my husband received a kidney and pancreas transplant from the generous family of someone who died in an accident. There are simply no words to describe the meaning of this gift. Thanks to the bravery and generosity of strangers, my husband has lived to see our daughter graduate from high school and college. And next Saturday, he will walk her down the aisle to get married. I remember our donor and their family every day, angels among us. As are you. May the happiness you have given your dad follow you the rest of your life!

    • Dearflash, it’s so wonderful to hear that the generosity of a stranger literally gave the gift of life to your husband. That is a true and unselfish gift – to help a complete stranger. The decision for me was easy. It was for my Dad!

      Congratulations on the marriage of your daughter. I’m sure that having her dad walk her down the aisle holds a very special significance for her!

  6. Terri~ I had not read your transplant story until this day. You are a marvel. I know to you it was “just something you were happy to do for your dad”—but it is a true definition of love. i am proud to know you through your blog~

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