Friday, June 21, 2013

One Year Update!



Oops!! It looks like I might be a bit overdue on this 1-year update! It’s been a year and two months since I donated my kidney, and it has just flown by!

There is really not a lot of difference in my life pre and post-kidney donation. My body’s ability to heal seems almost magical. I am fairly active, and I am still doing all of the things I used to do before I gave away a kidney. Lots of yoga, and the occasional run. I do find that if I don't do some stretching at least a couple of times a week, the muscles around the areas where my incisions were get a little bit "tight". Yoga really helps with this, even if I can only manage to get to one class a week.

There are only a couple of dietary things I am careful about:

I keep track of how much protein I’m putting in my body. (Too much protein can be hard on your kidneys)

I stay away from too much salt and drink lots of water to keep myself hydrated. If I have any alcohol (which is very rarely) I make sure to drink an equal amount of water, and while I don’t usually drink anything with caffeine in it (I’m not a coffee drinker) I do have the occasional Diet Coke and I make sure to take in an equal amount of water when I do that as well. 

AND last but not least, I eat lots of leafy greens and fruits and veggies to help clean my blood.

But, when you think about it those are things that we should all be doing anyhow, right?  ;)

I went digging through my closet and I found my box of “kidney memories”. I spent a very nostalgic afternoon revisiting my whole experience, sitting on my bedroom floor looking through photos and cards. One card in particular stood out. It was from my recipient and her parents. It really hits me when I read that card, what this whole thing is really about. Wow! Time to get out the kleenex!!




Saturday, September 22, 2012

All Better!


It looks as though I’m a little behind in my blog posts. Time has just gone by so quickly! I can hardly believe it’s been almost 6 months since my surgery! I had my 3 month check-up about 2 months ago (which would make it more of a 4 month check-up, I suppose) and the doctor gave me a clean bill of health. It was actually kind of anti-climactic to go all the way to the hospital and have them say “Yup – you’re healthy … that’s it!” After having been to Lynda’s appointments with her, my visit seemed quite brief. Lynda’s visits usually involved more than one doctor, and there were always extensive discussions on how she was feeling and the medications she was on. This is understandable, since her recovery is much more complicated than mine. My body was healthy to begin with, and aside from missing one kidney it didn’t have too much new stuff to get used to.

I’m feeling like my old self again. I can exercise (including sit-ups!), run, jump, go roller skating and do pretty much anything I used to do. I have been trying to exercise at least an hour a day for the last month or so. Even if it’s just some gentle stretching, I like to do something that gets me up and moving each day. 

My scars are almost gone, except the big one on my right side just above my bikini line. But it’s usually covered by underwear or bikini bottoms, and to be honest I don’t even notice it most of the time. 


I am completely amazed by my body’s ability to heal. Sometimes it slips my mind for a few days that I had surgery, and then it dawns on me that part of my body is in someone else’s body right now. I sit and think about the whole experience, and I am humbled. I will always be grateful to have been able to be part of something so beautiful.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Tips for Living Kidney Donors (In No Particular Order)

1. Patience – Be patient with yourself! Everyone heals at their own pace. It can be frustrating and depressing to not feel 100% after surgery but it will get a little better every day. Instead of thinking about all the things you can't do yet, take comfort in the progress you have made.

2. You Are What You Eat! – Eat healthy foods that will give you energy and help your body heal. Small meals spread throughout the day will help you feel less bloated. 

3. Slip On Shoes – After surgery you probably won’t want to bend over to tie shoe laces or pull a pair of tight shoes on. Make sure you have slippers for the hospital that you won’t miss when you leave (because you probably won’t want anything that touched the floor of a hospital in your house), and comfortable slip-ons for when you get home.

4. Ask for Help – It’s hard to learn when to ask for help, but after surgery this is a lesson you will learn very quickly. You will need help with everything … and I mean everything. Even reaching for something can be very painful if you reach too far. When in doubt - ask for help. Even if it’s just moral support, or you need a hug.

5. Walk Walk Walk – I can’t stress this enough. Walking is your new best friend. It is hard to do but it will help your recovery so much. Get up as soon as you can, and walk as much as you can. Your body will thank you for it!

6. Drink Drink Drink – Another thing I can’t stress enough. Drink every chance you get. Warm water or tea … no cold water! It helps your one remaining kidney do its job better, and gets your insides working properly again. Yes – you will have to pee a lot. But guess what? You get up and walk when you pee! Drinking helps you walk, and walking helps you heal faster!

7. Don’t Overdo It – Know your limits. Don’t push your body to the point where you might hurt yourself. Listen to the signals your body is giving you. If you’re tired, sleep. If you are in pain, rest for a while. The ability to listen to yourself is one of the best skills you can have in this process.

8. Get Fit – Be at your finest before surgery. The fitter you are the easier it will make your recovery. 

9. Comfy Pants – Make sure you have a lot of loose pants for post-surgery relaxing. Even 6-8 weeks after surgery I still couldn’t wear jeans for very long without getting uncomfortable. Buy some jogging pants or loose pajama pants that are a couple of sizes too big. There is a lot of bloating after surgery and you will want to be as comfortable as possible. Ever notice no one is wearing pants while they're in the hospital? There’s a reason they have those gowns … they’re comfy!

10. Pets – Pets can be wonderful, and a great source of comfort during the healing process BUT if you have a “lap dog”, or a dog that likes to jump up on you, it might be a good idea to consider having someone look after them while you are healing. Even feeding your pets can be a difficult task for the first few weeks. Bending down to fill a food or water dish, or taking Rover for a walk are going to be out of the question for a little while.  If you have any pets (including cats – changing kitty litter is pretty much impossible post-surgery!) arranging for help is important. 





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Monday, June 18, 2012

Feeling Better! (And Some Reflections)



kidney donor organ donation surgery recovery scar
7 Weeks After Surgery

Between 6 and 8 weeks my stomach started to feel normal again. I could stretch in the morning without feeling uncomfortable, and I could bend over a little and pick things up. Not heavy things, but if I dropped something on the floor I didn’t have to do the sideways-knee-bend-scoop.  The swelling went down and there was only a small dip where my incision was. If I did too much that day it would swell up, but otherwise it looked alright.

I was able to go to a very gentle yoga class, which really helped with my back. I had a lot of back pain from hunching over so much in those early days after surgery.  It was so wonderful to get back to the yoga studio, it really is a community. Everyone there welcomed me back, and there were lots of hugs. I told them all about my trip to Montreal and regaled them with tales of my surgery and recovery. I could really feel the positive energy in that first class. When you’re a room with that many people doing something collectively you can feel the energy. I left feeling so much stronger! That said, if you are reading this and thinking of going to a yoga class after surgery, make sure you don’t overdo it! I sat out on a few things, or had the teacher come and modify a pose for me. Know when something isn’t going to be ok for you. Your body will tell you where your edge is - you have to make sure you respect your limits. It takes a long time to recover from major surgery and just because the outside looks great doesn’t mean the inside is healing at the same rate. Some people’s bodies take a full year to heal from a kidney donation, and that’s ok! Let your body do what it needs to do.

At around the 8 week mark I started thinking about returning to work. Because my job is labor-intensive this was something I had to discuss with my doctor and really think about.  My family doctor informed me he was not qualified to make that decision and I would have to speak with a surgeon. I called the transplant team in Toronto and they made me an appointment with a surgeon here (so I wouldn’t have to drive all the way to Montreal again). Due to the nature of my work the surgeon decided it would be a good idea to wait another 8 weeks or so before going back.  I was still having a few problems. I would get exhausted very easily. My back hurt a lot. I had pain and swelling around my larger incision if I did too much walking or driving. Not huge pain but enough to make me feel like I wanted to lay down and have a nap. I would get uncomfortable if I had to sit in one position for a long time. Stuff like that. He said this was all normal. It felt really fantastic to hear someone say that! It can take a long time to recover from major surgery. He said to make sure I was staying active, try to do a little bit more every day, and come back to see him in a few weeks.

My advice to kidney donors considering going back to work would be this isn’t something that you can rush, especially if your job involves a lot of lifting or physical excursion.  If there is any possibility that you could do harm to yourself (or others) by trying to go back to work earlier than you are comfortable with, then I would say don’t do it. Listen to your body and take it easy if that’s what you need to do. Even if you are out of work for a little while longer, and you lose some money in the process that’s a small price to pay. Everyone heals at a different pace, don’t ignore the signs that you’re not 100% yet just because the piece of paper your doctor/surgeon gave you says you should be fully recovered at 6-8 weeks.

Being home from work can be frustrating. I think all humans need to feel productive in some way to be happy. I know I do. I have learned through this process that sometimes I need to let go of what I feel like I should be doing, and just enjoy what I am doing. It’s a small change in perspective that has a big impact. Getting some free time to myself is an unexpected perk that I am trying to enjoy to its fullest potential. While I don’t feel 100% yet, I can still enjoy spending time with the people I care about, and doing things that make me happy and help me to heal.

Being a kidney donor has been one of the best experiences of my life. It has made me a stronger person, and shown me the deep connection humans have with one-another. I will always be grateful for being able to participate in something so meaningful. 

I will try to keep this blog updated with new experiences and milestones. If you are reading this as a potential kidney donor, kidney recipient, or just reading it for the fun of it, please feel free to email me with any questions or comments you might have. I am happy to help in any way I can. When I was going through the donation process my friend Jackie was a huge source of information and inspiration for me. Finding her blog helped me in so many ways. I hope I can pay it forward by doing the same for someone else!

kidney donor organ donation surgery recovery


Home Sweet Home & Healing

I decided to make the trip home to Toronto the Saturday following my post-op appointment. Mom drove and I sat in the passenger seat and did a lot of backseat driving. I’m not good at not being in control of the driver’s seat. If I’m in a car I want to be the one driving. Needless to say, between that and not feeling 100% awesome it was a bit of a stressful trip. We made good time though, and when we got there Lynda had cleaned the house and made up my bed in anticipation of my arrival. It was fantastic to come home and not have to do anything!

Over the next few weeks things progressed slowly but surely.  At first I was only comfortable walking around the house. Showering was still a little scary, but it got progressively better. I became more and more comfortable with getting my incisions wet. 

It took me about 3 or 4 weeks to be able to stand up completely straight, and walk around without getting a backache. It was sometimes difficult to stand up straight when I was walking so I would spend about 5 minutes laying flat on the floor first. It helped to stretch out the incision area and pulled my shoulders back so it was like I was standing up straight. Instead of gravity working against me, it worked for me to help get my shoulders in the right position. I started walking in the morning at the mall. It’s indoors and someone would at least be able to see me if I fell down or if something happened and I needed help. Plus it made it easy to push myself a little bit further every day. I could do one more lap if I was feeling up to it. 

At 5 weeks the swelling started to go down, and my energy started to pick up considerably. There was still some puffiness above my incision, which sort of made my stomach bulge out a little. It only showed when I stood up. The swollen area made a kind of a "shelf" where my stomach protruded and then went straight down underneath the incision. It made it look like I was a couple of months pregnant. This was bothersome to me, more visually than anything. I had got myself into pretty good shape before the surgery so I guess I was just being vain and wanting my tummy to be flatter.

The little ends of my dissolving stitches fell off around 5 weeks as well. This was a BIG relief. Being the hypochondriac that I am, I was starting to think they might have used the wrong kind. I was having visions of having stitches inside of me forever, or having to undergo some kind of painful procedure to have them removed. But lucky me … one day I just pulled on them and the little end popped off! I was elated and grossed out at the same time. Two feelings that seem to go together a lot during this whole experience.

I tried to take a photo every week, to two weeks. Unfortunately, I didn't write down exact dates when I was taking the photos.


kidney donor organ donation surgery recovery
Before Surgery


kidney donor organ donation surgery recovery scar
One Day After Surgery

kidney donor organ donation surgery recovery scar
Approximately 2 Weeks After Surgery


kidney donor organ donation surgery recovery scar
Approximately 4 Weeks After Surgery

kidney donor organ donation surgery recovery scar
Approximately 6 Weeks After Surgery




Post-Op Appointment #1

Five days after leaving, I had to go back to Montreal for my post-op appointment with the surgeon and transplant nurse. Dad came to pick me up, and the ride there was significantly easier than the ride home had been. Bumps were bad but not nearly as bad as they had been that first day out of the hospital.  I had to fast, so as soon as I had my blood taken I had a snack, and we went upstairs to see Dr. Malaise and Julie. Julie asked me all kinds of questions about how I was feeling, how much I was pooping, what level my pain was at, was I walking and how much, how much pain medication was I taking, etc., etc. She weighed me as well. When I went into the hospital I was at around 126, and that day I weighed 117.  She also told me my kidney recipient was doing very well, and her new kidney was functioning at almost 100% already! 

Then I had my visit with Dr. Malaise. He had me lay down so he could inspect my wounds. He tapped around on my stomach, and I made sure to ask him if my blister was ever going to go away. He said the nurse probably shouldn’t have put that plastic bandage on it because it wasn’t able to dry out that way. So he pulled it off … AAAAAHHH! I was not ready for that! I thought for sure it would burst and become very painful (probably because of the internet “research” I had done on post-op blisters). Luckily, it was a tough blister and managed to stay intact. He then started to remove the steri-strips on all of my incisions. I had just barely managed to struggle through the blister tape removal. This was too much for me. I’m a giant wimp, and all I had eaten that day was a granola bar. I just couldn’t handle it. I grabbed the arm of his coat, looked up at him and said sheepishly “Do those really need to come off? Can’t I just leave them on until they fall off or something??”  He said my skin had reacted to them so it probably wasn’t a very good idea to leave them on, but if I wanted I could remove them in the shower with some warm water. I promised I would do so when I got home. After our meeting was over I tried to stand up and almost passed out. I had to sit back down until someone got me a glass of water. He said aside from being a little “over-sensitive” I was doing very well. 

On the way out Dad got me some orange juice, a granola bar and some almonds. He wheeled me to the parking lot, and this time I was able to walk to the car. We got a sandwich on the way home. That sandwich was the most delicious thing I had tasted in days. I enjoyed every bite!
I was glad to see my Mom’s house. I never wanted to see Montreal again!


That afternoon I removed the steri-strips in the shower. I was fighting off the feeling that I was going to pass out the whole time. Being around water freaked me out, letting the water touch my incisions freaked me out, and looking at them freaked me out even more. This was a triple-whammy. Afterwards I just laid in bed and let my heart rate return to normal. When I got up the courage to look at my stomach again when it was all dried off, it wasn’t all that bad. Definitely not the machete-fight-style scars I thought I was going to see. In fact, it looked a lot better without those strips. My blister still looked pretty gross, but a couple of my smaller incisions were almost completely healed on the outside. 


kidney donor organ donation surgery recovery
Steri-Strips Are Off!

Mom's House & The First Stages of Recovery

kidney donor organ donation surgery recovery
It was comforting to be in a familiar home, with no scary hospital sounds. That first night I just sat and listened to the silence … it was wonderful. 

Once I was home I needed help with everything. Getting in and out of a normal bed was complicated after having a bed that had magical buttons. I needed help to get up, sit down, go to the bathroom … everything! I am a very independent person so this was a bit of a departure for me. I got depressed for the first few days and would usually cry in the mornings. It was hard for me to not be able to do things by myself, and I felt like I wasn’t progressing fast enough. In retrospect this was kind of ridiculous. I just had major surgery for Pete’s sake! But at the time I was just frustrated and sad. I just wanted to be ok. I was being way too hard on myself. Everyone heals at their own pace. 
 
I got a little bit better every day. My appetite started increasing. I tried to stick to soft foods in those first few days because I still hadn’t had a #2 yet (I know … gross. But again, this is the reality of surgery). I ate a lot of steamed broccoli and oatmeal. I drank tons of hot water and tea. Warm liquids are excellent for your insides, they get stuff moving. My first BM after leaving the hospital was a milestone. I sent an email to my friend Jackie (who has also donated a kidney and has been a huge source of support for me). I knew she would appreciate the magnitude of this event. She did, and she gave me a big congratulations! I also called Megan, who has probably never discussed poop so much in her life up until this point. I think she was a little grossed out but she celebrated with me regardless, as any best friend would. 

 
I also did as much walking as possible. I would pace around the kitchen and into the living room. Around and around. I wasn’t really able to stand up completely straight for the first little while. I kind of hunched over my wound. I think it was more mental than anything. I would try to stand up a little bit straighter every day while I was walking. I could feel it stretching my belly out, which was uncomfortable, but if I just did it a little bit the next day I would be able to stand up straight that little bit more.

The Great Escape!

kidney donor organ donation surgery


The morning of my release from the hospital Dad came early (probably because I sent him a frantic text regarding my blister when I was having a panic attack) He loaded all of my stuff in the car and brought up a wheelchair to bring me downstairs. We wheeled past everyone at the nurse’s station, and down the hall to the elevator. It was a little terrifying, but not entirely painful … more uncomfortable I guess. With all the gas in my swollen belly I could feel every bump. 

There was some confusion when Dad left me at the front door to go get the car. When he came back he couldn’t get in (it was a holiday so they were locked), so I watched helplessly while he argued through the glass with a cleaning person who wouldn’t let him in. I tried to explain to the janitor that the person at the door was my father, but he just kept pointing at the other building entrance, and then to my dismay he came over and just started pushing me down the hall. That was a little scary.  I was helpless. Where was this guy taking me? Would Dad know where I was when I got there?? I didn’t even have my cell phone to call him and let him know where I was.  I decided there wasn’t much I could do, so I just sat there and hoped for the best. Dad is a pretty resourceful guy and he managed to figure out where I would be.  

Getting in the van was a lot less tricky than I thought it would be. It probably helped that the seats were kind of elevated. If it had been a Corvette I may have been in a bit more trouble. Dad had bought me a cane to help me stabilize myself and a bunch of pillows to get comfy. I made a nest on the seat and laid back a little. It felt so good to be out of the hospital. 


The trip home was a little traumatic. More uncomfortable than painful. It felt like I had a bowl full of jelly in my stomach. The gas left over from the surgery and my swollen abdomen amplified each bump, and lemme tell ya … Montreal is a very bumpy city! You don’t realize how bad roads are until you’ve had surgery and you’re trying to get home. I squeezed my eyes shut and hung on for dear life. Sometime after we got on the highway I must have fallen asleep. I woke up around 15 minutes from Mom’s house.  

Sleep is a wonderful thing. Not only does it make you feel better but it makes time go by very quickly.

Surgery / The Hospital

kidney donor organ donation surgery


Notre Dame Hospital is very old. Very old, and very big. The first thing we did was meet up with one of the transplant co-ordinators, who promptly extracted a bunch of blood and asked me to pee in a cup. I was happy knowing this was probably the last gigantic batch of bloodletting I would have to endure. I was then given requisitions for an ECG, and a chest x-ray, after which I was to meet with three doctors and a nurse. 

Everyone from the transplant team was fantastic. I met with Dr. Paquette, he gave me the gloomy speech about everything that can go wrong, and explained which kidney they would take, and how it would be taken. He was very patient with all of my questions. I tend to ask a lot of questions, but I have always been told there is no such thing as a stupid question. Besides, when someone is about to take your kidney I figure you have the right to ask a million questions if you feel like that’s what you require to be in your comfort zone. Then I met with Julie, the nurse … also a fantastic person and super helpful. She guided me through being admitted to the hospital and informed me that Dr. Malaise would meet with me later on in the day, and the third doctor I would also meet later. I think I only met him once or twice and I can’t remember his name. I know I met him briefly, perhaps once or twice. It’s a bit of a blur. I remember him being very kind and having green glasses.

Since we had a bit of a break Dad and I got some lunch from a fantastic restaurant called “Dame Tartin”. If you are ever in Montreal, it’s on Ontario Street and it’s fabulous. I got the grilled veggie sandwich with home-made homefries, and a big pile of delicious salad. So good! Best last meal I could ever have asked for! 

kidney donor organ donation surgery


When we got back to the hospital I met with Doctor Malaise and then checked into my room for the night.  They put me in a fancy green robe, and Dad and I sat and talked for a while. 

Then they came in to put in my IV …

This was when I started to get scared.  They had a hard time finding a vein, and ended up putting the IV in the inner fold of my arm (where blood is usually drawn). This meant I couldn’t bend my arm, and that really upset me. I don’t know if it was the pain, or my fear manifesting itself in this one thing, but I just started crying. I was scared. Later on Dr. Malaise and Julie checked in on me, and assured me that once they put me under they would do their best to put it in my hand instead. I spent the rest of the time between then and when they put me under making sure every single person I communicated with was aware of this fact. 

That night it was difficult to sleep, but they gave me some Ativan to help and I drifted off. Dad came early the next morning, and before I knew it I was being wheeled off to the waiting area for the OR. I remember it feeling strange to be wheeled around, sort of a loss of control. You know where you’re going but you have a bunch of people around you who are bringing you there. Then all of a sudden you’re in a room with other people about to go in for surgery, and they’re being taken away one at a time. A couple of people came to talk with me and asked me all kinds of questions about who I was, and why I was there (I guess this is to make sure no one goes in for the wrong operation). When the anesthetist came to speak with me I made sure to tell her the doctor had said I could have my IV switched to my hand while I was under. She said she already knew. As luck would have it her husband was one of the surgeons, and he had told her the night before over dinner. How about that! It was so comforting to know that someone was looking out for me.  

The rest of the time before the surgery is kind of foggy. I remember being wheeled in. I remember seeing a lot of faces staring down at me, and I remember getting a little panicky about the array of monitors and instruments. Luckily, I didn’t have time to worry too much. That was it, I guess. Lights out!

I think the morphine coupled with the anesthesia had a numbing affect on my brain, because I don’t remember waking up. My best friend, Megan (who is a fantastic human being), flew to Montreal to be there when I woke up and I could kick myself because all I remember of her visit is seeing her on her phone once. I also remember crying when she left. She tells me I was in and out of consciousness and I did a lot of falling asleep mid-sentence.

kidney donor organ donation surgery


I don’t have any recollection of pain when I woke up. I remember looking at my stomach and being surprisingly calm about what I saw. (A long incision just above my bikini line in my lower abdomen, and four small ones in a square shape on the left side of my stomach.) 

kidney donor organ donation surgery


The only other thing I remember noticing was that they had managed to find a vein in my right hand for my IV. Hooray! 


They must have had a hard time finding one. My arms were very bruised.

kidney donor organ donation surgerykidney donor organ donation surgery

I guess I was pretty gonzo because the rest is blurry. My surgeons came to visit me, although I couldn’t tell you what time. Julie (the nurse) came as well. By the evening the morphine was starting to affect me in a very negative way. I started to get nauseous and they gave me gravol through my IV, but unfortunately it just wasn’t enough and I started vomiting. I threw up all night. 

This was probably the worst pain I felt through the entire ordeal. I have to say I have never felt anything like that before, and I hope to never experience anything like that again. I can definitely say now that this experience was worth the pain.  This was only one small part of my experience, and I would do it all again if I had the choice. But man … that sucked.

I begged to be taken off the morphine. I refused to press my pain pump button.  The nurses would come in and press it for me, and I would end up throwing up again. I can’t exactly recall when they made the decision to take it away but they did … and then I got Tylenol. Much better! 


When they wanted to take my catheter out I had a major freakout. I was so worried I wouldn’t be able to make it to the washroom. I couldn’t get up on my own and I was terrified that I would pee myself. It also weirded me out to a pretty high degree that there was a tube going into my bladder. I didn’t really know how to handle that. When they finally did take it out it didn’t hurt at all, and I just ended up having to pee around once an hour. I got used to the routine. Ring bell for nurse -get help out of bed - pee in weird toilet pee catcher thing - ring bell - get help back to bed - repeat in one hour. 

My Dad stayed with me all night for the first couple of nights. He is amazing. I don’t know what I would have done without him. Sleeping in one of those torturous hospital chairs that I swear they design to make you as uncomfortable as possible ALL NIGHT. I love my Dad so much.
 

The nights when Dad wasn’t there were the most difficult. I had a hard time sleeping. I would wake up most nights every couple of hours drenched in sweat, but I would be freezing cold. I think my body was having a hard time regulating its temperature. Eventually I got sick of waiting for the nurse when I had to pee in the middle of the night. I figured out how to elevate the bed, scootch my legs over the side and stand up. I could get to the washroom and pee, then I would ring the nurse bell in the washroom and by the time I got back to the bed someone would be there to help me back in. It seemed like they came a lot faster when you rang the bell in the washroom. I guess they figure if you need help in there you might be in some real trouble, you don’t just need a pillow adjusted or something.

I had to get up and walk a lot. It was so hard. I could only make it to the nurse’s station and back most of the time, but I knew it was good for me and would make me stronger so I kept at it. Laying around just makes you stiff and your muscles start to atrophy. Dad was a great cheerleader and he reminded me when I hadn’t been up for a while. I also had a little breathing apparatus that was supposed to help me breathe deeply. Most of the time I just tried to breathe deeply anyhow so I wouldn’t have to taste the plastic. I was terrified of getting pneumonia. My “roommate” was doing a lot of coughing so I was extra diligent with my breathing exercises. They assured me she was not contagious. (I wasn’t about to take any chances, though) 


Things progressed and soon I got real food to eat. Dad would get me food from restaurants so I didn’t have to eat hospital food all of the time. This lifted my spirits immeasurably. I would try to watch TV but my mind couldn’t concentrate long enough. Usually five minutes or so and I was ready for a nap.  

One afternoon a nurse came and washed my hair for me. The process was a little scary, because it meant I had to lay almost flat in the bed, but afterwards I felt fantastic. The lady in the bed beside mine had her hair washed too, and we both smiled at eachother and said things like “Oooh, tres belle!”  Funny how a little thing like having clean hair can make you feel so much better. 

On my last night in the hospital I woke up at around 4am and peeked at my belly (something I did regularly, when I was feeling brave enough) and noticed a blister next to one of my incisions. I panicked. I rang the bell and this very sweet nurse came to help me. I had met him before, his name was Inga. A tall, calm man with midnight skin and kind eyes; he was from Brazil and didn’t speak English … only French. I had done pretty well with my elementary French vocabulary up until now, but this situation required more communication skills than I could muster. In retrospect I’m a little embarrassed about just how upset I was, because despite his telling me it was no big deal (and it really was no big deal) I was pretty close to being hysterical. I was supposed to go home in the morning and I was so excited to be leaving the hospital. I was terrified that something may be happening that would keep me there for one minute longer than was absolutely necessary. A couple of hours later they got the head nurse (who spoke English fluently) to come in and speak with me. She answered all of my questions, and assured me I was still going home that day. Turns out this kind of thing happens all of the time. My skin was reacting to the glue that the steri-strips were held on with in that one spot, for some reason. Eventually it would either burst and dry up, or be re-absorbed into my body. Gross – I know but that’s the reality of surgery. Gross stuff happens. She put a clear plastic bandage over it to make sure it survived the trip home. I apologized to Inga for freaking out. He smiled and said it was ok.

Travelling to Montreal

kidney donor organ donations surgery


I live in Toronto, and having to travel to Montreal and back seemed a little daunting. Thankfully my Mother lives near Ottawa so I decided to spend some time post-surgery at her house to recover before making the big trip back to the T-dot. I left a day early so I could set up my room with everything I needed for my recovery. I procrastinated all morning the day I left, and ended up leaving in the early afternoon. The drive was easy and I drove the four hours in one shot. It was a beautiful sunny day. I felt like the universe must have sensed what I was in for and cut me some slack on this first leg of my journey. I got there, unloaded my things and set up my room. I made sure I had books to read and there were tables beside the bed so I could easily reach things when I needed them.  

It was pretty hard to sleep that night, knowing that the next day I would be on my way to Montreal to give someone a kidney. Things went through my mind like “Ok – someone is going to take an organ out of my body and put it in someone else’s body. And I’m ok with this?! How is this possible??” But when I would think about helping Lynda, and helping this other person I didn’t know, and being a part of something so awesome, it was pretty easy to be ok with someone reaching into my body and extracting something. 

The next afternoon my Dad was there to pick me up. We loaded my little overnight bag into the car, and away we went. The trip was relatively fast, and we made it to the hotel in good time. We unpacked, found a little restaurant and had dinner. I was pretty stoked that they had a salad bar. (I am a very big fan of salad bars –no one seems to have salad bars anymore, therefore this was a very exciting moment for me) That night I slept pretty well … surprisingly well, in fact. And the next day I checked out of my room and we were off to the hospital!

Time Leading Up to Surgery / Journal Entries

You can read my selected Journal Entries here

For those of you looking for the "short and sweet" version of the events that took place, I have included a summary below:

After receiving a tentative date for my surgery I became ill. The transplant team was going to pull Lynda and I from the chain we had been selected for in the paired exchange program, but I fought for our right to be in that chain. They ended up delaying only my surgery. All other surgeries went ahead as planned.

Normally in a paired exchange situation they want all surgeries to be within a day or two of each-other. Because my surgery was the only one delayed, once Lynda got her kidney from her donor technically I could have said "I changed my mind" and it would be too late for them to remove both of us. The transplant team decided to put their trust in me and push my surgery almost a month out from all the others. This was taking a big chance on their part, and I thank them for trusting me to still complete my end of the deal. 

In retrospect, I believe my illness at that time was caused at least in part by the amount of stress I was under. I am a pretty neurotic person and I think I literally worried myself sick. I have learned through this experience that the anticipation was much worse than the actual event. I have lost so much fear going through this ... I really don't worry about that much anymore. If I can donate a kidney, I can do just about anything!


Becoming A Donor

kidney donor surgery organ donation


Deciding to become a donor was not difficult for me.  It was sort of just something I knew I should do.  I’m not saying this is how anyone else would feel about the same decision, and I consulted my friends and family to see how they felt before I voiced my decision to anyone else.  Everyone’s journey in this respect is different. If you are considering donation you should listen to what your heart tells you, and talk to your family.

The next step was making sure I was physically (and mentally) fit to become a living donor. It was immediately clear that my health was of the utmost concern to the transplant team, and if any part of this donation was going to threaten my well being, they would not proceed.  I went through a long series of tests. Lots of blood tests, cross-matches, a CT scan with this dye they put in your blood that makes you feel like you peed yourself (seriously …  it does!), a test where they inject you with radioactive isotopes and watch them circulate through your organs, ultrasounds, a 2 hour psychological interview, the list goes on and on.

I was not a blood type match, but Lynda (my recipient) and I were told that I may still potentially be able to donate directly to her.  This depended on her antibody levels to my blood and tissue, and she would have to be put on a complex regimen of anti-rejection drugs prior to the donation which would severely suppress her immune system.

Our situation was a little different than most, because we were a mismatched pair.  Being told that it may still be possible to donate directly to Lynda was wonderful, but after a while the process seemed like it just wasn’t going anywhere.  After my initial testing we would be tested for antibody levels every few months. They would sort of go up and down, but it seemed like we were waiting for nothing.  It got to be very discouraging.  I ended up doing some of my tests again because it had been over a year. Finally, they told us her antibody levels were simply too high.  This was such a huge disappointment.  I went through a period of time where I felt like there just had to be something I could do. “The squeaky wheel gets the grease”, I kept thinking, “if I just keep asking or pushing maybe something will happen”.  I can be a very determined person.  I take pride in my persistence and ability to take on challenge.  It is not easy for me to accept that there isn’t anything I can do.

Fortunately, there was another option.  We could be put into the matching cycle for the Paired Exchange Program.  (Click here for a link to a description of the Paired Exchange Program - it's basically a big switcheroo) I was skeptical about this as Lynda has type O blood.  Type O is basically the “universal donor” so it would be highly unlikely that there would be a mismatched pair with a type O donor.  I got into the habit of calling Michael (our transplant coordinator) every couple of months just to remind him we were still here and waiting patiently.  This whole experience has been an exercise in patience to say the least.  After a while I started to get really upset with the system, and it started to feel like we were being forgotten. It seems like every time I start to feel this way the light appears at the end of the tunnel.

On October 24, 2011 I got an email that simply said “Please call me at the transplant office. I have some good news for you.” My heart raced.  I was so excited … could it be?!  It was!!  We were matched in the Paired Exchange Program!  We were so excited!  

After speaking with Michael, I learned that my kidney would be going to someone in Montreal.  Someone younger than me, but that was all he could tell me. I would have to travel to Montreal to complete the exchange.  I was a bit concerned about the trip, but not enough to dampen my excitement or deter me from the process in any way.  I was elated, and knew that I was going to make this happen no matter what.  

Both Lynda and I had to do another crossmatch based on our new donor and recipient.  I had to do a TB skin test and a glucose tolerance test as well, since Montreal has a different checklist of tests to do before donation. I passed both with flying colours! 

And then there was more waiting for a tentative date.  This process involves A LOT of waiting. You sort of have to get good at the waiting game, and learn how to be patient.  I’m still learning it seems, but it is always when my patience gets the thinnest that I am rewarded with good news, so I take comfort in the waiting pattern.  

From this point on I kept a journal of my thoughts and feelings. It started from the point at which I got a tentative date and ended the evening before being admitted to the hospital. There were sooo many ups and downs during this time. I have posted the journal entries separately. If you would like to read them, I think that would be the best way to get a feel for what was happening.This was definitely the most intense period of time for me emotionally. I’m a very emotional person and documenting how I felt was very therapeutic, and as it turns out it was a fantastic way for me to look back on my experience.