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Archive for the ‘Previously unimagined adventures’ Category

I am a little worked up over the Bad Art Friend piece. Two writers who have made questionable life decisions were mean to each other in an escalating fashion, and we all got to watch – unless you blessedly chose not to read this piece, go with God.

More successful (i.e., recognized and paid) writers than EITHER of these women had a lot of hot, allegedly funny takes on Twitter, “demanding” that their small donations to charity or small kindnesses to someone else be acknowledged. Hilarious. (Not hilarious.)

But leaving all of the drama, and there is much of it, aside, nobody should forget: a very minor character in this story got a kidney from a living donor.

I think that people don’t really have a great understanding of what this means. I don’t, fully, since I was only on the donor side. But in general – if the transplant is successful – this means that someone who is ill enough to be on dialysis will not need it again for a period of years.

Dialysis is amazing; it is literally lifesaving. It removes the blood and cleans it as the kidneys would and returns it to the body. But once someone’s kidney function is low enough to need dialysis, it’s not a casual thing. It is multiple times a week in a hospital for multiple hours each time. It causes great stress on the body. It is exhausting. Some people have “lived” on dialysis for many years, but it is risky and nobody’s first choice. A big “step forward” for dialysis was when patients were able to be dialyzed in their own home – but this literally ties them to a bed for 8-10 hours in a 24 hour period. There can be no deviation.

So while it saves lives in a very real way, dialysis is meant to be temporary. The ultimate solution is a donor kidney.

Deceased donor kidneys generally do not last as long as living donor kidneys.

Deceased donors are rarer than you might think, about 10,000 Americans in 2017.

In 2018 there were 6,442 living kidney donors in the US.

But there are more than 100,000 Americans waiting for a kidney, at last count. Probably more now, as COVID has affected kidneys as well as other solid organs (heart, lungs).

So the math here, frankly, sucks.

Kidneys are in short supply. The need is great. Perhaps you can understand how the entire concept of living donation being derided or minimized because of one donor’s personality flaws is…horrifying? Enraging? to me and a lot of other people. Seriously, forget these cries for therapy and zero in on this tiny success story.

There are thousands of stories of kidney donors, all of whom have their own sets of good and bad points, like every person. I am sure I’m not everyone’s cup of tea. Not everyone agreed with my decision to donate. I still changed someone’s life for the better. I didn’t demand adulation for it – I don’t really need to, because I have some lovely friends who to this day (today, in fact, at Pilates) introduce me to people by saying “This is OneTiredEma, she donated a kidney to a stranger!” – but I am ABSOLUTELY going to talk about it and ask you, internet friends and strangers, to think about it a couple of times a year.

I want it to feel like a slightly more complex blood donation. Takes more time and testing to get ready, and you only get to do it once, but it feels “normal” and “achievable,” for very many more people.

Even if you’re over 40. Or 50. Or 60. Even if you’re not in the best shape. Even if you drink a glass of wine with dinner. Even if you eat red meat. Even if you’re addicted to caffeine. Even if you curse. Even if you don’t return your library books on time. Even if you don’t like dogs. (This is a little questionable, but I’ll let it go.) Even if you read People magazine. Et cetera. It’s not an audition for an elite institution or MENSA or a third date or your dream job.

Just think on it.

Indeed, you probably are

(If you are inclined to read my story of donation, typing “kidney” in the search box will bring up links to the posts. The initial five are numbered and linked; a few random follow ups appeared later.)

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A dispatch from real people who are kind of fine but also about to lose it

Perhaps you’re one of those people who has managed to use 2020 to make your life better: organize and clean your house from the ground up; turn your yard into a garden that your kids eat from, and keep chickens and goats who hardly poop at all; skip your children’s academic progress several grades under your loving one-on-one attention; make every meal from scratch; abandon your meds (no need for them!); and get a solid eight hours of sleep every night, because anxiety is so 2019.

This post is not for those people.

(We don’t think we know any of those people, in any case.)

For a glimpse into the witty repartee we exchange with each other on Messenger, we have decided to interview one another for pandemic survival stories, tips, and tricks.  

Questions for Gila

  1. How has it been working at home with so much, um, on-site assistance?

First, thank you for this opportunity to share my thoughts. I’ve had many of them but not time to articulate them. In fact, lately it seems like my thoughts have been dog paddling in the deep ocean during a storm, doing all they can to stay above water but often coming close to drowning. See? This analogy didn’t even make sense. That’s how bad it is, thoughts-wise, around here. For example, here’s a story about thoughts: Back in the summer, before we got quarantined AGAIN, Donny and I were taking Thursday Night Old People Walks. That’s because it was the only time to have a Conversation That’s Not a Family Conversation. As we headed to our walk, after not having spoken in a week, other than “did you want to add anything to the online grocery order,” and “never mind, I’ll just text you,” I opened our evening together time with: “So the electric toothbrush I bought for Yaakov today was on sale!” That was all my brain could muster.

Are the brain cells, and the romance, dead? Yes, yes they are.

(The other reason for the lack of coherent Thoughts is that most of my brain space is taken up with theme songs from children’s shows.) 

Anyway, I’m also so grateful you asked HOW things are going! So many people ask me FOR things, but never ABOUT ME. THANK YOU FOR CARING. And now to finally answer your question: I am dealing with working from home with 17 children underfoot with my usual aplomb. That is to say, terribly. My “usual aplomb” is more like “non-plomb.” Where can I get some plomb???? But for real, the trick to working at home is to work when the younger children are keeping themselves busy and entertained. This happens when: 

1. They are asleep. 

So your choices are midnight or 5 am. I myself am more of a 5 am person. (Kate: ME TOO!)  Which means that by 5 pm my nerves are in tatters and I’m like a giant bowl of Rice Krispies, i.e., EXTRA SNAPPY. I love knowing that my children will look back on these months (years? Please god say it’s not years) and remember how the warmth and love and patience of their mother helped them through this challenging time. They’ll probably recall this period in their life while sitting on couches during therapy.

Here’s an example of how aplomby I am doing. (To my work friends who may be reading this: HI I AM TOTALLY ON TOP OF THINGS PLZ SKIP TO NEXT SECTION.) So I opened a document and started editing it. So far so good. About 20 minutes into editing, I somehow thought to check the folder and realized I WAS EDITING THE WRONG DOCUMENT. But not quite the wrong document – a document I had ALREADY edited a few days ago. And I had no recollection. AT ALL. None of the words seemed familiar or rang any sort of bells. (Where are my bells? My bells are gone.) The good news (?) is that when I opened the original version of the document, the one I had previously edited, I noticed that both times, I made similar edits. Points for consistency? 

  1. But surely you’re practicing your housekeeping skills? 

To that end, I’ve become intimately aware of what terrible slobs we are. I have to rage clean so often. And we are also soooo lazy. I can’t even express the depths of our laziness, but maybe this picture can help:

See how we have two “kitchen item holders” in this drawer? And how the front one is super full and the back one is kinda empty? That’s because we’re TOO FREAKING LAZY TO OPEN THE DRAWER THE WHOLE WAY AND PUT THINGS IN THE BACK. We (and here, admittedly, I am speaking of just Donny and myself, because our children were sadly born without the puttingaway gene), open the drawer JUST ENOUGH to get in what we need to get in and then close it. 

Emergency layer cleaning has become the name of the game. You know the emergency layer, we’ve spoken of it before. This the top layer of dirt and mess that nearly makes your house unlivable. So even though my standards are lower than – and covered in – dirt, sometimes even *I* become grossed out by our living conditions. So I clean the top layer of mess while I pee-scream at the kids to help so I can feel semi-human again. You know who I channel during this time? OK hold on to your charm bracelet and hop into your Delorean. Remember Adventures in Babysitting? At the end, Elisabeth Shue’s character has just gotten all the kids back home safely after all the Adventures. And the parents are pulling up but the kitchen is a mess. So there’s a montage of her quickly cleaning the kitchen so it looks livable. (There is no clip of this; I looked. Seems this is NOT the most memorable scene of the movie for most people). Anyway, that’s who I channel in these moments. 1985 Elisabeth Shue. I mean this is also the same time she was in Karate Kid so not too shabby, right?. (Although now that I think about it … she was a babysitter … who also cleaned up? I should tell my children about this. The most I’ve ever attempted when we leave them in charge is to ask them “please make sure the house isn’t in worse condition than when we left.” PS It usually is.)

  1. So … you were in quarantine over the summer … and now again. Tell us about that. 

My emotional state varies at different points throughout the day. For example, sometimes I feel kind of “arggghhhhh” and other times I feel more like “ARGGGHHHH.” Also lots of times I have strong feelings of “[whimper].” 

I’ll tell you the real problem with dealing with yet another bidud and now yet another lockdown. At the beginning of the pandemic, a few decades ago in March,  “wake up and watch tv and color all day” was a NOVELTY. That novelty lasted a while, which helped the days pass. But by the summer, “watch TV and color all day” was no longer NOVEL. It’s EXPECTED. So they needed OTHER THINGS to keep them occupied and entertained. I even allowed Play-Doh in my house during our summer quarantine. That’s how bad things were. (Play-Doh, annoying as its tiny little crumbs of doughy mess is, fits the criteria of “art project they can do on their own.” Do you know how many art projects for 6 year olds require PARENTAL ASSISTANCE??? What do they think I am, “parent that does art with their child?” Have they met me, even once, for less than 5 seconds? Then they’d know. Anyway, it’s difficult to find things to entertain them all day. Who knew I’d be looking back at the early days of the pandemic WISTFULLY???? (Oh god does that means soon THESE days will seem wistful? Possibly, because every time I think we’ve reached rock bottom it turns out there’s more bottom under the rock.)

I even – god help me – taught them “Go Fish,” or “reviot” in Hebrew. Why do I do these things? I have never not rued the day I taught them something new. “LET’S PLAY REVIOT!!!” became the mantra beating inside my skull. 

During summer bidud, we even rented a bouncy house for a few days. And at first they complained it WASN’T BOUNCY ENOUGH. Oh the horrors! (“On the next episode of HaMefunakim: The bouncy house does not provide sufficient bounce!”) But once they accepted the bouncy level, they did enjoy it and it provided some much-needed entertainment. Unfortunately, since it was on our balcony and a million degrees outside, they could only bounce after 4 pm. 

After summer bidud ended, naive little me said, “Well, next time we’re quarantined it’ll be cooler, so we can get it again and they’ll be able to bounce for longer.” OH SWEET SWEET SUMMER GILA, YOU INNOCENT HOPEFUL THING. Our second round of bidud happened mere seconds into September, during “my body’s cool receptors have sweated into nonexistence” season. 

September bidud was similar – MINUS the bouncy house and play-doh but PLUS teaching first grade math (see what I did there?) and reading. For those of us who are short on patience and long on exasperation, it’s been a trying experience. “Mmm hmmm. That’s right. But you have to start at the top.” “No no look again at the first letter. Remember what sound it makes?” “Can you just finish this page? Please? Here is gigantic chocolate bar if you do.” “Why are you crying? Mommy, stop crying.” 

And here’s the kicker – our quarantine end just as the countrywide lockdown begins. Don’t worry – we’re planning on carrying “Bibi Go Home!” placards with us wherever we go, so in case we get stopped for being more than 500 meters from home, we’ll whip out the placards and say we’re going to a protest. (“In your bathing suits?”)

  1. Have you learned anything “essential” from your pandemic experience?

Here’s what I learned: If you had trouble dealing with life’s curveballs before this (hi there, it’s me) … well, I have bad news for you. However, I also learned that my children are much stronger and more resilient than I am. I think I cried more about their corona-related disappointments than they did. So … hope for the future?

  1. Have you found anything new to cook? Please share. 

I am so tired of eating my food. We started a google doc before pesach. It is titled “COVID meal schedule until Pesach.” Because during those early crazy weeks, we really needed to restrict our errands and outings. So Donny and I became super organized, foodwise, planning dinners and Shabbat meals for the week. But then we kinda got into the whole google doc. So we renamed it: “COVID meal schedule until Pesach and after Pesach until the vaccine.” It’s become part of our little weekly routine to sit down together and groan at the google doc and fill in the little boxes for the week. 

We did become experts in one new food item: homemade falafel. We tag team it, where I make the falafel batter and Donny expertly deep fries it. Most of the family even eats it, except for the child who has chopped salad in a pita. (“Falafel in a pita please. Hold the falafel.”) I can’t invite you over to try some, but I can toss you some falafel balls from my window. 

But: I am grateful that I 

A. have food to eat. 

B. have a food planning partner. 

Do we end up rotating the same 4 things? Of course. But we rotate them TOGETHER. 

THE ROMANCE IS STILL ALIVE! 

  1. What’s your biggest frustration with “all this”? (waves around)

NOT KNOWING WHEN THIS WILL END. OMG. And so much frustration toward the people in charge that have brought us to this terrible point. 

I have learned that I am a control freak and this Not Knowing is killing me, but not softly. Loudly, like the Fireman Sam song. And unlike during Pandemic Part I, where I mostly just rotated between stress, anxiety depression, in Pandemic: The Sequel, I have now added “rage” to the Feelings Roster. 

I miss my regular stressed-out life! You’re familiar with the famous story of a man who complains about his nagging wife and annoying children and the rabbi tells him to bring in a cow, then a chicken, then a rabbit, etc etc until his house is full of animals and then the rabbi says “ok you can let the animals leave” and then he’s left with just his nagging wife and annoying children and he’s like “I LOVE MY LIFE WHAT A GREAT LIFE I HAVE.” So I want to go back to just having a nagging wife and annoying children. Get this cow and giraffe out of my house already! 

  1. What are your coping skillz to share with the group?

What you want to do is combine not enough sleep + doom scrolling + taking out your frustrations on your loved ones via snapping and shouting + extra-long showers (good for some alone time AND crying). I worry about water usage during the pandemic, between everyone’s Pandemic Pools and extra-long cry-showers.

Wait, what? These are not “coping skills” you say? You’re right, I forgot coffee. Also, I recommend trying not to lose things during these trying times. And when I say “things” I mean “calories.” Exercised in the morning? Treat yourself to a rugelach (or 3!) in the afternoon! 

Many of you may be familiar with our family song, sung to the tune of hey dum diddly dum. It goes like this:

Sometimes the answer is no/sometimes the answer is no/sometimes the answer is, sometimes the answer is, sometimes the answer is no

But one of the children, in their infinite wisdom, created an alternate version: “Sometimes the answer is … rugelach!” And so it is. Sometimes the answer IS rugelach.

Sometimes the answer is…

Well, I’ve come to the end without an ending. So I will end the Jewish way, with a blessing. Nothing so lofty as “have a sweet new year.” Goodness my expectations aren’t that high! 

How about: May you always know what day it is without having to think too hard. May the rugelach be plentiful and the emergency layer manageable. May your bouncy houses be full of bounce. And may you find a few moments each day to think your thoughts in peace.

Questions for Kate

  1. What has it been like going to work during these Trying Times? On the hand, you get to leave the house and see people! On the other – you have to leave the house and see people!!!!

So my workplace was actually unexpectedly flexible about letting us work from home when nonessential services had to reduce their staff to 10% back in the middle of March. I wasn’t able to do everything that my job requires, but I was able to fill enough hours that I got my full pay. That was honestly so helpful, because let me tell you THESE CHILDREN NEVER STOP EATING. Never. Only a fast day can slow them down. I am pretty sure that the “pandemic project” of every eighth grader — especially mine — was to have a gigantic growth spurt. (Now I am working to pay for the new wardrobe that is to come, if he ever leaves the house again. Questionable.)

Going back to the office to be with people was weird at first, largely because I had to reserve my pajama pants only for nighttime, but now I’ve resettled into a “work routine” that involves such fun things as “late morning coffee,” “gossiping with coworkers,” and “scrupulously avoiding that jackass, far more senior than I, that runs around the hallways without a mask, in clear violation of the posted rules.” (Every day! I hate him! Gah!)

Important mid-September update: That jackass has seen reason or been threatened (not by me, I am non-confrontational) and now wears a mask! Hooray! 

While at work, though, home is never far from my mind – and I can communicate with the people who are at home whenever I want, because everyone has a cell phone. The magic of technology! I am of course only kidding. Not about the cell phones, but that people deign to answer them. They do not. Nor do they check their WhatsApps. What is the point of being in not one, but TWO different WhatsApp groups with my children if I cannot properly distribute chores and instructions? I, however, must be constantly available to reply to things like “I was calling to ask you how to make French toast, but Abba helped me instead” [NB: Abba was in the same room from the beginning] and “What can I have for lunch?” Although frankly “What can I have for lunch?” is often reserved for when I get home, which can be as early as 2pm but sometimes not until 4pm. Apparently my children have learned helplessness instead of learning how to make themselves a scrambled egg or a cheese toast. This also leads to the famous “Well, I was waiting until after lunch to do the dishes! S/he didn’t eat yet, so I couldn’t start the dishwasher!” Oddly, this happens every single day, not once is a rare while or whatever. There is a lesson to be learned, but I don’t think it’s my lesson? Not sure entirely. What day is it? Blink twice if you know what day it is. 

  1. Tell me about how you structure a mentally and physically healthy day for yourself and your children.

Sleeping: My kids do a lot of it, and I don’t do enough of it. This makes them perky late at night and me exhausted all the time. My insomnia has reached new heights! Or new lows. I guess it depends on your perspective. (I am really so proud of this achievement! Always be improving, that’s my motto.) But, wow, for insomniac hypochondriacs of a certain age (mid-40s) this pandemic is just one of a million reasons to stay up perseverating all through the night. “Why does my back hurt? Why is my throat sore? Am I dying, do I have allergies, or am I just getting older?” “Why am I so hot at night? Why is my hair falling out? Is it my thyroid? Am I dying or just getting older?” “Are my children permanently damaged from something I did, or are they just being teenagers?” Even when I do manage to fall asleep, I wake up so tired. Good thing there is a shower and a coffee waiting at the other end of the night, or “night” as the case may be. Coffee doesn’t judge, you can drink it even if you haven’t slept. Have I mentioned I love coffee?

What’s not to love?

Exercise: One kid exercises several evenings a week. The other barely leaves the house, despite my regular entreaties. I have been trying to keep up with my pilates “practice,” as our beloved teacher would say. This means that a couple of times a week I go to pilates class and a couple of times a week I put on peppy music and do the equivalent of about 40% of a class by myself, which I tell myself is enough but probably isn’t. To make myself feel like I am really walking the pilates walk, each time I have a DIY class I force myself to do one exercise I really hate – I usually rotate between pelvic curls, the rocker, and the saw.

Food: I am so bored of everything I make. I miss eating at other people’s houses just for the experience of eating something I didn’t cook. We do not have an organized rotation, but also eat the same few things over and over during the week. For Shabbat I constantly think, didn’t we just have that? And the answer is probably yes, in the past few weeks, we did have that, because we have not eaten anywhere else all this time. The true highlight, though, is that once a week we go to a produce stand and drop an obscene amount of money on fruit and vegetables. Mostly fruit, because my kids are lukewarm on the concept of vegetables. (Less sweet fruits? Why would that be a thing?)

Showering: Yes, we do! All of us!

Teeth brushing: I have no comment at this time. (For the kids, not me; I am a tooth brushing fan.)

Hydration: Liquids are very important to my overall physical health, not only to keep hydrated but to get my exercise at work; I work on the second floor, the only story in a four-story building that does not have a bathroom I can use. Many trips upstairs or downstairs for me in the hours I am at work. I should get a step counter, maybe it would cheer me up.
Here is my approximate (weekday) hydration schedule:

6:30 glass of water
7:30 café latte (cold or hot, made at home and taken to work, as applicable)
9:00 water
10:00 herbal tea
11:30 sad instant coffee (at work)
13:00 water
15:00 seltzer
16:30 seltzer with a splash of juice
17:45 two sips of soda, sweetened iced tea, or blood from my stigmata
19:00 tears of Mitch McConnell
19:30 water
21:00 melted ice cream
22:30 water

  1. What do you think about screen time? Unlimited time? Or however many hours they want? Which is better and why?

I try to be crafty about this and limit time per device. So the kids move from phone to tablet to computer to television, and each movement restarts the clock, which doesn’t really matter because time has no meaning in 2020. They are not allowed to use their phones while sleeping or on Shabbat.

  1. What’s your relationship to cooking shows? Do you feel inspired to “try something different?” Or do you just feel grumbly because they’re eating something with a roux or confit or flaky and you’re making chicken AGAIN? 


Cooking shows are something we watch as a family. We binged a lot of Mischakey HaShef of late. We don’t draw inspiration from it because what they make is usually a direct line to traifin’ up the kitchen. But it’s good for Hebrew vocabulary, so I tell myself, as I make my children translate the very weird adjectives for me. We also watch MasterChef Israel – in all the seasons we’ve watched of that show I’ve made exactly two recipes (one very often – it’s red cabbage with tahini). 

For actual cooking I’ve recently discovered some new-to-me recipes on Smitten Kitchen. Which of course my children do not eat and opt for pita pizza or pasta and cheese for the billionth time that week. We also got a little ice cream maker back near the beginning of all this and have been using it a lot. I do a killer vegan chocolate ice cream, and everybody eats it! #winning

  1. You actually went on vacation this summer! Tell us how that was.

Was that this year?

Oh, yes, right, it was. June. It was good, not as beastly hot as vacation in August. Several things I had wanted to do were closed, so we did a lot of national parks and hiking. Sadly, it was already jellyfish season so the beach wasn’t a good option. We saw the very full Kinneret. In many places, I felt there were too many people for Coronatimes; this has been a very repetitive theme in my life since March: “There are too many people here, I do not want to be here with them; I hate people, especially those who are not wearing a mask.” The little holiday cabin we went to is great – it was our second time there. Two bathrooms, a washing machine, superb air conditioning, and a full kitchen. Maybe by the time we go again they’ll have a pool and charge even more.

  1. What are the best and worst parts of this pandemic, for you? 

The best part is actually sort of sad, and that is that my children have not resisted one iota. They are aware of how science works and have accepted that we can’t have a normal life right now. They properly cover their faces for long periods, even if others around them are not. They are very teenagery in many ways, but more adult than most of the actual adults at the grocery store and definitely more mature than the roving bands of young people that climb all over each other and gather together on a regular basis.

There are many bad parts, mostly stemming from “we have no idea how this fades away” and “people are behaving like selfish garbage humans instead of looking out for their fellow humans,” and as a result we will not have normal for a really long time. School fills me with dread; I imagine classrooms filled with coronavirus. NB: I am not wrong. (I don’t sleep anymore, ever, and send a lot of hotheaded emails that don’t get read by anyone.) Also, I know I tend towards the misanthropic, but I really miss the dozen or so people I very much want to see “IRL” instead of as whatsapp avatars.

  1. What types of “pandemic people” have you met along the way? Where do you fit in? Are you a sourdough gardener painter? Or a child ignorer coffee drinker cryer? 

Here’s my wise observation, based on my friends inside the computer. People who were already into something really drilled down. My friends who were already superb bakers did all sorts of amazing things with flour. My friends who already had a garden made things bigger and better. My friends who tended toward craftiness or home improvement or organizing really lit it up. And I am happy to say that I really leaned into what I was already quite skilled at: being snarky on Twitter, watching TV, and letting the house fall to shambles around me. Come hell or high water, I will leave dishes in the sink! So proud to have not only taught my children the trick about dishes but that they take it one step further, by not clearing their dishes away from where they ate – table, couch, whatever. I found a fork in the love seat today. #blessed

Anyway, I have tried to keep my chin up, largely by divorcing myself from my emotions and the sheer panic swirling around me. Thank goodness for Shabbat, of course, so I can get off Twitter and the Doom All Around, Have You Noticed The World Is Literally Burning? 

As the year 5781 is upon us, I have to think….are we being tested and found wanting? Wear your masks, stay away from people, then come home, wash your hands, and eat your apples and honey with only your immediate family. Please. Don’t make me turn this car around.

Wishing everyone a healthy, caffeine-fueled, dystopia-lite year ahead! 

Stay safe, friends.

images via Unsplash and Gila’s kitchen

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I promise I meant to write up a whole thing for one year past my kidney donation. But it’s hot, and I’m tired, and [insert summer excuse here]. I am also transitioning to a new job and while I am enjoying it, the days that I go to the office just suck the life right out of me. I hope to get over that.

iheartguts

Please consider giving it away….

So, yes, the kidney. Or lack thereof. I had really gotten to the point where I didn’t think about it daily anymore – except in Pilates class, where sometimes I get a weird ping like “someone has messed around in here” – when Facebook started to serve me last year’s countdown to the surgery. (Not thinking about it isn’t exactly true, since I now consume so much more water than I used to. True story about my new job circumstances: I like my new coworkers very much, but ALSO very exciting to me is that the office bathrooms are kept pristine.)  Low-key thoughts, let’s say.

The anniversary came and went; we were going to go out for dinner, but we were busy; life goes on. I am privately mentoring a couple of people who are in the approvals process for altruistic donation. It’s nice and makes me feel like this is much bigger than just me.

Also low-key, but maybe we should make a bigger deal of it (?), is our upcoming TEN-YEAR ANNIVERSARY OF ALIYAH (!?!?!?!). This is super-crazy. We have officially lived in our current city longer than anywhere else as a married couple, and in our current house as a family longer than any other place by far. Sometimes I still feel brand new here, usually when I am trying to interface with Someone Official Doing Something On the Phone. But then there are other times….

Last week, I had a little medical incident (ahem), in which our broken bed footboard, which is very heavy, fell smack on top of my left foot. I iced it immediately, figured it would be an ugly bruise, and judged myself ok for Pilates as long as I didn’t put all my weight on that one foot. Cut to a few hours later, when I could put NO weight on that foot and spun out thinking about surgical plates because of the incredible pain I was in. I took myself to urgent care (“the useless left foot,” to quote a wise friend, does have its benefits) for an X-ray and possibly a mercy killing if I cried loudly enough?

I hobbled into urgent care, was cheered by the almost-empty waiting room, and then had a hilarious back and forth with the receptionist about planning to impersonate Kate Middleton and her bank account. I interacted with the triage nurse, the X-ray tech, and a doctor. I told the story of what happened multiple times. Ultimately I was judged to have nothing broken. Yay! I checked out, cleared up a misunderstanding with the receptionist, paid, and went home. My whole experience was conducted in Hebrew (95%, anyway), and it felt…normal.

calvin hobbes bike

My foot is loads better, but this is my mental state around the footboard. Giving it a wide berth.

I feel like we need to have some hoopla around this aliyah anniversary thing, but it is so easy for things to get lost in the shuffle of everyday life. Maybe we’ll celebrate when we’re in America on our second family trip of the summer, since we will be much likelier to all be together at leisure? Hello, irony.

So, as I almost never say but could, hypothetically – things are…sababa.

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I’ve been a blogger now for 13 years.

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When I started this blog, this arm was jabbing me from the inside. Now it’s gone and grown up. (The arm. Not the blog.)  I mean, “grown up.” But still.

Even though I don’t keep it up as well as I should – the people about whom I used to blog a lot have their own lives, thoughts, feelings, experiences and can express them in multiple languages, up to and including emojis – having this outlet has been a great gift.

Reading the archives from my first month – January 2006 – I can see that while my life has changed SO MUCH, I don’t know that I have, per se. I’ve graduated to caring less what people think of me and my choices (though I will second guess them from here to next Tuesday); I hear that this is a side effect of turning 40, and I am maximizing it.

My kids continue to grow up. When I started to blog, I was pregnant with AM. Miss M was 18 months, communicating with a weird mashup of signing and speaking. Most things she did were adorable, except for poor sleeping. That’s never fun.

We didn’t have a clue that she was going to be brilliant, hyperlexic, and wind up both on the autism spectrum by age 10 and taller than me by age 14. With her we had the blessing of being able to ignore every piece of parenting advice we ever received – she’s her own person and parenting her has no manual.

Life with AM, the surprise baby, has unfolded in a more ordinary manner, though I keep wondering if he manifests more typical “first child” quirks that Miss M never did. It’s still a challenge to show up and do the right things for him, as there is shockingly no manual for him either. Not even one of those IKEA ones that’s just pictures of screws that all look the same! (Now I’d have to hold it at arms’ length with my glasses off, because did I mention middle age also comes with physical side effects?)

Honestly, I’ve considered shuttering this blog a few times. Nowadays, I spend more time consuming content than creating it – not necessarily a good thing, but it is what it is, for the moment. But then life takes an unexpected turn – aliyah in 2009, kidney donation in 2018 – and I’ve got my digital journal for the emotional spillage.

If you’ve been here for any length of time, thank you for reading. No snark! I really mean it. Virtual company is nice. Pull up a chair and have a hot drink; it’s January, after all.

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Two bits is a quarter, get it? A quarter of a year? Three months?

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Anyway!

The kidney formerly known as my left kidney has been in its current location now for three months. It feels like a long time ago, to be honest.

Despite feeling that my recovery was too slow, it really wasn’t; in the grand scheme of things, six to eight weeks is…not that much.

The only place I don’t feel normal is in Pilates class, which is two (or three) hours out of 168 per week. So…not bad. I’ve definitely been knocked down a peg there, which is a little bit of an emotional struggle for me – to have to “lose” some of what I had earned over 3 1/2 years. I know it’s only three months, but I feel so “regular” elsewhere in my life. Even there, compared to six weeks ago – when I started back with a couple of private lessons – it’s incredible that I can do any of these things again just from showing up and doing the work and pushing a little further each time. But certain exercises make me feel like my incisions are lighting up – not in a bad way, just sort of like a car warning light. Just direct your attention to your abs and don’t do anything dumb.

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What I can’t get over are the “you’re a hero” conversations, which thankfully are decreasing as I’ve been out and about in the world. These are kind of no-win, because:

a) I am not, in my estimation
b) this often leads to other awkward revelations, like when people say they could never do that…what do I say here? Either you have a legit reason (you’re not healthy enough, you can’t afford the time off of work/life) or you don’t (I am really not one to judge though; it is a lot for most people to wrap their heads around)
c) this leads questions about the recipient, who is doing just ok – it’s not a miracle for him, but one part of a very complex treatment puzzle that is still being worked out

My kidney clinic follow-up in is two weeks. I did labs for it today, and I am kind of afraid to check them. I feel fine; I don’t have incision problems or extreme fatigue or pain, so part of me would like to remain ignorant of my blood panel and kidney function. But that’s not how it goes now.

I don’t have any words of wisdom, other than I still think more people should do this. The waiting lists are too long; people are suffering and dying while waiting; donors don’t have to be exceptional or in perfect condition to do it.

I was recently tipped off to a podcast about a kidney donation, and I identified so much with the donor. Unlike her, it wasn’t on a “bucket list” for me (I don’t have one), but just the idea that you have the capability to help and you do it with temporary mild-moderate inconvenience and think more people should. Listen here (it’s three parts, plus a follow-up). Someone in my Facebook group for living kidney donors said she signed up after hearing this podcast, so if anyone has been inspired by my blathering, I would really love to know – you’d make my quarter.

 

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I am doing a lot better than I was three weeks ago.

But I’m still not 100%.

Exhaustion creeps in from time to time. In particular when I forget that I recently had surgery. Sometimes, I’ll get a quick flash of pain along one my scars. It’s all very Harry Potter except I can’t speak to snakes (sad about that) and don’t have a blond kid trying to take me out on a broomstick (not sad about that).

What I am is in, as I put it, the danger zone.

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There have been my own little baby milestones to feeling better. Being able to sleep on my usual side in bed – this was a huge one for me, since at around three weeks after the surgery I lost the ability to sleep on my back. (Also: Being able to roll over in bed without feeling like my insides were rearranging.) Being able to put together an entire Shabbat meal without feeling like I needed to take a nap in the middle. Being able to host people again. Going swimming without negative consequences. Having a personalized Pilates lesson to assess what I could do.

I feel well enough to behave absolutely normally, but if I do that I am probably going to be sorry.

I feel well enough, in theory, to lift that 5 liter bottle of laundry detergent at the grocery store, until I actually do it and realize that it was a mistake. For the record, my children were with me at the store, but they were in line while I had gone to chase down another item.

I feel well enough to swim, but then after 500m I realize I’m on my pre-surgery pace and have dull pains for hours afterwards. Oops. (I started out really slowly, at only 25% of my normal distance. But then I went swimming almost every day for a week, and then this happened.)

So the difference between 90%/95% and 100% is more than I might have thought. Clearly I need more supervision. Or just maybe more couch time and potentially a return to the concept of naps. Luckily, school is starting and at the very least I will spend less time and energy shouting. (That returned much sooner than anything else. One does what one has to!)

7 weeks and 2 days. Still creeping back. I’ve got this.

 

 

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Recovering from surgery has been more difficult than I anticipated.

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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?

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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.)

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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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