Saturday, January 21, 2012


The alarm went off at 5.50am. Another day ahead, and as always on the cusp of the weekend, I was flagging badly, tired and declaring in my head that no matter what, I was staying in bed all day on Saturday.

Up, and over to Brendan. The figures from the night were disappointing again. I swore to myself, knowing that at my appointment in the Mater later that day, my case for remaining on 9 hours per night, and not increasing to 10 was weak.

But, there was the promise of an iron infusion - the first I needed since starting dialysis, and another sign that I was going downhill, but it would give me some fake form of energy to cling to. My haemoglobin was down to that level at which keeping the eyelids up required actual effort.

Into the shower, noticing on emergence that the mirror was particularly unkind this morning. Even after 9 hours in my bed, I had the look of a girl who was strung out. The eyes. Oh, the eyes. So sad, so lacking in what youth I had left.

The moments of self-criticism were fleeting, as always. Vanity afflicts me in a different way now. Perhaps that is a sign of maturity, or of just plain giving up, or giving in.

The usual dash to get ready, to pull on the clothes and the boots that would make the people downstairs leave another note in my letter box, saying I disturbed them with my heels. On bad days, I cared little for their light sleeping, and this was starting out as a headache-inducing morning.

On to the make-up, to put on the mask for another day around people who knew little of the devastation that was worsening in my insides.

6.36am. From the bathroom, I hear the faint ringing of my phone, trapped somewhere underneath my heavy winter duvet.

I knew. I just knew.

A mobile phone number flashing on the screen. That threw me for a second. I expected always that it would be a Dublin number. Or at least a blocked number.


Hello, Regina. This is Regina, one of the Transplant Coordinators at Beaumont Hospital. We met once before.

(Breathless) Oh, hi.

Regina, we think we have a matching kidney for you.

Oh my God.

Are you well at the moment?

Yes, yes.

Well, can you make your way to us as soon as possible? You know this isn't a guarantee that you will get a transplant. We will have to do some final tests when you get here, so please don't get your hopes up to high.

Yes, I know that.

Ok, we will see you in St Teresa's ward then. Do not eat or drink anything from now.

Ok, thank you, thank you. I'll be there within the hour.

*Hangs up*

Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God *paces floor of bedroom*

What do I do? What do I do?

A few phone calls of my own, to one best friend up the road, and to the brother. Plans hastily made for a taxi to be ordered.

I wonder what I will remember of the morning, this morning that changed everything. Will I remember that I locked up my apartment and made it as far as the lift, only to think of my Dad's memoriam card. I went back for it.

Will I remember that upon getting to my dear friend's house, she got into the taxi, and immediately said "Jesus, did I turn the hair straighteners off?" and had to rush back into her place to check.

Will I remember that we had no money on either of us, and had to stop at a banklink on the way?

Will I remember that the taxi driver was the slowest taxi driver in Dublin, and that he appeared to take his foot even further off the accelerator when I told him that this was actually a life or death fare for him?

(Seriously, how often does a passenger utter those movie lines to him?)

Will I remember that he appeared not to really know where he was going, and that he had to perform a dangerous three-point turn in some housing estate, the entrance to which he had mistaken for the entrance to the hospital?

Will I remember that he then dropped us at the car park rather than the revolving doors through which patients enter, and took an age to give me my change?

The rush through the corridors of the hospital was frantic. Having only set foot in the place on two occasions, I had no idea where to go, reception had not yet opened, and were it not for the intervention of some kindly doctor, we would have both just stood there, gazes wandering desperately over the list of wards on the wall, while my new kidney lay in wait for me.

We found it, and presented, and I was unsure as I stood at the nurses' station of what exactly I should say.

"Hi, I'm here for my transplant".



Shown to a private room, and the last leg of a two and half year wait ensued. The climax. The last hurdle. My bloods were to be checked, to see firstly if I was fit for the surgery, to secondly see if I was a match for the donor.

The time passed surprisingly quickly. Texting and making calls to bring all who love me up to speed with this excitement, this miracle in the making on an idle workday morning, while they were just coming out of sleep and turning on the radio to hear the news of the rest of the world, while the news that was happening to their friend was much more major.

I was struck by the degree to which all shared in my joy, the realisation that my health meant more to friends and acquaintances than I had imagined.

Another friend arrived, to add to the chatter in my room. Doctors came and went, asking their questions. They told me another girl of about my age had also been called for the other kidney.

Then, the verdict delivered. The match was good. If I had a moment that morning, it came now. A moment borne of pure disbelief that it was finally happening, that the tense, fraught section of my life story may be coming to a close, to allow for the relief of some happier notes.

I was to be brought down to surgery first. Ring your family, tell them, they probably won't get here before you are put under. Anti-rejection drugs and steroids flushed through my system, the attractive anti-clot socks pulled on.

My friends accompanied me all the way to the double doors that separate those who look after from those who operate, looking down at me on my wheeled trolley, joking to put me at ease, when I suspect they were feeling more butterflies than I.

There were no nerves whatsoever on my part. Only a need for this that was stronger than any fear that the human experiences when knowing they are about to be opened up.

What can I tell you of events after that? Nothing. The hours were lost, the clock far worse an enemy at this stage for those who were aware of the time passing than on the one under the knife.

I was woken in recovery at 5.45pm. My hand went straight to my tummy. The tube was gone. I knew what that meant. Success. The operation had gone so well the surgeon was confident I would not require dialysis again.

But the check of the tummy was just the physical confirmation of what I knew as soon I opened my eyes. The clarity of everything, the lifting of the dialysis fog, there was a sharpness there that had been absent for a very long time, even as I just came 'round, which should tell you much about the effect my nightly treatment had on my cognitive abilities.

I was brought straight back to the ward, and I asked for my brother. On oxygen, and hooked up to several wires, I must have scared him a little, but he didn't show it. I don't think I'll ever forget the smile on his face. He took my hand.

Under the heavy influence of morphine, I insisted on him handing over the phone to me, to talk to my mother, and my friends, the same friends who had seen me off to the blessed hands of the surgeons.

I told them all how happy I was, and then I went to a blissful sleep.

It is now Day 8 for me and the kid. He is outdoing himself, working in hyperactivity mode. He had taken my blood levels down to those of a normal person within two days.

There is pain, of course, there are staples in my tummy, there will be a scar, but the limits are gone. I can eat what I want, I can plan again, I can consider holidays, and nights out, and a 30th birthday party in March that will be unapologetically over the top.

There is a quite a bit to go until I am fully recovered, but last night, on the first night at home since the best news of my life, I had my moment, in my own bed, in the dark, in the silence. Knowing I had made it.

Brendan sits quietly now. He will be collected, along with all my dialysis supplies next week. It was an uneasy friendship we had, and the kid is already providing for all my needs in a way that Brendan never did. He kept me alive, the kid will help me live.

There are a thousand different thoughts in my head today, and collecting them and putting them out there in a more eloquent form will take time.

But I just wanted you all to know the story, to thank you for your support and for your good wishes.

I will write further when sitting for too long at the laptop is less painful - of how I'm getting on, of my donor, that person who is lost to the world, but who left a legacy that is immeasurable.

For now, have another picture. This time, of myself and the girl who received the other kidney from my donor.

We will share this experience for the rest of our lives, we will share the anniversary, we will hopefully watch each other progress in adventures of all shapes of sizes, share the simple pleasures we have been granted by having a working organ once again.

There is much for us both to smile about.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

A brighter side of me

It's strange, the different relationships I have with different people, and their varying impressions of me.

To my 'home' friends, I think I'm seen as a bit cynical, a bit hard, very logical, with unyielding views of what's black and what's white; to my college friends, I'm seen as the opposite - a bit of a girl, a little naive, a bit unhinged.

To work colleagues, I'm regarded as quiet and shy and probably a bit boring, but more fool them. I'm just not one to show my true self with people who know me by the ID card round my neck.

To the people who read my blog, I fear I may come across as depressed. Or worse still, depressing.

How terrible, and how unfair. I must, in this new year, try to balance my words and submissions better - a little light relief here and there, to show you that I may not be able to eat anything anymore, and I may some days only be fit to be laid out, but I still smile more than I frown.

Yes, I am worried that my health is starting to worsen.

And yes, I am struggling more than I was. Struggling mostly to keep bitterness at bay, and to not feel increasingly like I'm watching my friends' live life while I'm being pushed to the sidelines.

But I am happy. I still get dressed up for nights out, and I make myself and other people laugh. I plan my weekends, and take enjoyment from all the little things that cannot be taken from me by dialysis.

And I look forward to the day that will come - this year - when dialysis will be done, and a transplant will have been performed while I'm off in some unconscious land for a few hours.

Imagine that day, when the pain is gone and the kidney is settled, and I will be able to go to bed without being hooked up and smile to myself in the dark and say:

"Reg, you did it, you got through. You made it".

(To prove happiness...two dialysis girls out for Halloween. My friend Sonia and I are Big D sisters, Nicole Kidney-mans...and we have some laugh)