Hey everyone, it's been a while since the surgery, but now I’m in a good place and feel well enough to update you. I’ll run through everything that’s happened in the last 6 or so days, so this will be a long one.
As it turns out, the bowel prep wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. The dose was smaller than it is for people getting colonoscopies, so that makes sense. All I took were 3 small poops. I was supposed to stop eating after I started, which was about 3:30PM, and only clear liquids (tea and coffee without creamer were OK) until midnight, after which I couldn’t eat or drink anything.
The next day, on January 15th, I arrived at the hospital at 6:15 AM. When I arrived they immediately took me to the operating room (OR) prep area, which was one of many small curtained off alcoves in a big room. I put on the provided hospital gown and I laid down in the stretcher that was in the prep area. Lots of different doctors, including several people from the surgical and anesthesiology teams came in to see me to go through the procedure with me. They were all very nice and made me feel very good about everything. One of them even wrote her initials on my right side where my kidney is, I guess to make sure that I was being operated on by the right doctors. At around 7:30AM, the anesthesiologist came and wheeled me away to the OR, and I said goodbye to my wife and parents. I was wheeled through lots of hallways and it took a few minutes before we arrived. Again, everyone there was really nice. They asked about me, where I was from, how I knew the recipient, and stuff like that. Once it was time for me to go to sleep, the anesthesiologist told me he was going to start injecting the drugs that would make me fall asleep. As he was doing that, I felt someone rubbing my shoulder reassuringly as I fell asleep. I don’t know why, but when I think about that I start to tear up; it was a really nice and reassuring thing for them to do, and I really appreciated it.
Next thing I knew, I was waking up in the post-op recovery area. I was barely awake and I don't remember much. All I remember is my wife, mom, dad, and mother-in-law coming to visit me (my father-in-law was at the hospital, but he couldn’t visit me because he was sick), the nurse telling me to keep breathing, and really, really wanting to go back to sleep, which the nurse encouraged me to do. I think I did fall asleep because the next thing I remember is being wheeled into my hospital room. I didn’t have any idea what time it was, but it was around 5:00PM when I was being wheeled into the room. In total, everything lasted about 10 hours; from when I arrived at the hospital to when I got to my room. The surgery itself was about 6 hours. I don’t remember much else from that first day, as I was really tired. I remember my wife, parents, and in-laws being in the room when I was wheeled in; I remember them saying how nice the room was (it was really nice); I remember the nurse helping my wife turn a chair into a bed for her; and I remember being woken up several times in the middle of the night to have my vital signs checked and blood drawn.
The day after surgery, the 16th, I was still pretty out of it. We were woken up almost every hour to have my vital signs checked and blood drawn, and a machine beeped at me when I wasn’t breathing deep enough, so we didn’t get a lot of sleep. I also had my catheter removed early in the morning, which definitely was not fun. They told me I needed to pee in a container from then on because they wanted to monitor when I was peeing and how much I peed each time to make sure my kidneys were functioning properly. After I peed on my own the first few times, they used a machine similar to an ultrasound to measure the amount of urine left in my bladder to make sure it was emptying properly. Once they determined it was, they stopped measuring but they kept monitoring my urine. I also threw up at some point in the night from nausea, so I was given some anti-nausea medication. The nurse came in the morning and evening to give me my regular medications, 2 stool softeners for constipation, an anti-heartburn medication, extra-strength Tylenol for pain, and oxycodone for pain (if the Tylenol wasn’t enough, which sometimes was the case).
I was encouraged to walk often to help me feel better, so I tried. Even with my wife’s help, the walks were still very difficult that first day. I had a lot of pain, especially around my incisions, which was expected. I was also bloated from the gas used to inflate my abdomen for laparoscopic surgery. I moved between my bed and the chair in the room occasionally to not stay in the same position, but the bed was more comfortable that first day. It was difficult getting in and out of my bed and the chair; I’m supposed to use my core muscles as little as possible to prevent a hernia, because they cut through those muscles during the surgery. So, a lot of that first day was spent resting. When I did move around, very often I needed my wife’s help to do it. I was brought clear liquid meals for breakfast and lunch, which consisted of Jello, broth, and tea, but because of the bloating I didn’t have much of an appetite. For dinner, though, they brought me my first solid meal: beef stroganoff. I felt a little hungry so I ended up eating most of it.
My parents came to visit at some point that day, but I don’t remember them being there all that well. One thing I do remember, though, is a visit from the hospital’s maintenance manager. He helped my parents find my room and they told me about the donation. He came in and introduced himself. He said he wanted to come by to thank me for what I was doing, and as he teared up he said that what I had done reminded him that there was still good in this world. I was really grateful for him saying so, and it made me really emotional as well. Otherwise, time seemed to go by incredibly slowly, and I went to sleep shortly after sundown.
Like before, during my second night we were woken up frequently so neither of us got a great night’s sleep. I was supposed to be released on the 17th. However, during the night I had a fever of around 101 degrees. The doctors told me that sometimes healthy young people can get random fevers after surgery and no one knows why, but it could also be a sign of infection or pneumonia. They decided to keep me at least one extra day to keep an eye on me. I was disappointed that I wasn’t going to be discharged that day, but I was determined to try to get discharged as soon as possible. To keep my fevers at bay, I was told to use my incentive spirometer regularly. An incentive spirometer is a device they give people after surgery to help prevent pneumonia after general anaesthesia. It forces you to inflate your lungs more to keep them from deflating and having liquid gather in them. I was also to keep up my regular walks, which I tried to do. Walking was a bit easier than it was the day before, especially when I had my IV disconnected and didn’t need to cart the IV pole around with me, but I still needed some help from my wife to get around.
The 17th was another day of rest while also switching between the bed and chair to prevent blood clots. I still needed a lot of help getting in and out of bed, though. My parents and in-laws came to visit us as well, which was nice. Because I was originally supposed to move to the transplant house that day, my parents went there and checked in for us as well as moved non-essentials and my car there to help us for when I did eventually get discharged. I was also having some trouble with constipation, because I hadn’t had a bowel movement since before the surgery. I was given another laxative, and when that didn’t work, I was given a suppository to try to help, but to no avail. I was still passing gas, though, so my doctors and nurses were still confident that everything was still working properly. They said it was only a matter of time until I had a proper bowel movement. When I wasn’t moving around, we had the TV on and were watching whatever was on that was good (there wasn’t much). By now I wasn’t taking the oxycodone anymore, both because I didn’t need it and to help fight my constipation. I only took the Tylenol occasionally, because my pain wasn’t too bad anymore. My wife went down to the gift shop and bought me a cute sloth stuffed animal, because I was moving so slowly. I named him Slothy and I slept with him that night. My parents and in-laws visited today as well, and because my parents were leaving the next day I said goodbye to them. Overall it was another slow day, but I went to bed a little later.
That night we weren’t woken up as much as the night before, but still enough for us not to get a full night’s rest. We were woken up at 7:00AM for me to get a chest X-ray to check for fluid in my lungs and to have my vitals taken. I also had a urine culture taken to check for a bladder infection. I was brought breakfast but still didn’t have much of an appetite so I didn’t eat much. A few hours of waiting later, we were finally told that the X-ray looked perfect, but I’d have to wait another day to wait for the urine culture to finish and because I had that fever overnight. So, it was more of the same: get my meds in the morning and evening, take a walk with my wife every few hours, switch between the bed and chair, and wait. Walking was again even easier than the day before, and my wife was saying that I was even walking faster than I was before.
Around lunchtime I had a bit of an appetite, so I ate more of my lunch: barbeque chicken. It was really good, and I was very impressed with the quality of the food overall. My wife finished what I didn’t of my lunch, and she was impressed as well. To pass the time while we were in the room, we put the MTV show Ridiculousness on. If you haven’t seen it, it’s like America’s Funniest Home Videos but for internet videos of people doing stupid things. It was a marathon, so we had it on all day for entertainment. It had been 4 days since I had last showered, so I wanted to take a shower that evening. I felt really greasy and dirty, so I felt it was time. The nurse covered the IVs in my hands with plastic and I tried to shower, but it was difficult. Even with my wife’s help, it wasn’t very successful, but I felt a little better. Before we went to bed, the night nurse came in and weighed me, something typically done at 5:00AM, so I wouldn’t have to be woken up so early to do that. My wife and I were very grateful, because that night we were woken up the least of any night we were there.
Because of the sleep that I had gotten that night, on the 19th I was feeling much more rested. The doctors came in to say all my tests came back fine, so all I needed to be discharged would be an ultrasound of my legs to check for blood clots. Most of the 19th was about the same as the days before; walking, resting, and waiting for a bowel movement that wouldn’t come. The ultrasound was done around 11:30AM. It took 4 hours to get the results, but I was finally discharged. I was so happy; my wife and I hadn't been outside or felt the sun in 5 days. My in-laws came to visit that day and as my parents had done, they brought the rest of our things to the transplant house before I was finally discharged so we didn’t have as much to carry. My wife carried the rest of what we had, since I wasn’t allowed to carry more than 10 pounds. It was really strange getting back into real clothes instead of a hospital gown, which I had worn constantly for so long, and I needed some help getting dressed. At 4:00PM a wheelchair came to get me to bring me to the hospital lobby. We said goodbye to my in-laws and took a Lyft to the transplant house, which at 5 blocks away is too far for me to walk. We got to our room and settled in. We both got a lot more sleep that night, because we weren’t constantly being woken up!
Now, I’m here in the transplant house recuperating until my first follow-up appointment on January 27. The transplant house is kind of like a hotel run by the hospital for transplant recipients and donors to stay in that’s near the hospital and very affordable. There aren’t any nurses or anything here, so I’m much more independent than I was in the hospital. I have to say, I’m really impressed by the transplant house as well. The room is nice, and the house has a big kitchen with communal food, an entertainment area with a TV, Nintendo Wii, a large selection of books, a collection of DVDs and VHSs that is very impressive, a workout room, a laundry room, and a big dining room. It’s the perfect place for me to rest until I can go back home. The only issue is that the beds in the rooms are normal beds. After figuring out how to be comfortable in my hospital bed, in addition to figuring out how to get in and out of it, I now need to figure out how to do the same in a normal bed. I’m still not allowed to use my core (and it’s still painful to do so), so that continues to be difficult. I took my first real shower today, which was a lot easier to do without the IVs in my hands. I feel like a human again! I can’t stop feeling my hair, which felt so clumpy and greasy but now feels normal. We also went for a longer walk today; we walked a block and back. I still have to walk slowly, and it’s still a bit painful, but I can manage much longer walks now. I was just a bit winded by the end because I am not used to moving so much. Tonight, volunteers are cooking dinner for transplant house guests, so that will be really nice.
All in all, it’s been a very interesting experience post-surgery. It certainly hasn’t been fun; there’s been pain, trials, and tribulations in the last several days. It hasn’t been easy. However, since I got out of surgery, we’ve been getting updates from the recipient’s mom on how she is is doing. The surgery itself was a success, and she’s been doing better and better with each passing day. Pre-transplant, her kidney function was at 11%. A few hours post-transplant, it was already at 56%, and 24 hours post-transplant, it was at 112%. She’s been having trouble with things relating to being in the hospital, like being poked and prodded by doctors all the time (which anyone would hate), but generally she’s been feeling a lot better every day, and I’ve been told she’s been smiling a lot more as well. She even got to have chocolate ice cream for the first time! What’s really interesting is that pre-transplant, the reason she couldn’t have dairy or chocolate is because they are high in phosphorus and her kidneys couldn’t handle too much of it. Post-transplant, her phosphorus has been so low and her kidney has been functioning so well that she needs to take supplements to raise her phosphorus levels. It’s all been really incredible to hear.
Even though I’ve been through a lot of pain, every time I hear how much better she’s doing already, it makes everything I’ve gone through worth it, both in the many months leading up to the surgery as well as everything after. I’m not really an emotional guy, but I’m tearing up just thinking about it. I remember thinking in the hospital that I was crazy for having done this; I mean, who elects to have major surgery and give up a vital organ for a complete stranger? One of the side effects of the surgery they prepared me for was death (very small chance, about one in 10,000). But like I said, hearing about the recipient’s progress has made absolutely everything worth it. Being able to have this much of an impact on someone’s life, especially someone who has so much life to live, really is an absolutely incredible feeling. I know donating an organ isn’t something everyone can do, but if you can and have the opportunity, please take that first step like I did. You might not be a match, but there is always a chance you may be. You can have an amazing impact on someone else's life.
That’s it from me today. I’ll update here periodically on how I’m feeling over the next week before my first follow-up appointment. Thank you again for reading, and for those who sent me well wishes, thank you as well. I also want to give a huge thank you to my wife Jill, who was there by my side 24/7. She slept on a little chair that converted into a cot in my hospital room, waited on me, walked with me, woke up with me all those times I was woken up in the middle of the night, updated friends and family with how I was doing, and did everything in her power to help me and make sure I was comfortable while I was in the hospital (and will continue to while I’m recovering). In addition to all the other reasons I have to be thankful for her, I am endlessly thankful for her help, love, and support during the last week. It will forever be appreciated.
(By the way, if you're interested in seeing an image of my kidney after it was removed, click here. Forwarning, it's bloody, so this is not for the squeamish. This is what a kidney looks like before the fatty tissue is removed and it's drained of blood.)