The dialysis treatments, which began in 2001, first took place in a clinic, three days a week. Dad’s arm turned black from the needles. It’s no wonder Mom felt terrified when he was approved for at-home dialysis — putting the procedure, and his health, in their hands. Still, she was adamant about not letting him go through it alone. Each night, just like a first officer with the captain of an airliner, Mom went over his checklist with him step by step. At one point when his muscles atrophied, perhaps as a result of the prednisone, she taught him how to walk again. The process seemed to go on and on, tying them both to the house and robbing them of so much freedom.
The decision to go ahead with a transplant for my father was a long and arduous one, mostly because he had liver damage too. One physician’s assistant told him, “According to your file, you’re supposed to be dead.” And for a while, doctors mistakenly thought that he would need not just a kidney transplant, but a liver transplant too. Dad’s future hung in limbo.
When the donor testing process finally began in the spring of 2003, numerous people, including me, my uncle Tom, and my mom, came back as matches of varying degrees. But Mom was the one who insisted on going further. She said she wasn’t scared, and it was the right thing to do. We all stepped back in amazement.
At last a date was chosen — November 11, 2003. All of a sudden, the only thing that seemed to matter to Dad was telling the world what a wonderful thing Mom was doing for him. A month before the surgery, he sent her birthday flowers with a note that read, “I love you and I love your kidney! Thank you!”
Financially, the disease was devastating to them. Because he was too sick to work, Dad lost his consulting business; throughout the same period, Mom was downsized from two different jobs. So for months they had no income and were in real danger of losing their house. My father had given up his leased car, and when Mom’s stopped running, they had to somehow buy two cars, which was another big drain on their already taxed resources. So my sister and I were humbled and surprised when, shortly before his surgery day, Dad handed us a diamond pendant that we were to give to Mom after the operation. He’d squirreled away his spare dollars to buy it.
At the hospital on the day of the transplant, all our relatives and friends gathered in the waiting room and became embroiled in a mean euchre tournament. My family has always handled things with a lot of laughter, and even though we were all tense, everybody was taking bets on how long this “change of demeanor” would last in my parents.
We’d informed Dad that if he chose to act like a real pain on any particular day after the operation, he wasn’t allowed to blame it on PMS just because he’d now have a female kidney!