Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Kidney Transplant? 'I'm Lovin It!'

Organ transplantation.  I know it’s not something that’s unheard of in 2013, but still, when I say the phrase out loud, “I’m being evaluated for a kidney transplant,” I can’t help but feel like i’m having an out of body experience--watching a science fiction movie about a girl who says she’s me.  She looks like me.  Even acts like me a little bit. But who within the year will be operating off of a kidney that’s not her own.  Sometimes, I kind of feel like Ripley, from Alien.  Except, hopefully my kidney won’t bust out of my side if the other cells in my body decide to reject it.

When I make a list of events I used to think would occur in my lifetime, “kidney transplant” isn’t on it.   Things like “marry a black doctor” and “become an astronaut” used to take up the top two spots on my short “When I Grow Up” goals list.  Well, my fiance is white, and I willed myself to stop doing math (really, I stopped) years ago, so becoming an astronaut was just out of the question.  

Having a kidney transplant definitely would have made the list of “events that are highly unlikely to occur in my lifetime,” if there ever was one.

Nonetheless, Dec. 6, 2012, was  the day that I officially began my journey toward transplantation.  I’d worried about that day and prayed about that day leading up to the morning of the appointment.  Ben (my wonderful fiance) was my rock, because for the first time since I’d been diagnosed with the disease, way back in 2003, I had decided not to invite my family to a kidney appointment. Just Ben.

Ben and I are notoriously bad at going to bed early, which means we were terrible at waking up on time to get to my 8:30 A.M. appointment.  When the first alarm went off, we convinced each other that if we slept five more minutes, we’d have enough time to make eggs and bacon for breakfast, which only takes about 10 minutes.  As we hit snooze on our cell phone alarms again, we convinced each other that we don’t need 10 minutes for eggs and high sodium bacon.  Five more minutes of sleep and we’d have enough time to shower, pour some bowls of cereal and be on our way.  Another round of snooze buttons later and we were already talking about the plethora of nutritious and freshly prepared meal items that we could choose from the McDonald’s breakfast menu.

One thing I’ve learned about all of my kidney doctor appointments, is that eating beforehand is a necessity.  You never know when you’re going to have blood drawn, or have to give a urine sample, perhaps get hooked up to an IV for a thousand milligrams of steroids, or in this case, sit through four hours of five different people talking about organ transplantation with only a mini bottle of warm water at your disposal.  

We pulled out of the parking lot outside our apartment complex, salivating at the thought of having an egg mcmuffin and two greasy and crisp McDonald’s hashbrowns. I started up the directions to the INOVA transplant facility on my iPhone.  Only 20 minutes away. Doable, plus, there was no traffic.  And extra plus--we were getting Mickey Dee’s for breakfast. I was on my way to a doctor’s appointment where major surgery was going to be discussed. Yet,  I felt like a little kid at 9:30 AM on a Saturday morning, watching X-Men as my dad walks in with Hot Cakes meals for the whole family.  Everyone knows, there’s just something about McDonald’s breakfast.

We rode in silence, both of us glancing around for a glimpse of those sacred “golden arches.”  We hadn’t spoken a word until we reached the intersection where I thought, but wasn’t certain, that there would be a McDonalds.  

My jaw literally dropped in disbelief as Ben passed the McDonalds. My dream of english muffins topped with microwave eggs and cheese, my coffee with two creams, evaporated into thin air.

It’s hard to say exactly what went wrong.  Nearly a month after the incident, we don’t know if Ben passed the McDonalds because his favorite song was on the radio, or maybe I was too distracted by the moving arrow on my Google Maps app, worried that we wouldn’t make it to the appointment on time. But on that early morning, before my first appointment to begin my transplantation adventure--before learning that the transplant would cost me likely $14,000 out of pocket...before hearing that i’d have to take up to 10 pills per day for the rest of my life...before learning that i’d have to give up my hobby of eating a warm grapefruit because it’s too high in potassium---Ben passed the only McDonalds en route to the transplant center.  As fate would have it, Ben drove past the only fast food establishment within 20 miles of the transplant center.  

For four hours, Ben and I tried our best to digest the waterfall of information on everything kidney-transplant related.  It’s funny how discussing a life-changing circumstance like receiving a transplant can be diminished by the moans of an empty stomach.  

Don’t worry!  This story has a happy ending.  The appointment eventually ended, and Ben and I went straight to Firehouse Subs and gorged on high-sodium concoctions sandwiched between thick slices of bread, and lots of sauce.  It was just what we needed.  And I was reminded of how truly blessed I am to have a partner in this whole mess of failing kidneys and surgeries. Now that I think of it Ben could have easily dropped me off at the appointment, drove 20 minutes back to the McDonalds, and picked me up outside the transplant center later. But he didn’t. We stayed together--learning together...and starving together.  And after lunch and on full stomachs we couldn’t help but laugh at the fact that I it was a lack of McDonalds breakfast that ruined the morning.