“We must find time to stop and thank the people who make a difference in our lives.” ― John F. Kennedy
Yesterday marked the thirteenth anniversary of my kidney transplant. Thirteen years. I’m actually shocked. It’s hard to believe so much time has passed. I know it’s a cliché, but where did the time go? It feels like it just happened a couple of months ago but, at the same time, it feels like an eternity has gone by. How is that possible?
Is time a construct of our global overlords or is it just messing with me?
The latter. It’s definitely the latter. Government what-now? It’s Monday and I have horrible cramps. (I know: TMI)
Thirteen years ago, yesterday, I was sitting in pre-op with my brother. The doctors and nurses had just done their final checks. The IV was put into his arm, and we were wearing matching blue gowns. The whole family was there, but we had this moment to ourselves. It was early, and it was surprisingly quiet for a hospital.
Or the ringing in my ears blocked out all the noise.
I was so afraid. My heart was racing. My palms were sweaty. Mom’s spaghetti…Wait, no sorry that’s not my story. Confusing myself with a white male rapper again. Typical.
I’ve had hundreds of surgeries, most of them pretty major operations, and I know the drill. One more scalpel cut, one more line of stitches, one more scar? No big deal! It’s a part of the game. A game I’ve been playing my whole life but my brother had never been through anything like this before.
Having a kidney removed isn’t the equivalent of an appendectomy. You can live without an appendix. You can live with one kidney, an heir and a spare, but a kidney is still a major organ. Having it removed is major surgery. Donating a part of your body is no small feat. It’s a monumental undertaking! An incredible thing to do, absolutely, but there are a lot of risks.
Risks my big brother was about to take to save my life and, that’s as heavy as it sounds.
I was so scared for him and if anything happened… I can’t finish that thought.
We had a few minutes alone and I asked him to back out. There are protocols for these things. If a donor wants to back out, but save face then they’ve got it covered. They can say the bloodwork is off and they need to do more testing. They can say that I had an infection, and we can’t go forward with the surgery until it’s cleared up. There are a dozen excuses. All we had to do was pick one.
Please pick one. For the love of God, pick one and we can call this off.
My brother, bless him, shook his head, and said, “Don’t be stupid. We’re doing this. You’re getting my kidney. You’re going to get better. That’s it. We’re done talking about it.”
The surgical team came and took him in first. I’d go into the operating room next to him, about forty-five minutes later. I sat on my gurney and waited. My eyes moved from the clock on the wall to the door down the hall. I nearly chewed off all of my fingernails. Time moved so slowly, and every time the hand on the clock ticked, I felt a sharp stab in my chest.
My brother, brave and selfless, was in an operating room having his kidney removed. All I wanted to know, all I cared about, were two words: He’s Okay. I needed to hear that he was all right before I went in. Just tell me he’s okay. Come and tell me he’s okay. I looked at the clock and back at the door. Come on, tell me he’s okay.
The nurse came to get me and she gave me the thumbs up. “Kidney looks great,” she said, but I didn’t care about that. “And your brother is doing just fine.”
There it is! He’s okay. Now, we can go and get my part of this show started.
We walked through the doors at the end of the hall, and down a long corridor. There were a lot doors leading to other operating rooms. Carts filled with gear. The air smelt like disinfectant and stale anesthetic. If you’ve never smelt anesthesia, it’s a bittersweet smell. I’m trying to find something comparable but it’s very unique. It’s kind of sweet like bubblegum but bitter, sour, like bleach mixed with lemon juice.
That’s an awful description but if you’ve smelt it, then you know. If you haven’t, well that’s brilliant, I hope you never need to fill your nostrils with that putrid odor.
We reached my door, and I looked back at the operating room next to mine. “He’s fine. He’ll be out soon,” the nurse said as she gently guided me into my room.
Pro-tip, if you find yourself in an operating room: Don’t look around. The surgical tools look like medieval torture devices, and knowing they will be used to cut into your body is unsettling. The nurses count everything out, gotta make sure nothing gets left inside of you, and the process is a bit grim. From a patient standpoint, it’s grim. Don’t look. Focus on the bed, the ceiling, the kind nurse telling incredibly inappropriate jokes. Laugh at the jokes, focus on the ceiling, and let the anesthetic pull you out of your body.
I love anesthetic. Is that weird? My body gets heavy but my mind becomes light as air. There’s this moment of fear when mind and body disengage but then…I’m flying up, up, up into a clear blue sky. Do a few acrobatics, test out those wings, before the darkness pulls you down into a deep sleep. It’s a very strange moment that’s also, just little bit, fun.
Thirteen years ago I woke up in the intensive care unit, intubated (a machine breathing for me), and I heard the two phrases I need to hear: The transplant worked and your brother’s doing just fine. The kidney was a perfect match and my body welcomed it, with the help of anti-rejection medications, without a fight. It would take over a year to fully recover, which is normal, but today my brother and I are doing all right.
Without my brother’s gift, I wouldn’t be alive. I had six months left. If my luck held out which, let me be honest, I don’t hold much stock in the luck game. Six months to live, but thirteen years later I’m still here because of my amazing, sweet, brilliant brother.
There’s no way to thank someone for that kind of gift. There are no words, no deeds, or gifts that adequately convey the depth of my gratitude. Believe me, I’ve tried and I’ve searched. There’s nothing. I don’t know what to say and every time I try, my brother shrugs it off and says, “Shut up, you’re my sister.”
The only explanation needed.
Is it, though? Are there moments, gifts, that don’t require explanation or expressed gratitude? After all, selfless acts aren’t done for applause or recognition. They’re done because of love. Unfiltered, untainted, uncomplicated love. They’re motived by the most innocent of desires. They act out of a genuine concern for someone else. It’s a desperate need to act that’s not based on greed, but of a purity that we seldom see anymore.
An action so rare it borders on the miraculous.
How do you thank someone for being the miracle you prayed for? I’ve never found a way, and I’ve had thirteen years to look for one. “Shut up, you’re my sister.” I love you. I need you. You’re a valuable part of my life. A necessary part of my life. Food, water, air, you. Shut up, I love you.
If you’re lucky enough to have someone say that to you, and mean it with their whole being; hold on to them as tight as you can. It’s overwhelming. Emotionally and spiritually, it feels like too much electricity is passing through your circuits. You feel like you’re going to blow a breaker. Maybe you will, but hold onto them because the lights will come back on. When they come back on?
How do you say thank-you? Do you even need to say it or is this a moment of bonding, on a spiritual level, that surpasses expressed gratitude? A connection so deep, so selfless, that it makes words superfluous. A knowing. An understanding. Two entities united as one in this moment of kindness. No words needed. No deeds of recompense.
All that’s needed, all that’s exchanged, is a knowing nod, a wink, or a hug shared by two people who’ve gone through a battle and survived. Survived through selflessness. That’s all that’s needed because, again, “Shut up, I love you.”
That’s not to say that I haven’t taken time to say thank-you. At least once I year, on the anniversary of the transplant, I say the words because it’s the least I can do. Needed? Not by my brother, but I need to say it. I need to take a minute to remember that moment, and poorly express emotions that are beyond words. I need to do that because it’s important to take a second to acknowledge the people who’ve impacted my life in positive ways. For them, absolutely, but also for my wellbeing.
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I forget how loved and needed I am. I get caught up in the pain of the past, and I struggle to find hope in the future. There are days where I’m dark and twisty to the point of self-destruction. Taking time to mark these anniversaries, and express my gratitude does me a world of good. It’s as if I’d blown my breaker and now I’m flipping it back into place. Let there be light?
Six words can make a world of difference: Thank you. I love you too.
They might not need to hear it, but I need to say it. Whether it’s superfluous or not, these words have to come out of my mouth so I know how loved I am. I need them to know how loved and needed they are. If I can forget, then maybe they’ve forgotten too. I say the words out loud because it means something, on that spiritual level, and, yes, it feels inadequate but it’s not the words that matter. It’s the person saying the words, the heart beyond each syllable, that counts for so much more.
Thirteen years is a long time, and it’s time I almost lost. This isn’t hyperbole, without my brother, I would be dead. Believe me, I know that anything I can say will sound hollow, but please know that my heart is so full it hurts. A good hurt. A volcanic eruption, hot lava, of love and gratitude. I can’t express it well enough, but I can’t contain it either.
So to my brother, one of the most honourable men I will ever know: Thank-you! I love you too.