WARNING: The following blog post will contain Too Much Information. If you don't want to learn exciting details about my bodily fluids, please go elsewhere.
I took my gigantic jug of urine and caught the 7AM train to Philly. The jug, which contained all my pee from the previous 24 hours, was double wrapped in Key Food bags inside a canvas bag from Union Market, and did not leak at all during transit to 30th Street Station. I love 30th Street. It's got this pub called Bridgewater's which was the first place I went after my dad died, and I have made a solemn vow never to pass through without doing a tequila shot in his honor. The pub wasn't open at 8:30 AM, probably a good thing considering the full battery of medical tests I was about to undergo.
The friendliness of Philadelphians is always refreshing. While buying my salad at Au Bon Pain, I was complimented on my coat, called a sweetheart, and exhorted to take more breadsticks. A racially mixed group of obese women were cracking jokes with the manager, a younger black woman who said that her name, Christine, did not sound black enough and she was considering changing it to "Ciabatta." One of the obese women turned to me and said, in a thick Philly accent, "Don't mind us. We're retarded." I loved everything about this interaction, especially the fact that I was carrying a bag of pee.
The Market Franfort Line to the Broad Street line to Einstein Hospital, and up to the fifth floor. Kidney central. If you want to feel like a supermodel, hang out in some waiting rooms with kidney patients. The nurse gives me another little plastic cup -- yipee! -- and I go in search of the bathroom, but it turns out there's only one and it's occupied. Two people are already waiting in line for it, both apparently on the verge of death, so I ride the elevator down to the lobby and use the one there. Why Einstein would design a huge suite of offices for people suffering from kidney problems and only put in one bathroom is a great mystery.
Always in the back of my mind I am thinking: Can my mother and I trust these people to cut us open?
Mostly they are very good at their jobs. The phlebotomist is my first stop. She takes my piss jars, large and small, then examines the form where it lists the blood tests I need to get. "Wow, you're getting a lot drawn," she says.
Not what you want to hear, really. I apologize for the little puddles my pathologically sweaty hands will leave on her counter and she says it's all cool. I tell her I hate blood and she says to look away. A pencil drawing of some orchids hangs on the opposite wall. The needle hurts but not too bad.
"Tell me a story," I implore.
She laughs. "What kind of story?"
Ah, soothing orchids. Must. Look. At. Orchids. "Tell me about your children."
By the time she gets to the last grandchild, twelve of the vials are filled. I coast through the last six by giving a precis of my novel.
On to the Social Worker. A pert young woman with big eyes who would make a good randomly assigned college roommate. I am honest about everything. Her mild disapproval of me is tempered with compassion. When I tell her I live in a third-floor walkup, she tells me there are furnished apartments around the corner I can rent for $30/night for the week after the surgery.
Next comes Donna, my transplant coordinator, the nurse who oversees this whole process. She's a nice, tough lady with a scratchy voice, sort of a Penny Marshall type. She goes down the very long checklist of everything on the consent form that they legally have to tell me -- You will not get any medical benefit from this surgery; There is a very small chance of death; You can change your mind at any time; etc, etc -- and although it's all very brisk and efficient and I don't even know if I'm going through with the transplant anyway, I get a lump of dread in my stomach and have to emotionally eat an Au Bon Pain breadstick. Donna looks up the results of my mom's last liver biopsy and gives me a good summary of what Hepatitis C is and how far hers has progressed and what that could mean for a possible transplant. I sign all the papers.
In floats a beatific Swede called the Living Donor Advocate. He wears two beepers and a tie that says "I'm Not From Here." His nametag says he is a chaplain, but he explains that he is not wearing his chaplain hat with me today but is instead wearing the hat of the Living Donor Advocate, a man who is on my side and my side only. He says if I were a boxer in the ring he would be that guy in the corner who puts out the stool and gives me water. I don't tell him that I generally slept with that guy.
The Living Donor Advocate has served in the military. He is more square than the social worker, if that's even possible, but there's something about him that I like. He looks a lot like everyone in Minnessota. I tell him my mom is thinking of refusing all treatment and just letting her kidneys fail, and he tells me that he's going to take off his Living Donor Advocate hat for a second and put on his chaplain hat so that he can tell me that dying a natural death from kidney failure is not that bad, because failing kidneys secrete a toxin that numbs the body to pain. We agree that the human body is amazing. He puts his Living Donor Advocate hat back on.
I say the thing that worries me is that, due to how new this surgery is, there's no really long-term studies on the effect on the donors. He says it's not that new, that it's been around for 50 years or so. I say that I'm 36 and plan to live at least another 60 years and that no studies exist over that long of a time period. He tells me that a new study just came out showing that kidney donors are healthier than the general population. I say, "Of course they are. You have to go through rigorous tests to donate." They'd have to compare donors against only the healthiest people in the non-donor population. Then again, studies schmudies. I have to believe my mother and I will be on the long, right-hand tail of any curve. If not, why bother doing it?
He asks me about my religious beliefs, and I tell him about the dice scheme. Last week, when I went to see my buddy and spiritual advisor Khen Rinpoche Lobzong Tsetan for the usual vegetarian lunch and walk around Fort Tryon Park, I asked him what he thought about me donating a kidney to my mother. The first time I told him about it, he seemed opposed. Rinpoche is about 70 and he looks like the Dalai Lama.
He spread his hands. "It can be okay. Your mother bring you into this world. If it is useful, maybe, you give. But you give without fear. Without expectation. Without you want something." We walked a while in silence, and then he added, "If you want, maybe, I do definition." It took me a while before I understood he'd said "divination."
At the time, I told Rinpoche I wasn't sure if I wanted him to roll the dice for me. I mean, what if the dice say 'no' and I want to do it? I told this to Ethan and he said, "What are you crazy? Have him cast the dice! If Rinpoche's dice say it's a bad idea, there is no way you should do it."
When I tell the Living Donor Advocate this, I can tell he's not on board. He says he's worried I am using a Buddhist monk to avoid making my own decision. For a second I'm really irritated, but then I realize he has a point. I also realize something else. "It's not like he's going to tell me 'yes' or 'no.'" I say. "The cool think about Rinpoche is that he only tells me things I already know."
The Living Donor Advocate nods sagely. "Alright. I hear what you are saying."
He tells me the etymology of his surname -- a hill in Sweden -- and we say goodbye. I go downstairs for my chest x-ray and EKG, both of which are extra embarassing because of something nonstandard about my breasts. The EKG machine is like an octopus that attaches all over your chest, and it's neat how a lot more of the tentacles get attached all around the left breast, where my heart is, beacuse normally I think of my body as being symmetrical, but really it's not. For example, a CAT scan will be done to determine which one of my kidneys is a better candidate for removal, based on the number of arteries that connect to it. If they opt to take out the left kidney, surgery is generally laproscopic. With the right, it's an open incision. Or maybe it's the other way around. I can't remember and can't bear to Google it; my recent browsing history looks like a surgical addict's.
Afterward, Mom and Scott pick me up and we eat at a great new restaurant that just opened around her. She tells me all about their trip to the Constitution Museum. Then we go see baby Grace, who grows chubbier and cuter by the second. I take the train back through 30th Street, but, although Bridgewater's is open by now, I only have 10 minutes and the bar is three people deep so not enough time for a Mike Deming Memorial Shot. I think I'll do one now.