One of my resolutions for June is to spend time everyday working on my book about my kidney disease and transplant. Getting the gift of a kidney from my little sister is what led to My Instruction Manual. Today, I’m excited to share an excerpt from the book, which will be released this summer.
I am lying in a hospital bed in the pre-op room at Toronto General Hospital. My wife Laura is seated to my left and holding my hand.
“I love you so much,” she says.
There are no tears, not now, though we’ve both cried in the days leading up to the surgery.
This is one of the biggest days of my life, right up there with my wedding day and the births of my two sons. By donating her kidney, my sister Stephanie is giving me another chance at life. But it’s hard to feel excited right before surgery.
We don’t say it out loud but we’re both scared we won’t see each other again. The risk of death from a kidney transplant is low — one in four-thousand I’ve been told — but there’s still a risk.
I’ve tossed those odds around in my head over the past few weeks. One way I try to put the numbers in perspective is to think about Rogers Centre, one of my favorite places in the world, where my beloved Toronto Blue Jays play. At 40,000, the stadium is almost full. So I imagine a stadium full of people and 10 of them don’t make it. I visualize half a row of fans who die.
This visualization doesn’t make me feel any better so I try another approach. The Toronto General Hospital does about 140 kidney transplants a year. I do the math that this means just one death in 30 years of transplants. This way of thinking about the odds makes me feel much better.
An orderly in hospital blues approaches the bed.
“I’ve come to take you to surgery,” he says.
“It’s time?” I ask, and he nods confirmation.
As he unlocks the brakes on the bed, I turn to my wife and tell her I’ll see her soon. Her eyes well up with tears and she gives my hand a squeeze.
The orderly wheels me out of the pre-op room and into a bright corridor. I’m cold despite the heated paper blanket, filled with warm air, that covers my body.
We turn into another hallway with doors to the left and right. Above each door a sign: Operating Room 1. Operating Room 2. We continue down the hallway to Operating Room 13. I’m not superstitious, but part of me wishes this wasn’t the room where my surgery was taking place. I’m surprised they didn’t just skip Number 13, like some apartment buildings skip the thirteenth floor. There must be some patients, I imagine, who panic and protest when they learn their surgery will be in Operating Room 13.
They slide the bed right beside the operating table. As the orderly goes to lock the back wheels he accidentally knocks over my IV pole. There are a few moments of panic until one of the anesthesiologists, a woman with an English accent, tells everybody to calm down. With the IV pole upright and my bed locked in place, I am asked to slide over onto the operating table. It is so narrow that they need to install armrests so my arms don’t dangle.
I close my eyes. I have to pee, but it’s too late for that now. Besides, they’ll be inserting a Foley catheter to clear my bladder during the operation.
I notice my left arm has been taped to the armrest and the anesthesiologist is trying to insert an IV into the vein in my wrist. It’s painful and it seems to take forever. An hour earlier, another member of the anesthesiology team tried to insert the IV but couldn’t get it to work. This IV is important as it keeps track of my blood pressure through the surgery.
When the IV is finally in place, someone puts a clear plastic mask over my mouth and asks me to take deep breaths as they start the anesthetics through the IV. I feel tired right away and my eyes are heavy but I fight sleep and open my eyes wide. I don’t want them to start cutting me while I’m still awake. I notice the powerful light pointed at my torso and wonder if the ‘light’ some people report seeing in near-death experiences is just a bright surgical lamp.
“Take some deep breaths,” someone tells me. I keep my eyes wide open and breathe. A few seconds later, I can’t fight it any longer. I close my eyes and fall asleep.
Four hours later I will wake up with a new kidney and my second chance at life will begin.
Once a week, I’m going to take a break from writing about making my life happier, healthier and more productive to write about something off-topic and fun. Tomorrow, in my first #SundayFunday post, I’ll be writing about The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s album, which turns fifty this week.