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The first person to offer me a kidney was my mother. She simultaneously volunteered my father and brother. I only took her mildly seriously and not because the offer was not dead-serious. I had it in my mind that my blessing was to come another way.
In my mind, it felt like a due no harm act to deny the offer, of my parents specifically unless it was absolutely necessary. I suppose on one hand it made no sense, because whatever risks could befall them would theoretically be present for anyone who became my donor, but the thought of going into the operating room with my mother or father on a gurney next to me invoked the dread of waking up without them or with them having had a complication. My fear of the medical risk was heightened well beyond the actual quantitative risks, but stats didn’t really matter. In my spirit, when I thought of a younger donor I didn’t perceive those risks. I didn’t fear surgical or post-operation complications. I just feared to ask the question: Will you give me your kidney?
So when it came to my brother, the trepidation was all about the question. I feared the pressure on him might make him feel guilty. When you need a transplant, most people assume your family will step up. Sometimes they do, but for many they have no family to turn to or their family turns them down. When you have such a strong advocate like my mother, volunteering people, I could only imagine how the pressure might be intensified. And that doesn’t even factor in the pain of seeing your sibling suffer.
My brother is only a few years older than me. I projected all kinds of emotions on him, fearing that he would donate out of a sense of obligation while secretly harboring resentment over the pressure. Thinking about the fact that he had no children of his own as yet: not knowing what the future would hold. Thinking he just got engaged and not knowing his fiance’s private thoughts. I knew she was completely supportive of me, but still, my mind wondered what she might have been counseling him in private.
Now, let me emphasize: This was all going on inside my head. It was not tethered to reality. Never the less, I decided not to proceed with my brother completing the donor testing unless I spoke to him directly. I wanted to be the one to ask: Not by proxy, but to ask him directly and to hear from him specifically.
I can tell you, the conversation was very emotional and loving; and it was completely mundane compared to what I had conjured up in my mind.
Nevertheless, to prepare, I wrote him a letter: one he didn’t even know existed.
This was my letter:
I know there is pressure on you to be a donor for me. I also know that you are not easily manipulated; you have strong personal boundaries; you know what you want, and you don’t do things you don’t want to do.
I want to know if you would like to be a donor for me. I don’t want you to think you are obligated to do so. I would love for you to choose to donate. If you do so, I want to be sure that you are doing so with clear eyes, knowing the risks without feeling guilted into it.
And I want you to know that you don’t have to do it; if you don’t want to for whatever reason you don’t owe me an explanation; and I don’t see this as a test of your love, which I know is unconditional.
It feels unfair to even ask and the weight of that has my mind racing with all sorts of thoughts and emotions. Notwithstanding, I am going to trust you and your ability to make a decision in love and in your own best interest.
I followed this with an entire matrix of questions I wanted to ask him before proceeding.
My question matrix was followed by an entire visualization of the conversation with Rande. It felt like the most serious question I would ask anyone in my entire life. It felt like a life or death question. A question that had the power to transform my life is such a complete way.
While some of the anxieties were specific to my brother and family, the truth is, I generally didn’t know how to ask anyone to be my donor. It was also a gift I simply didn’t know how to receive.
It was such a monumental request to ask of anyone I didn’t know how to do it. The root was fear: fear induced by the thought of rejection. The thought of putting myself out there and being left all alone.
Part of me preferred to suffer until I got lucky rather than ask and face the possibility of rejection. So I didn’t ask anyone and the few offers I received, whether they were serious or not, I didn’t act earnestly on all of them. To everyone who offered, I say thank you. To everyone who thought about it, I say thank you.
When I finally psyched myself into asking my brother the question, I stopped him in the kitchen of our parents’ house. The home we grew together in. If I remember correctly, he stopped by the house to steal food out of the fridge. Probably leftover pancakes I had my eye on already. I gave a short preamble and then I asked if he really wanted to be my donor. My brother in his customary no-long-talking way assured me that he had chosen this; that his fiancé was fully supportive; and that he felt no pressure. My letter, my matrix, were never revealed to him [until now that is].
And that was that: No more questions, no more talking. Rande and I scheduled an appointment at the Miami Transplant Institute to do what is called a one-day workup: a serious of tests that determine if a donor is a viable match.
Rande wasn’t able to be my donor in the end, but bringing myself to ask him the question, opened my spirit to receive the blessing that eventually came from a childhood friend. And I appreciate so much that he was willing to donate and that he was there with me during that emotional first trip to be tested, and all along the way.
We spent my first post-transplant New Year’s together in Florida last year while I recovered. It was a sweet celebration.