Daddy's Off Dialysis: By His Living Donor
Updated: Mar 9
While today most of the world is dreaming of daffodils and looking forward to leaping forward, the Romans who named this month after Mars, the god of war, were fixing to fight. We all have our battles and I wish to share my ‘Daddy’s March’ to honor National Kidney Month.
Getting ready for bed, one would have thought Daddy was packing for the Titanic’s maiden voyage. I couldn’t fathom all the doodads he needed to stay alive. If you could call him that. Yes, his heart beat, with the help of a pacemaker. Yes, he ate, thanks to the purple pill and insulin. Yes, he breathed, via Inogen. Yes, he slept, all day because the damn PD CYCLER screamed like a Howler monkey all night. Despite his forced laughter, I was watching him die. Debilitating diabetes was now consuming his kidneys and his spirit was waning. One day I overheard him whisper to himself, “I oughta just overdose on insulin.” No longer could I witness his suffering or his ballooned belly brandishing the silicone umbilicus that had become Daddy’s lifeline. The decision to become his living donor struck me like a rattlesnake. Only without warning.
Statistics show that one-third of those who need an organ will die — before their name even reaches the top of the organ waiting list. According to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), in the time it takes you to unload the dishwasher, a person is added to an organ transplant waiting list. On average twenty people die every day waiting. Those who wait the longest — Need a Kidney. Most of us — Have Two.
In October 2009, unbeknownst to anyone, including me, my Daddy’s only child was flying stateside to give him a kidney. I strolled toward the wavering mirage of puddles that disappeared before me as I crossed Belize’s sweltering tarmac. Despite my carry-on tugging me, my face beamed — my blood type was a match! Like good husbands, Vince had helped me collect my pee for twenty-four hours the week prior. I aced the first two kidney-donor tests. We never dreamed I’d be donating my kidney this trip. Heck, we rescue crocodiles for a living. There’s a lot to consider and discuss with one’s One True Love before letting a first-year intern pluck a healthy organ from their forty-four-year young body. Grabbing my bag I hugged it close and clambered the scorching stairs as if the rails were on fire. Stale cool air blasted me as I entered the plane’s belly. I settled into a front seat. Tissue typing tests were the next step to confirm Daddy and I were one hundred percent a match. I giggled in silence knowing I had scheduled them for tomorrow. Daddy had no clue.
As I gazed through the scratched plexiglass, the vastness of lush vegetation rushing below filled me with wondrous fear. The rainforest is a life of its own. Its canopy of kaleidoscoping greens was dazzling at three-thousand feet. In 2004, Vince and I made southern Belize our home and started the country’s first crocodile sanctuary. Despite my round-trip ticket being scheduled to return me the following week, loneliness slithered into my chest as I left the monkeys, our crocodiles, our potlickers, and Vince behind. My sighs eased into hums as I thought about my new covert adventure… to save a human life… to rescue Daddy.
My secret and I daydreamed as the verdure below transmuted from emeralds to milky quartz dust then dissolved into turquoise. I envisioned Daddy’s oceanic blues twinkling and his rosé lips ho-ho-ho-ing thru his Santa-like beard as I told him, “If we pass tomorrow’s tests you’re getting a new kidney!” My kidney! Sure it’s filtered vast amounts of booze. It’s sifted a lot of good ol’H2O too. Heck, that’s what kidneys do… or, should do. Then, my secret sidled from my mind via my heart to the corners of my lips which spontaneously curled like the Grinch’s as he listened to all of Whoville sing “Dahoo Dores.” That instant my soul decided, I was giving a kidney on this very journey. From deeper inside me than the sea below arose an actualization. Someone needed an organ. If I wasn’t a match for Daddy, well, as J.D. sang, “I want to share what I can give…” I can give a kidney. Even if it’s to a complete stranger. The rattlesnake struck. I was bitten. My envenomated secrete grew. It was mine alone at that moment. But then, I shared it with every stranger I met. For every secret wants to… needs to… be told.
“I’m going to my Daddy’s in North Carolina to give him my kidney,” I blurted to no-one in particular.
Wide-eyed passengers looked at me with awe and contemplating disbelief. Their look alone was enough for me to continue…
I persisted, “Daddy’s a severe diabetic.”
Then wondered what that meant to another person.
To me, it meant pee-strips in the bathroom; insulin in the butter tray on the refrigerator door; witnessing a plethora of finger-pricks followed by at least three shots a day wherever needles would push past scar tissue; and, months filled with longer days in the local VA. To Daddy, it meant the same. PLUS, heart fibrillations in his thirties, loss of vision in his forties, open-heart surgery in his fifties, neuropathy in his hands and feet, numerous stents, a pacemaker, kidney failure, and now the dreaded PD Monster Cycler.
“He’s on Peritoneal Dialysis. His gut’s tethered to a machine all night long,” I’d say. Strangers’ mouths would open. Only air escaped.
“I’m going home for my birthday, but I have been getting tested to see if I can give him my kidney.” My secret was so happy to be out. It unearthed itself to every newcomer, making itself truer and truer. While my intention was genuine, I never thought much past the idea of it. “The Secret” was transmuting itself into a tangible reality.
People’s responses were similar: a smile followed by, “What a wonderful gift to give him.”
All those wonderful words of encouragement from strangers propelled the idea closer and closer to reality. I realize now that they will never know unless they happen to be reading this that I wasn’t a match… but a Perfect Match!
The transplant was a success. In a couple months I was back wrangling crocodiles in Belize and Daddy was enjoying good times, the “Sunshine on My Shoulders” with toes in the sand times. Despite my kidney holding its own, the diabetes was still gnawing away at the rest of him. His heart would need another valve replacement next. Followed by a rotten gallbladder and an erupted appendix. Yet for another six years and three months, Daddy and my kidney marched on and lived his life to the fullest. January 31, 2016, Daddy transformed. He and my kidney were cremated with full military honors. My memories of our extended times together — are more than Titanic.