Thursday, July 17, 2008


Five years ago today my Dad and I underwent a little medical miracle together. A kidney was harvested from my body, and transplanted into Dad’s.

Or as my sister Jane said in an email then, I was de-kidneyed and Dad was extra-kidneyed.

Pretty cool, huh?

Bill and I had spent that winter in our Westy in Mexico’s Baja Peninsula.

Yes, it always looked like this.

My oldest sister MB was the presumed donor (All my sisters and I had lined up to be the donor. Well, we'd lined up metaphorically. It would have been silly to line up literally, since at the time we were in Mexico, San Diego, Denver, Chicago, Asheville and New York City. Dad was in Connecticut. As was the hospital). Anyway, MB was first; I was second.

We got back to Jacquie’s house in San Diego on Monday, April 28 and 3 days later, on Thursday May 1, Mom called and said MB was rejected disqualified as the donor. Mom and Dad had both been completely loathe to actually ASK any of us to volunteer to donate, but I HAD volunteered and, um, was I still next in line? “I’m your man, Mom.”

Bill was supportive but scared, Jacquie was her usual capable self, and between the three of us we started the process.

Before we actually DROVE from California to Connecticut, we did all the testing we could in San Diego. Blood type. Check. Blood crossmatch. Check. Creatinin level: I went to a testing center and got orange gallon jugs to collect my pee for 2 straight days. One day in one jug, the next day in the second. Except I had to go back and get 2 more jugs, because my daily pee positively laughed at the thought of fitting into one gallon. I also had to store it in the fridge for those days. Jacquie and her husband Mr. Can LOVED having those 4 orange pee-jugs in their fridge. Results came back good.

Kidney function. Check.

We celebrated Bill’s 40th bday in San Diego, then off we went.

Bye Jacquie! Bye Mr. Can! Bye Kids! Bye San Diego.

I had an appointment at Yale-New Haven on June 8. It sounds like it might be difficult or stressful having to drive 3000 miles in 2 ½ weeks, but it was unexpectedly one of our best crossings ever. The days were long, the sun was at our backs, kids were still in school so the campgrounds were empty. And even though 3000 is a long way, if you drive 300 or 400 miles a day, all of a sudden you’re in Kansas. Then Pennsylvania. Then New Haven.

I had a month of tests. They will not take your kidney if there is the slightest bump in your health. And if a test discovers anything, well then you get another test. Of course, I loved that, having no health insurance. Chest x-ray, CT scan, EKG, heart ultrasound, social worker interview (which Jacquie thought I would fail) (because she suspected the ulterior motive for donating my kidney was the opportunity for a free Pap smear).

And then, all of a sudden, Dad – who was getting a few medical issues of his own cleared up – was clean. I was clean. The date was set. I signed a piece of paper authorizing the transplant department at Yale-New Haven Hospital to remove my right kidney and ureter.

Bill drove me down to New Haven that Thursday morning. Well, it was still nighttime, but morning was coming. I was calm; he was freaking. Dad had been admitted the night before.

Bill was with me as I got sent up to a room, changed into a gown, got my vitals checked. I got my vitals checked so many times during those days. Those people are thorough! I said goodbye to Bill and got wheeled to a hallway outside the operating room. A nurse noticed my wedding rings. I said I thought I could keep them on – I’d never taken them off before. She adamantly – but oh so nicely – urged me to change my mind. She didn’t want me to lose a ring OR a finger. I said okay, and asked her to take them out to Bill in the waiting room. “You can’t miss him – he’s the guy with the long blond ponytail.” I chuckled to myself, thinking about her walking out there, calling, “Mr. Corey? (my last name, not Bill’s) I’m sorry, but this is all that’s left of her.”

A very nervous intern or resident started my IV (and then asked me to put my hair up in a cap). I got wheeled in to the ice-cold operating room, my trusty nurse/guardian angel at my side. Someone behind me started my epidural (youch!). I saw my surgeon, Marc Lorber, chief of the transplant department, and professor of surgery and pathology at Yale, and asked him “I hope you had plenty of coffee this morning?” “Oh, you wouldn’t want me to drink a lot of coffee.” “Well, did you get a good night’s sleep?” I reminded everyone which kidney to go for, and finally they put a mask over my face to shut me up.

I don’t know what happened next, because I was sleeping.

I’ve heard, though, that Mom, a couple of sisters, a couple of nieces and nephews, and Bill were in the waiting room, waiting. As one does. I've heard Bill was reading Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own” when he was called (“Mr. Corey?”) to announce “The kidney is out.”

I woke up in the recovery area with Billy-Boy right at my side. “You didit!” quoting Jacquie’s girl. I kept falling asleep (tired!) and getting woken up by the beeping of the machine, alerting the nurse that my blood oxygen was low. Too tired to breathe, apparently. Finally I got busted loose, saw Dad (“We didit!”), got wheeled out, and promptly puked. The great thing about a hospital is they have lots of extra bedding and towels and stuff, and whisk old stuff away like magicians. Sort of like Motel 6. I got wheeled into my room, my peeps came in, I puked again (my nieces and nephew loved that), and got settled. My Dad was in the room right across the hall, which made it easy for Mom and Co., and for Dad and me when we became mobile.

A morphine epidural is a good, good thing. Each time a technician came in to take my vitals (every 12 seconds, I think), he or she asked how bad my pain was on a scale of 1 to 10. “Zero.” And then the rat-bastards took it away. They took away my catheter, too, though, so that was a good thing.

Speaking of which. Of pee. It was Day 2 already and Dad still wasn’t producing it. He got wheeled down for ultrasounds a couple of times (they do the ultrasound right in the bed, and they weighed him right in his bed, too), and everything looked okay, but nothing was happening.

In the middle of that second night one of the angels nurses came in to check me out. She worked a few night shifts in a row, so made it her business to check out my progress. She noticed that one foot was cold, which rings warning bells for a certain segment of the population, apparently. “Is one foot always colder than the other?” “I don’t know; you’ll have to ask my husband.” She got a couple of docs or residents in there, turned on all the lights, and made quite a ta-doo about the whole thing. As I was lying there, covering my eyes from the blinding light, one of the docs said to me, “Oh, your Dad’s making pee.”

Never were more beautiful words spoken.

I got released and went to New London to Mumsie’s house to sleep recover.

We also spent some time at My Girl Nancy’s, where we Bill took care of the pets while Nancy and her family were sailing in the Caribbean, and I did some more napping recovering.

Looks like a shark bite, doesn’t it?

(And that is post-op swelling, not a beer-gut.)

Meanwhile, Dad went home with Mom to Fairfield and tried to get used to a new used organ in his body. He recovered beautifully.

Well, there was that one incident of congestive heart failure and 911 and the ambulance and his being intubated on his bedroom floor and being hauled out his window on a stretcher and spending a couple of days in the ICU, but he survived all that. Natch.

Bill and I went down to Mom and Dad’s house a month or two later. We walked in the kitchen and Dad was chopping veggies, in his shirt and tie, with his tie tucked in between the buttons on the front of his shirt. (He’d watched a lot of tv while he was recovering, including cooking shows, and decided he wanted some of that action.) Bill and I looked at each other, looked at Dad, and asked, “Who are you and what have you done with my father?”

After dinner we watched a late-season baseball game and Dad was calling balls and strikes. (“Dad? Isn’t this the time of evening when you usually nap?”) While he was drawing plans for a cedar chest. Multi-tasking. And the thing about Dad is he doesn’t just watch cooking shows – he cooks. He doesn’t just draw plans for a cedar chest. He builds the cedar chest. Before our next visit.

Before our next visit, when Dad looked like his old self again.

Way to go, Dad.

Here’s to another five years.


Anonymous said...

Oh my gosh, ellie, i'm sobbing reading this. Thank you SO much for giving Dad your kidney and, by extension, his old vim and vigor.


Rita said...

I remember all of that, when Jacquie posted about it on our board. Wow, was that five years ago?

My favorite line--because she suspected the ulterior motive for donating my kidney was the opportunity for a free Pap smear

Anonymous said...

Oh, lovely. Lovely.

Thanks, El.

Let me treat you to a pap smear in honor of the anniversary.

Rita said...

Pap smears should always be free, IMO.

Anonymous said...

Wow, Ellie, that was a great. Nicely done.

nightowl said...

Happy Anniversary, Ellie & Dad, Mom, sisters and all! Hard to believe five years have gone by already - I would have guessed three, tops. It's a wonderful thing. Love to all.

Unknown said...

That's amazing! And courageous! And heroic!

Altogether awesome.

Anonymous said...

That's an incredible story. I'm teary thinking about how much that must mean to both of you. Very, very touching. Thanks for sharing.

JS said...

Ellie, you truly are an amazing person and your Dad's exceptionally fortunate that you were there for him. My recent incident requiring me to pee in an orange bucket is now in its proper perspective. Please don't write this sort of thing anymore, though, because it's embarrassing for an adult male (me), bathed in a lifetime of expectations macho, to weep openly after reading it.

Anonymous said...

I am in a state of AWE!! Wear that scar proudly! Does your dad have to take anti-rejection meds since you're related?

I am so relieved that the kidney "took". It would have been devastating if it hadn't. You'd be one less kidney, and your dad would be eaten up with guilt.

My daughter recently told me "Mom, you can have MY kidney" and I declined. That's a hard thing to accept from your own child.

Alice said...

Wow - what an amazing story! I would have been terrified. It's not possible to give a great gift.

Anonymous said...

Well, thanks, guys. It was nothing. Ha!

Dana, if it ever comes up, just say yes graciously and TAKE the dang kidney. For your sake *and* your daughter's. My dad's kidney could have come from ANY of his daughters, but *I* get the glory. Which is almost as good as the free Pap.

Mr. AKA, anyone who has to collect their pee in orange plastic buckets is a hero to me. That's MY proper perspective.

And Alice, I assume you mean "It's not possible to give a great-ER gift"? I hope? Cuz I'm really hoping for some GREAT gifts for my bday in a few months . . . Hee hee.

Anonymous said...

Paula and I have a special appreciation for you and what a great gift. We know Joe is still amazaed at the love of his daughters but there is a special place for you Love you Elli. By the way Paula was 21 years with her new equipment in May and is still going strong.