Sunday, August 18, 2013

Gratuitous doggage

My dogs make me laugh all the time. I always have my iPhone handy, so now I have hundreds of pictures of them. I thought I would share a few of my favorites, so I made a favorites folder and started moving pictures in. When I got done, there were 74. Oops.

A blog post with 74 pictures would be a little unwieldy, so I'm sharing them as a slideshow instead. Stop when you get bored :) Also, keep a lookout for Ted's dog, Lucy. She's the one with the ears that stick up, and she'll be joining the pack in September. The rest are all mine: Abby (who died in January 2013; black and white part beagle), Sam (the German shorthair), Annie (the tricolor beagle), and Lola (the bassador). I see I accidentally got a picture of my pond in there as well.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Non-directed kidney donation

I decided to become a kidney donor midsummer of last year. I was having a lot of stress in various aspects of my life, and it just seemed like something that, if I qualified, would allow me to put my focus somewhere entirely other, on something bigger and more important.

So, of course, I googled kidney donation and ended up at the National Kidney Registry. I found the Kidney Donation, No Recipient link, where there's a handy-dandy, step-you-through-it list of what's required to become a non-directed donor.

It started with some basic testing at my doctor's office. She also had to sign off on a form stating that she knew of no reason why I couldn't be a donor. The test results went off to the NKR, and I think it was a couple months before they contacted me to say I had passed the first hurdle.

Next, they scheduled me for two days of more rigorous testing, including a psych evaluation, at the nearest NKR-affiliated transplant center, which was the University of Washington Medical Center. So, in mid-January 2013, my then-boyfriend now-hubby Ted and I spent three days in Seattle. We even found a posh hotel downtown and made it a mini-vacation.

The first day was the day of endless hydration. I had to drink a liter of water on our way in to the hospital and provide a urine sample when I got there. Then the fun began. I was injected with a radioactive tracer and had to collect ALL my urine from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., constantly drinking water the whole time. Every hour, I would go back to where I got the injection and "pee into the hat" (the collection apparatus looked like a sombrero turned upside down) and they would draw a vial of blood. I had to drink drink drink to make sure they were getting enough pee at each collection (I swear it was gallons). This test was to see how quickly my kidneys eliminated the tracer from my bloodstream. A fun bonus: I got an official little card to carry for the next two months so when I flew, if I set off the TSA scanner, I could show the TSA folks why I was radioactive.

Later that afternoon Ted and I met with the whole transplant team, including the surgeon, the transplant coordinating nurse, and a social worker. The surgeon explained that only one in five non-directed applicants makes it through the testing, because it's very rigorous. They want to make sure no one in your immediate family has a history of early heart disease or stroke, cancer, diabetes, kidney disease, or liver disease. He said it's a little strange for him as a surgeon, because the "first, do no harm" doctor rule sort of goes out the window when he removes an organ from a healthy donor. So he wants to make absolutely that donors are very healthy and should be able to get by their whole life with one kidney. The transplant nurse was there to answer any and all questions, then and whenever, and the social worker probed a little into why I wanted to donate. That was day one.

Day two, I wasn't allowed to eat anything but jello and chicken broth. I gave fifteen vials of blood at the blood draw center. I had an EKG. Then we had about a 90-minute break so we went to the cafeteria and I ate, like, ten cups of jello. I am not a person who does well without eating. Next up was an abdominal CT scan. After that I was able to eat again (so hungry!). Finally, I met with a psychiatrist. It only took about fifteen minutes. When I came out into the waiting room, Ted said, "Either you passed with flying colors, or you really crashed and burned." He wants to get a bumper sticker that says "My girlfriend isn't crazy. I had her tested."

Then I waited a few more weeks. The transplant nurse sent me to my regular doctor for a couple extra tests. I waited a few more weeks. Then, in March, I got the email from UWMC that said I was approved! I was so excited. The next step was to enter my information in the NKR database and see who popped up as a match. In May I got the call that a match had been found and that the donation chain involved almost a dozen people (more on kidney donation chains). The surgery date was set for July 10. And the rest is history!

If you're reading this and thinking about becoming a donor, and would like to ask any questions, put your contact info in the comments or send me a message on Twitter where I am @halfpassgirl.

One last thing: I am also registered as a blood marrow donor. That process is super easy. You just register at Be the Match, they send you a cheek swab kit, you swab away, and you send them back the kit. That's it!

Sunday, August 11, 2013


I had my kidney donation surgery on July 10, and it all went very well! Here's me in pre-op with my fashionable hairnet.

I was really excited and totally ready to go. It took about a year from when I first inquired about donation to actually having the surgery.

And here I am first waking up from anesthesia. Look at my eyes! Totally stoned. 

I felt quite good the evening after surgery. I was sore but the pain meds were working well, and I wasn't feeling nauseous. I was actually hungry, but of course could only have jello and broth.

That evening I was drifting in and out without really realizing it. My boyfriend (now husband! but that's another story) Ted was laughing at me because I had been told to use my incentive spirometer (a little toy that gets you to breathe very deeply) as often as possible, so I was doing my ten breaths, falling asleep for three minutes, waking up, doing another ten breaths ... And having no memory of any of it. Also, I fell asleep while drinking soup and poured it down the front of myself. Fun times!

The next day was the only real rough day I had. In the middle of the night I requested some jello from the nurse, and it went down fine. Then at around 7:00 the next morning, the phlebotomist cheerfully trooped into my room to do my daily blood draw, and I said with some urgency, "Please give me that garbage can!" And out came the jello. Poor phlebotomist. They gave me nausea meds that helped a lot, but the next issue was I was having pain breathing and couldn't get much of a breath. They were worried about a blood clot, so they sent me down for chest x-rays. That was hard because I had to stand for the x-rays and I was very, very sore and shaky. Later that evening they also had me walk with a walker, and that too was hard. I made it halfway down the hall and back. The chest x-rays came back clear, so that was a relief.

The next day I felt about 3000% better. My lungs stopped hurting, I wasn't nauseous, and I was able to do a full loop around the transplant ward, two different times! I also took a much needed shower. Ted wheeled me outside for the first time, too, for some sunshine.

The next day was discharge day! I felt really good. I was completely mobile and the oral pain meds worked great. I was just delighted with how quickly I was bouncing back.

One funny thing that Ted and I hadn't anticipated: the recipient was in pre-op at the same time I was, in surgery at the same time, and was in the same wing for recovery. And we're not supposed to have contact for three months, and then only if the recipient wants to. So poor Ted didn't even get to go to the regular waiting room during the surgery because the recipient's family was there. And when I did my walking rounds through the ward, I would peek into any room with an open door and wonder if that was the recipient. We do know that it's a woman and that she's doing well. Her surgeon visited me a couple times and told me I have "the kidney of a racehorse."

Recovery at Ted's house was uneventful. I got stronger every day, and my appetite came roaring back. After a week we were going to movies and walking around the mall. The only hiccup came about two weeks ago, when the pain in my lungs came back, and the difficulty breathing. I called the transplant center for advice, and they said to go to the ER in case it was a blood clot. Luckily, it wasn't -- it was walking pneumonia. They gave me a Z-pack, and five days later I was good as new.

So, one rough day post-surgery and a short bout of pneumonia. Otherwise, the whole experience was truly wonderful. In October I'll get to know more about the recipient, and hopefully she'll want to exchange a letter at least. I absolutely don't want her to feel like she owes me anything; it's more just curiosity. She's walking around with a piece of me inside her :)

I had my surgery at the University of Washington Medical Center. I can't say enough about how fabulous the entire staff was.