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Recovering from surgery has been more difficult than I anticipated.

pug pie

You can’t always get what you want

Mostly because of unrealistic expectations and mismatched comparisons. The biggest rabbit hole I fell down was that kidney donation recovery would be similar to a normal (low transverse) C-section recovery. I mean, yes, in that you have abdominal surgery and the attendant issues with things like getting out of bed and pain in similar places, but no – the residual gas pains, bloating, full-torso discomfort and extraordinary fatigue have been only with this surgery. So for maybe 7-10 days, while I was on the good meds, the aftermath felt similar, but then things wildly diverged.

A baby to tend to, while exhausting, is also a great distraction. While at home, now, the days have been long and relatively quiet – although getting my kids off screens and doing chores always causes some noise – so 2 weeks felt longer than 2 weeks, and 3 weeks felt longer than 3 weeks.

“Why am I not better?” I would demand of my husband every other night.

“Why are you not understanding this?” he would counter.

But apparently, the standard 6 to 8 week recovery is really A Thing – because the first couple of them seem to be dealing with just the leftover surgical process (helium inside you! fluids! manhandling of your insides!). Then your organs resettle, your skin knits back together. It’s a little gross unless you’re a medical professional, to be honest.

I was, I don’t know, arrogant? Unrealistic? I thought that being in good shape – I try to exercise five times a week – would somehow help me bounce back faster. But it turns out that surgical trauma doesn’t really take stock of how you were BEFORE, just whoa those are some holes in your body (inside and out), so let’s rearrange everything and see how it goes.

Now, I also feel like I am getting conflicting instructions – namely REST REST REST constantly and also WALK AROUND TO GET BETTER. These two things can’t really be achieved at the same time.

I can drive again, which means that I can errand. The mall is air-conditioned, so I will try to maybe come up with an errand per day in order to tool around for 15 minutes in a cool space. Then come back and sit in my rocking chair. Balance. Or something.

A friend who has said she wants to donate a kidney in the future has already told me not to talk about the pain, thinking I will scare people off. But I don’t want to blow smoke.

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This doesn’t help anyone

I don’t want people to think they’ll feel better in three weeks when it takes double or triple that. People should readily accept meals and chores and help and favors for at least a month, instead of thinking that two weeks will be enough. (I thought I wouldn’t need a third shabbat catered by friends and acquaintences. I didn’t, exactly, but not because I cooked – rather I spent Friday night in the ER, making sure I didn’t have a pulmonary embolism, while my kids unexpectedly were fed and housed by friends. But now we have uneaten Shabbat food for days!)

The important thing is, my regrets are along the lines of “I should have been more realistic in my plans” or “I am sorry my kids are having a boring summer with a mom who can’t really do things.” But I don’t regret donating. Not for one second.

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This is the end. The beginning is herePart 2  Part 3  Part 4

During the psychological interrogations, one of the questions they are keen to ask prospective donors is: What if your donation is a failure? What if the recipient’s operation isn’t a success from the get-go? What if your organ is rejected by their body? How would you feel? Meaning: What if this big, risky effort on your part ultimately means nothing?

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Sometimes you don’t know until you’ve already arrived.

My answer in these interviews was always the same. I would be disappointed for him, obviously – the point of this undertaking is to improve his health – but as far as I’m concerned, I am doing all I can. And it’s a one-shot deal; I am fully cognizant I cannot do this again.

I put a huge amount of trust in the expertise of the transplant team. Not only for their surgical skills on the day of the big move, but for their assessments leading up to it. I had been warned when I “entered” the program that the doctors might decide that my kidney was better suited for someone else – someone more gravely ill, someone with a better tissue match, a child (I am relatively petite). But after all was said and done, I was told that the pursuit of my original match, the man behind the newspaper ad, was fine – I was a good fit for him. (Irony alert – he’s quite tall.)

In the crucible of the hospital, my recipient and I slept three rooms apart. Our partners constantly ran into each other in the hallway, swapped news, offered to bring each other food from the cafe downstairs. (I am going to hazard a guess that in America, this does not happen for altruistic donors and their recipients.)

So, you know, since we are now entirely bound up in another family – I am happy to report that things, cautiously, look good. (We get texts from his partner almost every day.)

His creatinine fell almost immediately. (This is very good.)
His hemoglobin is on the rise. (Anemia is associated with low kidney function.)
The period for acute rejection passed quietly.

(Althought it is only partially true that I don’t feel responsible for what happens. While the nephrologists are fine-tuning his meds today, I wonder if I have eaten too many gummy bears. This week. After the transplant.)

I am thrilled that he is feeling better and can leave behind the thrice-weekly grind of hospital dialysis.

My entire goal was to help someone live his life better by facilitating better health. I am lucky in a lot of ways – financially secure and in solid relationships – but I know that my health is the bedrock for everything I want to do in my life.

If I want to travel, I can save up money and vacation time and arrange it and go – worst case, I’ll need some vaccinations or antibiotics.

My health and Taxman’s health never prevented us from having children. (Our brush with infertility in the early aughts was never explained and was ultimately resolved without intervention.)

I am truly free to choose a multitude of paths. Because I am a healthy person.

Why wouldn’t I want to share that with another human being? Even if I didn’t know him before?

I don’t think this makes me a hero. I don’t feel like I “saved” him. I know that kidney donation isn’t forever. It is, when successful, a long-term treatment option for kidney disease. I hope that this will give him years of good health and allow him to do, really, whatever he wants – get a new job, travel the world, have a child, anything.

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Don’t get me wrong, I feel very gratified that he is recovering successfully and things appear to be on the right track. But he still has a long road until things are “normal” for him – as normal as they can be, considering he will be immunosuppressed for as long as he’s got a “guest” organ. (By the way, I must make it clear that this new kidney of his isn’t mine. As soon as it was out of my body it ceased to belong to me – I cannot view it as my kidney in a new location or anything like that. It was a gift and now it’s his, the end. Even if I still feel some weird sort of responsibility for how it behaves. Yes, I am a bundle of contradictions.)

What feels miraculous to me is the science behind this. Organ transplants! Who knew? Tissue matching! Anti-rejection meds! And it’s been happening long enough, as I told the panel in my vaada, that long-term studies can now tell me my risks for 30 years from now.

So that’s my kidney donation story. Six months of testing and pestering, unloading my frustrations in therapy and in one of my private Facebook groups and on my ever-patient husband, who did an excellent job of compartmentalizing his own anxiety as I chased down this unusual pursuit.

I feel both changed and unchanged. For the moment, I can adequately drop the “I am not doing enough to earn my place on Earth” that I so often feel haunted by. I am not making life better for tens or hundreds or thousands of people, but just the one (and everyone whose life touches his) – this, however, has the makings of “enough.” Dredging up a mournful stance for Tisha B’av, never easy for me, was supremely difficult this year.

I would say “don’t try this at home, kids,” except the opposite. I really want to encourage people to consider being a living kidney donor. There aren’t enough kidneys for all the patients who need them. Long-term prospects for dialysis are grim. Too many people die waiting for a kidney.

Could you be someone’s match?

spare kidney

For an adorable story about kidney donation plus good insight as to how you can really turn someone’s life around, listen to this Death, Sex, & Money episode.

For general information about living kidney donation, check out the National Kidney Foundation.

Jewish organizations that facilitate kidney donation (Jews, as an ethnic group, are among the least willing to be organ donors):

Israel
United States

If you’re willing to be a post-death organ donor but haven’t signed up, please consider registering today:

Israel
United States or your state DMV

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Up until now:
Test of body
Test of psyche
Test of patience 

So there I went, trundling into the hospital again with my huge suitcase (pillow, robe, towel, toiletries, clothes, book, knitting – I did not use most of these things) and snack bag (I figured Taxman was going to need a lot of snacks, not just me).

Things went much more smoothly this time; I actually got a hospital bracelet, had some preliminary checks (bp, temp, blood draw). I had to recite my teudat zehut (national identity number) every five seconds.

I was pretty relaxed, all things considered. I got a room, and my sherpa (Taxman) brought all my stuff. We met my roommates, who despite both being kidney recipients were agog that I was going to donate one. (Isn’t that…how it works?)

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Take this one.

I curled up on the bed with my knitting and got yelled at by a nurse – the beds are only for patients. I waved my bracelet at her, and she apologized. My surgeon, Doron (apparently first names are de rigeur at this hospital – my anesthesia pre-op check before the July 3 fiasco was done by Eran, and the anesthesiologist who kept me alive during the surgery introduced himself as Eitan…adorbs), came by to explain the procedure, again. But this time added that I needed to sign consent for blood products – they were going to have a cross match just for me on hand, just in case – and explained that they were going to take my left kidney. I apparently have uncommon anatomy – most living donors give their right – but my blood vessels were longer and more accessible on the left, so there you go. Doron drew a stylized arrow on my lower left abdomen with a Sharpie and saw himself out.

It was time for me to start being a hospital patient. I had to shower with some antiseptic, and it was confusing to figure out what exactly I had to wash with what, and where, and when. I managed, somehow, but felt foolish. I got an infusion port and some fluids. Then before I knew it, Ofer the orderly appeared with my surgical gown and a bed on wheels. Awkwardly, our congregational rabbi appeared at the same time and wanted to chat and offer his good wishes…at the same time that I was supposed to be literally naked under a sheet. Oh, well, ok.

Taxman helped me into the gown – getting rid of my bra now that I had tubes out of my arm was a TRICK AND A HALF – and then I was there, on the wheelie bed, with Ofer. Taxman got to trot alongside all the way to pre-op, and hung around while I kept sending whatsapps to people who thought I was already unconscious, so that was fun.

At a certain point, another man in scrubs pushed my bed out to a hidden set of elevators, and we went up. I was greeted by Yudit, a nurse, who brought me to the OR, where Eitan surely said some things (I don’t remember), and I was attached to the bed (it was narrow!) in various ways.

….THREE HOURS PASS….

I woke up in recovery. Or, that is, my mind snapped to attention and was racing, but I didn’t feel capable of forming physical words when a doctor in the recovery room asked how I was. Ofer appeared again to wheel me back, but the doctor didn’t like something going on with me (my pulse rate? my color?), and I was infused with something.

I catnapped in five-minute increments for probably an hour. Ofer returned, at long last, and I was feeling normal enough to make a cheesy joke to him – pa’am shlishit glida.

I got back to my bed, where poor Taxman had to watch me have a sleepless night – my legs were in compression “braces” that got vented every 90 seconds to enhance blood flow. Plus a blood pressure cuff. Plus a pulse-ox. I got what I assume were a ton of pain meds, but not a wink. No sleep for the post-surgical….

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Fussy sleepers don’t do well with all this garbage attached. Ask me how I know.

The next day I felt really terrible – nauseated and exhausted. I begged the nurses to leave in my catheter for a few more hours so I could stay in bed. They did, but also insisted that I sit in a chair, so I was nauseated and exhausted while sitting. Hours 12-24 post-surgery are ones I would be glad to forget, although I got a dose of Zofran, and that was quite nice. (I have to interject here and say that the nursing care I got was really amazing. The staff was dedicated transplant nurses, nobody from other departments, and to a person they were great. It was also like a Benetton ad – over the course of my 72 hours in the hospital I was attended by Rabia, who wore a hijab; Moriah, who covered her hair in the style of a modern Orthodox married woman; and Jacob, who wore a huge crucifix and worked on Friday; plus Avital, whose first language was probably Russian, Mazal, Ornit, Alona, and others.)

Thirty-six hours after the surgery, I lost all my infusions. Doron came by to tell me that I was now responsible for hydrating myself, and I should have clear urine, so drink a lot, and I should start eating. Hahaha! I drank a lot, and peed nearly constantly because I couldn’t bring myself to eat anything – though I held a pretzel stick and a cookie and gesticulated with them at various points. But the trips to the bathroom kept me walking, which is also an important post-surgical thing. I finally was feeling well enough to sleep, so I cycled through nap-drink-walk-pee for most of the day. By the end of it, I was feeling almost human again, except for having literally no appetite. I managed to get outside a couple of times, and have some brief visits with friends. Almost human.

The expectation was that I would go home on the 3rd day after the surgery, and so it was. I was released, bloated with medical grade helium and nursing a torso’s worth (ok, just 3) of laparoscopic “stab wounds,” clutching a bottle of Benefiber and a prescription for opioid-coated acetaminophen. (NSAIDs are, due to having only one kidney, verboten from here on out.)

I was reunited with my kids. We spent Shabbat in Jerusalem with Taxman’s parents, where I finally ate real food (that is, I wanted to eat and successfully did).

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Like this, but with matza balls

But this probably isn’t what you want to know. You want to know what it feels like to save another person.

For that, you’re going to have to stick around.

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Catch up on the physical and psychological testing to this point

Where was I? Oh, yes, I was told I could basically pick a date, as long as it was after July 5. It was now mid-June. I had wanted have this surgery in late April, back when I was naive and thought I had some semblance of control over this process and had literally no idea how long it would take.

I said AS EARLY AS POSSIBLE PLEASE, PERHAPS YOU’VE NOTICED THE VERY SICK YOUNG MAN I AM GOING TO DONATE TO?

Then I got a phone call – instead of July 8, how about July 3? Yes, yes, of course. How’s June 19? (Just kidding, that was yesterday.)

never cartoon

So we set up our lives for me to have surgery July 3. This involved:

  • My mother-in-law coming to stay at our house for three nights, so that Taxman could bunk at the hospital with me
  • The dog going to the kennel for a week – while I was in the hospital and a few days afterwards
  • Bowing out of the camp carpool I had set up
  • Finally saying yes to the meal train
  • Allowing the rabbi of our congregation to make a fuss over this in public (blah, blah, inspirational)
  • Making an incredibly detailed Google calendar for my husband and mother-in-law with camp times/locations/transport apparatus and adding things like “do a load of kids’ laundry” and “buy fruit and milk.”
  • Telling like everyone who didn’t already know
  • Trying to ensure that my mother did not literally die from worry (once I had told her once and for all that she and her urologist were not going to convince me to back out)
  • Making food for the freezer and pantry, despite the upcoming meal train

I should note here that I would not recommend altruistic living organ donation to someone with small kids. (If it’s directed to a family member/friend, I mean, you should do it – it will just be even more of a logistical nightmare than I had.) Between the post-surgical restrictions – not lifting more than 10lbs for several weeks, not driving for two weeks – and having to spill out your entire life plan for a while…it’s a lot.

Ready, Set, Uh-oh

Maybe you saw this coming due to my super-subtle foreshadowing, but I did not.

I managed to pass the two weeks without much anxiety. I was sleeping at night (I mean, my usual not-great sleeping, but I was not anxiety-not-sleeping). I was slowly shutting down work stuff, doing last errands (so many of these), last grocery shop, endless laundry.

July 3, Taxman and I arrived at the hospital. We had a bureaucratic issue upon checking in, because WELCOME TO ISRAEL, KIDS! My intended recipient went to dialysis. Someone else got to work on the paperwork snafu, and we settled into the couches on the transplant ward. There seemed to be a lot of people waiting, and not so many people being dispersed into their rooms. Hmm.

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And whispering.

Finally, a few hours into some eavesdropping, Muhammed (the transplant department charge nurse) pulled us into a room. He was so sorry, but my surgery was being postponed. It was a confluence of events – a fatal car accident with an organ donor had brought two unexpected surgeries to the hospital overnight, and half the staff was abroad at a conference. Not wanting to go under the knife with tired surgeons, I readily agreed to come back at their earliest convenience. I did some intake paperwork to smooth my way for the “next time” and slipped out of the hospital with Taxman before noon.

We soon had a new date, July 10, and set to work undoing all the infrastructure we had in place. Thankfully, the big pieces (kid and dog watching) were easily undone and redone.

Taxman and I went to lunch before going home to relieve his mom, our “babysitter.”

Then I fell apart. I had apparently invested a LOT of energy in keeping myself calm, internally and externally. So then I tortured myself with the unanswerable questions of “What does this delay mean? Am I stupid to do something so dangerous? IS IT A SIGN?”

I wallowed and tossed and turned for a few hours. Then I realized I don’t believe in signs, and it was just a logistical issue at the hospital (the transplant teams have to use designated ORs so they don’t take over the ones from other departments), and nothing was different – I just going to have to screw up my courage and do it again.

I spent the week not doing a whole lot, as I had already squared away most of my life. I went to Pilates, I went swimming, I went to the library, I did laundry. I picked up a lot of camp carpool shifts. I asked for work, but it had already been taken care of.

After a dramatic “last coffee with six kidneys” (me and my coffee klatsch) in the final week of June, we had another. You can never have too many coffees.

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Coffee is life….this one needs more milk, though.

Next up: Brave face, redux

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For “How it all began” see here

I’ll be honest, I did not expect the “mental fitness” portion of kidney donation to be the trial that it was. Mental fitness apparently means fitting into someone’s definition of stable and sane, plus proving cognitive competence, plus proving you are not being compelled or compensated to donate.

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Wake me when the analysis is over, k?

1977 has never been so germane

I should have had an inkling when I first spoke to a psychologist, back in March during my hospital day. “Tell me about your family,” she said. So I began to talk about my husband and children, and she interrupted and said, no, when you were growing up.

Naturally, I had to explain that my parents were divorced, and that I had lived with my mom afterwards, because all this went down in the late 1970s and this is, by and large, what happened.

“I don’t understand why this is important,” I said.

We moved on to other topics, like an assessment of my taking risks and my impulsivity. I tried to downplay how impulsive my decision to “go” for this kidney donation was – because it does not match with most of my other decisions over the course of my life. It just felt…right, to be honest. Like being able to see that a puzzle piece will fit before you even try it.

Anyway, I had to wait to be summoned by the Department of Health for my mental health check. I waited for several weeks, all the while kind of in anguish about the ill young man who might (but might not) be getting my kidney when all this was through – and how this was a stupid gauntlet.

In mid-May, I finally had my chance to prove my mental fitness.

It was by far the hardest part of the entire process.

“Tell me about your parents’ divorce,” was practically the opening salvo, and “Well, it was 41 years ago, so I don’t think it’s had a huge impact on my adult life,” was not an acceptable answer.

It turns out that I am loathe to share my innermost feelings with a stranger who will be judging me. Who knew?

After an hour of questioning about every major life event (my parents’ “new” marriages – now clocking in at 37 years and 33 years, respectively, and my relationships with my parents and stepparents; moving across the country as a teenager; becoming religious; studying in Israel; getting married; moving to Israel), I was given a Rorschach test.

Nope, not kidding. Yes, an actual Rorschach test.

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What do you see?

They had told me at the hospital that this would be included, so I poked around online before. The inkblots they showed me were the exact ones from like 1921 or whatever.

The psychologist was suspicious that I knew what a Rorschach was. “How do you know what this is?” she asked. “I’m 43 years old?” I said, “And I’m fairly well versed in popular culture?” (NB: Not Star Wars or comic-based things or Hamilton. But Rorschach shows up all the time? Or did? In the last century, which I partially remember because I am 43?)

I was then tested in my ability to reproduce drawings of shapes and lines, first just copying and then from memory. I couldn’t imagine what this had to do with my mental state, but a friend who is an occupational therapist with lots of hospital experience told me it was judging if I’d be able to care for myself competently after the surgery. (Which they would never let me have, it was clear, unless I had a roster of people who could commit to caring for me. Irony alert?)

Then I had to draw some things (a house, a tree, a person) and make up stories about them. By this point I was entirely fried. Even under the best of circumstances I can’t draw well, and now everything seemed to be coming out of the pencil point incorrectly.

Finally, the test was done.

“When will I know the results?” I asked the psychologist.

“I’ll be finished with my report within a couple of days,” she said, “but then your file goes back to Beilinson and….”

Right. Got it.

I walked out shaky and feeling like my physical fitness really did not count for enough here, but it should.

Back on Earth

Meanwhile, I had started to tell people that I was planning to donate a kidney.

(I had told my parents in the beginning, as I needed some details about family health history. They were both underwhelmed and worried.)

Most people were shocked, but past that initial surprise, I got a wide range of responses. A few friends who are nurses were thrilled. Other people were confused as to why I’d do this. I got a few “oh, this totally seems like something you would do,” which seemed like a weird cover since I really hadn’t considered it before – I’ve been a long-time advocate of post-death organ donation, but live donation is…different.

My closest friends immediately wanted to plan a meal train, because food (and coffee) is how you show you care.

My boss took it in stride, mostly because she’s done crazier things in her life.

A Long Month

I did not hear back from the transplant staff for a month.

I sent occasional texts, asking for updates. Meanwhile, we had to plan our summer. My parents wanted to see us and the kids. (Mostly the kids?) We bought plane tickets, not knowing if I was going to have surgery before August. For the first time ever, we bought cancellation insurance. What if I couldn’t go?

Finally, finally, I received word that I was set up for the final hurdle – a tribunal.

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Hear ye, hear ye, nothing to fear except REJECTION

(The word in Hebrew is vaada, which I guess could be construed as “committee,” but tribunal really captures the feeling.)

The vaada was basically the opportunity for knowledgable professionals who had no ties to anyone or anything in the kidney donation process to make sure I was sane, competent, informed, and acting with free will.

It was 45 minutes of questioning before a doctor (a pediatrician), a lawyer, a psychologist, a nurse, and a social worker. I got to recite stats! Like my chance of dying on the table (1 in 3,000) and my chance of contracting kidney disease with one kidney (6% vs 2% if I kept 2 kidneys). I got to answer/laugh at ridiculous questions like “if God gave you two kidneys, who are you to give one of them away?” and “How can you ensure that the recipient will take care of the donated kidney?”

Compared to the one-on-one with the psychologist, it felt pretty easy. Although someone (the lawyer, maybe?) noted that I seemed tense and I needed to remember that everyone was on my side. Hahahahaha!

In a surprise twist, Taxman and I met the recipient and his partner. He was facing his own vaada – which was much shorter than mine. (I guess he had to prove that he would act in good faith and treat a new kidney nicely?) We learned more about his medical history, such as it was – his kidney failure had come on suddenly, after a seemingly insignificant illness (fever led to a doctor’s visit, where his bp was so high it resulted in an ER trip, where surprise! He was in renal failure and started dialysis the next day).

(This was suddenly feeling very Israeli, as a strict protocol was being broken. Altruistic kidney donors are not supposed to meet the recipients beforehand; as the nurses at Beilinson had told me, donors can drop out at any time – even on the day of the surgery. I was feeling very confident in my decision, but what if I weren’t?)

We were told to expect an answer within a couple of days.

But we were given the go-ahead within hours.

Coming up in part III, a plan comes together

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In a shocking turn of events (admittedly, not to me or a few others), I donated my left kidney last week.

How did this happen? Am I crazy? What was I thinking?

I will try to lay it out in a logical way, perhaps in a vain effort to make people see that what I did is not heroic, but rather just a stretch of “normal” (or what should be normal), and encourage people to check it out for themselves.

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If only kidneys were so readily available

In the beginning

During the last Shabbat of 2017, we were away visiting family. Instead of sitting next to my daughter in synagogue on Friday night, I was sitting behind her and my niece. She was reading an alon Shabbat, a free weekly newspaper, and I noticed an ad with a bright pink background and white lettering. Seeking kidney donation, blood type A, please contact [name/phone number].

This is my blood type. But I haven’t even donated blood in a long time, because the drives all seem to be in the evenings when my kids need to be schlepped to and from tennis lessons or birthday parties or the library, and yelled at to shower or eat dinner or unload the dishwasher, and I don’t have 90 minutes to drive across town, wait in line, donate, wait some more, and then come home.

Anyway, I couldn’t get this ad out of my mind. This is a country that prides itself on its inhabitants behaving like family. Even if your family is small, your friends and neighbors, coworkers and fellow students are supposed to bridge the gaps for you. But clearly whoever was on the other side of this ad was out of those options and was reaching out – to strangers. It was haunting.

As Taxman was falling asleep that night, I said, “What would you say if I wanted to donate my kidney?”

“I would support you,” he said.

Over Shabbat we talked it about it more, and that week he reached out via phone to the name behind the ad. “She was very emotional,” he reported about his conversation. “It’s for her partner. Nobody else has responded.” We collected a lengthy list of tests that the transplant center at Beilinson Hospital demanded as a preamble – and I began.

January to March

Imagine filling out forms in triplicate and that kind of sums up the preliminary testing.

  • Blood pressure at the nurses’ station – 3 times
  • Urinalysis + blood panel – 3 times

Plus a kidney ultrasound and, to my delight, a 24-hour urine collection for creatinine testing.

My results were shipped off via the internets to the transplant department at Beilinson Hospital (regarded as the top transplant facility in the country – and why this potential recipient already had a file open there).

Mid-March – An invitation to the mothership

Once these results had been digested by the Powers that Be in PT (Petach Tivka, location of Beilinson Hospital AKA Rabin Medical Center WHY DOES EVERYTHING IN ISRAEL HAVE FOUR NAMES?), I was invited to come in and have more screenings and get some more information.

I met with the nurse who takes care of the administrative side of kidney donation at the hospital. As we spoke, she took note of my blood pressure about seven times. You know, like you do.

A few other potential donors had also been summoned that morning, and we met in a group with a nephrologist, who was the first of probably a dozen people to describe the surgery, its risks (immediate and long-term), and the long-term pros and cons of a donation. Later that morning, she took my family history and did an initial physical exam.

I had Taxman with me, both as a translator and to minimize my having to relate the entire morning later. Obviously, it was important that he was on board – but we had no idea how important until later.

End of March – Images, images, and a glance into my psyche

Still in it to win it (something in the nephrologist’s stats had been enough to cause one potential donor to excuse himself in the middle of the round), I was called back to Beilinson in late March for a day of testing. More blood and urine – this should go without saying – and other tests:

  • EKG
  • Heart echo
  • Chest X-ray
  • CT scan with contrast (presumably focused on my kidneys)

I spoke to both a psychologist and a social worker, to try to answer the why I wanted to do this and how I would cope with having a major surgery fall into the midst of my otherwise uneventful life.

For the first time of many, I described myself as taking only small risks, as in whatever is required to function – the first time of many when I made a joke about the risks of driving on Israeli highways – but ultimately feeling a responsibility to share my good health with someone who hasn’t been gifted in the same way.

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Israeli highways and byways – not for the risk-averse

The last physical test – and a major test of my patience

I had to get a pap smear. As every single nurse and phlebotomist who had swiped my HMO card since January had told me, I was overdue for a pap smear. My file at Beilinson could not go forward without it. I was supposed to have one at the hospital at the end of March, but we ran out of time that testing day.

(My cervix has nothing to do with my kidneys, for the curious. It was part of the “general health screenings.”)

I tried to nudge the file forward with promises of sending along results once I had them,  but things ground to a halt. I quickly made an appointment with Random Gynecologist Who Had A Free Appointment – mine was just coming back from maternity leave and would never had been available. Then had to wait on the results. Which could not be hurried, for hell or high water. Deep breaths.

April also contained another 24-hour urine collection, because now I was an expert and could easily execute this. Plus some other shorter ones, I think. Give me any sort of container; I’ll pee in it. (Beware.)

Coming up in part II:
My mental health screening, where 1977 loomed large
Part III

False start
Part IV 
Hospital days
Part V
Why I did this

 

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Two days ago, in Machne Yehuda (one of Jerusalem’s markets), I stumbled upon a simple scene that really brought home what I’m doing here.

An Orthodox minyan, a prayer quorum, was meeting for the afternoon prayer in the back of a shop selling nuts, dried fruit, spices, and candy. Despite a synagogue deeper inside the market, a whole 90-second walk away, this ad hoc group just took a quick break from work or shopping and got it done.

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It still sometimes startles – and thrills me – to realize that Israel is full of religious people doing their thing. A lot of them are Jews. (Not exclusively; I’ve seen Moslem prayer rugs in use on roadsides and sidewalks as well. Jerusalem is also home to monks and nuns in their religious dress, who regularly take public transport and shop in the markets.) This isn’t to say that the atmosphere is suffused with it; in Tel Aviv, a much more secular-seeming place, afternoon prayers are usually decently tucked away in office meeting rooms, and non-kosher food options outnumber the kosher ones.

Anyway, after spending so many years in America trying to make my outward religious expression muted in order to shield myself from confrontation or awkwardness or, god, all the explaining, it is odd that I generally don’t have to anymore. (This is partially luck, as I haven’t had to be the only religious co-worker in a firm, which has definitely happened to people I know.) At work in America, I prayed in stairwells; said the grace after meals swiftly at my desk with my head nearly tucked under my desk. I pretended to like hats as a fashion statement.

The other day I was in a doctor’s waiting room with my son, and sunset was imminent. “Did you say mincha at school?” I asked.
“Not today,” he said.
“So do it right now; you’re about to run out of time.”
“Which way do I face [towards Jerusalem]?”
I pointed him the right way, approximately, and he just did it, in a room full of a dozen people.

It is a small thing, hard to describe, without seeming like a fanatic. But I was one of five Jews in my high school graduating class of a couple of hundred.

Watching my children blending in, seamlessly, puts air in my lungs.

 

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