Thursday, October 18, 2007

Thirteen days to go

We've talked about doing a journal about our great kidney adventure and now Cait, in creating this blog, has given us the opportunity to actually do it.

It's now about five years since I contacted our GP and suggested that, being 60, it might not be a bad idea to run some basic tests to see if there is anything that needs special attention. The main result was the discovery that the creatinine level in my blood was higher than it should be, a signal that all might not be well with my kidneys. I was sent to the Alkmaar hospital for further testing, which confirmed that indeed I was in the early stages of kidney failure. The cause was uncertain (a biopsy was done but failed), but the guess is that high blood pressure was the culprit. I was already under treatment to keep my blood pressure down, but additional medication was prescribed and I was tested regularly. In January 2006, it was decided it was time for me to begin dialysis --three sessions a week, each three hours long. (You can see me connected to a dialysis machine in the photo.)

There's an essay about what I went through in coming to terms with kidney failure here:

This describes it in terms of pilgrimage, not a word I would have used for having a chronic illness four years ago.

Now the main event isn't the illness as such, but what seems to me a kind of miracle: one person giving to another a part of her body. I think about this day and night. I made it a point not to ask Nancy, or anyone, to volunteer a kidney and could easily think of reasons to discourage anyone who was thinking of doing so (the time involved, the disruption of ordinary life, the pain of recovering from surgery, the element of risk involved simply being in a hospital, etc.).

It's now about a year since Nancy made the decision to do this and perhaps ten months since it began to look like, thanks to initial tests, she might be a suitable donor.

It was far from an easy decision. One of the cautionary factors is the fact that Nancy is the family's leading breadwinner. She brings in more as a translator than I do as a writer. For both of us to have to stop work for an extended period raised some practical economic questions.

Once it became clear to her that, no matter what the obstacles, she wanted to do this, we decided not to worry about lost income and to push forward.

The testing she went through was both thorough and protracted -- and slow. A test and then a month of waiting. Another test -- and another month of waiting. Nearly a year of tests. What Dutch doctors don't know about Nancy at this point cannot be much.

And now we're thirteen days away from the event itself. I find myself feeling very keyed up but not anxious, at least not so far. This may have to do in part with all the people who have been cheering us along and praying for us. It no doubt has a lot to do with the doctors, nurses and social workers who have been involved with us all these months. Good and caring people, highly motivated and competent. As Nancy put it the other day, we have never felt we were objects moving along a conveyor belt.

The latest major event was this past Monday. Along with Wendy, Cait and Anne, plus Fr Sergei Ovsiannikov, priest of our parish, we were at the AMC (the Academic Medical Center, part of the University of Amsterdam) for a meeting with Sylvia ter Meulen, the coordinator of the transplant team, to go over details of the transplant and to ask any questions we had.

We learned exactly what the operations will entail, what the preparations will be, how long it will take, what to expect when we come out of the anesthesia (how many tubes will be attached and where and for how long), and how long it will take before we can expect to feel our usual selves. We've heard from friends that hospital care at the AMC is very personal and that has been our experience so far.

Nancy will be operated on in the morning (it’s a longer operation) and me a few hours later.

Assuming all goes well, Nancy will return home four or five days later. I'll probably be in the hospital for eight to ten days. (Cait and Bjorn have offered to bring us home.) We'll both be able to walk fairly quickly after surgery -- thus no need to turn the living room into a bed room once we're back home; we'll be able to climb the stairs -- but no lifting for six weeks.

In my case, it will be about three months before I am in a state that could be described as normal. I'll also be going back and forth to the hospital quite a lot -- twice a week for a while, then once a week, then once a month. A major concern is the close monitoring of the anti-rejection medication I'll be on following the transplant.

So there you have it as of October 18 at 10:55 pm.

1 comment:

Jim Forest said...
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