It really hasn’t hit me yet. Developments unfolded quickly. Late Sunday night into Monday morning, I had just a couple of hours to figure out a month’s worth of pet-sitting (or at least take a first crack at it), figure out what to say to my manager at work, and pack some clothes and essentials…while waiting the two-and-a-half hours for the call that would either confirm that a matching kidney awaited me or crush my hopes for the second time in three months.
Then when I received the amazing news shortly before 3AM, I had to get on I-85 and get to Carolinas Medical Center. The drive was a bit of challenge, given that I had taken an Ambien minutes before having gotten the midnight call from CMC. Fortunately, if you can manage to stay awake for three hours after taking an Ambien, you’ve pretty much managed to squash its power. This didn’t mean I wasn’t exhausted, though. It helped to have some adrenaline from the prospect of getting a new kidney.
Until 9AM or so, it was still only a strong prospect and not a definite reality. I needed to have bloodwork, an EKG, and a chest x-ray analyzed to ensure that there were no red flags that would disqualify me from receiving a transplant.
And then there was the matter of learning the nature of the donor’s health. It seems the unfortunate man in his mid-30s was an obese alcoholic, and he succumbed to his alcoholism. While his liver may have been shot, his kidneys were apparently in great shape.
Oh, and his wife told the doctors that he had had tuberculosis at the age of 1. It was treated and seemingly eradicated from his body, but there would be a very small chance it could be transmitted via the kidney. There are risks with any donated kidney, though. Getting off dialysis and possibly improving the quality of my life immensely trumped the possibility of getting a little consumption.
So my surgery began around 10:30 and lasted 3-4 hours. The blissful grogginess one hopes to have upon coming out of the anesthesia did not materialize. I recall my sensations being overwhelmed and shivering, while it seemed I was being rushed out of the operating room to my room in the ICU. I remember begging someone to slow down…
Coincidentally, as I was just writing about coming out of the anesthesia, one of the anesthesiologists came into check on me. Normally, this would be an uneventful interaction, but I actually had a question for him. Was what I had experienced a normal reaction? He described various behaviors that can occur during “emergence” that are actually normal, and the team didn’t have much of a reaction because there was nothing to be done, that the symptoms would (and did) fade.
Eventually, my cognition returned to a calm state. Unfortunately, I was informed that I’d have to undergo four hours of dialysis. My potassium was high, and this needed to be corrected. So…one more dialysis session. But it was the least-stressful four hours of dialysis I’ve experienced, from the needle-sticking to how my body felt during the dialyzing to how I felt afterwards. Further proof that dialysis need not be torturous, and that dialysis clinics basically suck at what they do compared to what is possible.
I didn’t mean to tell such a detailed story. I actually have a dozen or so complaints about how CMC has handled things. They’re similar but not quite as disturbing as what I experienced at Duke, perhaps only because I’m used to crumby hospital experiences by now.
All in all, I’m feeling ok. Pain is well-controlled. This surgery was not as damaging as my January nephrectomy. Back then, they were extracting a ten-pound deformed monster kidney. (Revisit the picture if you dare). My insides looked like a bomb had exploded after that PKD kidney was removed.
By contrast, the new kidney, like any healthy kidney, is about the size of a fist. The incision isn’t too big, and there was plenty of room for it. Transplanted kidneys always get inserted into the lower abdomen, as opposed to the middle of one’s back. In my case, my original PKD kidney’s location is likely way too scarred for a new kidney to go there. For many people with other conditions where this is kidney failure, no kidneys are removed, so there needs to be a place for the third kidney.
So, I’m sitting up and typing this. Pain is manageable. I’ll probably be here until Friday or Saturday. And then I’m in Charlotte for another 3-4 weeks because I have to followed closely by the CMC nephrologists. A month away from home. A month away from my old pets. This will be difficult. I welcome visitors!
As I said earlier, it really hasn’t sunk in yet. First of all, there are no certainties YET that the kidney will continue to be accepted by my body. Modern anti-rejection medications make this unlikely, but it’s still a possibility. My hemoglobin is way down, so I won’t experience a sudden surge of energy in the short-term. There is the strong possibility of unpleasant side effects from my many medications over the next few weeks and months. However, in short order, I think my mind will realize that I’m done with dialysis, which will very satisfying, and I think new-found energy will gradually make itself apparent.
One last observation:
This procedure has an enormous price-tag. I’m fortunate to have a ridiculously excellent insurance plan that will cover just about all of it. But I can’t help but wonder why they skimp on the ginger ale. They’re giving me Shasta. Seriously…Shasta?
I will probably spend a lot more time blogging about random things, since I’ll simply have a lot of free time on my hands. I might even, gasp, read some books.
It hasn’t sunk in yet, but I’m sure I’ll write about it here when it does.