The Challenge of the Gift of Life

The Challenge of the Gift of Life
Me in September 2005, three months post kidney transplant

I’m in bed.  I’m cold and my wife is standing next to me.  That damn gown I’m wearing is not  comfortable.

My abdomen is completely shaved.

I’m nervous.

I’m sick.

“Your mother is almost done,” is called by a nurse nearby.

My mind raced: Will these be the last breaths I take?  Will I see my mother again?  Will I see my home again?  Will I die under anesthesia?

Then my more sane self kicked in.  You will be fine; you’ve been under anesthesia a number of times.  You are still here.  Ref***inglax!


I turn to my fiancee and ask her to get a nurse.

“Do I get that happy pill?  If so, I’d love to have that right now,” I say.

“You were so calm, we thought we already gave it to you,” she bullshitted me sweetly, as I thought JUST GET ME THE ****ING PILL, while considering the supplemental income I could get by selling this stuff on the street.  What IS that stuff?

It started in the summer of 2004; that is when it became more difficult to get out of bed in the morning and it was much easier to fall into bed and sleep every night.  My weight dropped.  Both my hips began to feel great pain.  The day was coming,  a day that I had anticipated for 16 years– the kidney that had lasted me since November 1987 started to fail.  I needed another transplant.

My relationship with my parents was strained.  It had been since their divorce a couple years back when I felt jettisoned into adulthood, not terribly prepared, although the date on my birth certificate certainly qualified me.  After explaining the situation to my girlfriend, I went to my mother and told her the news.  We cried.  The time had come.

When I told her that I needed a transplant, she never hesitated.  Roughly eight months before, she called Northwestern’s transplant center and made an appointment to see if she still qualified as a match.  She did.  And now my mother now lays in the operating room as the transplant surgeons harvested– the word they used– a kidney from her to put into my body.

Now, as I lay in the bed, allowing that happy pill to work its magic, now all the hard work is over.  The months of barely being able to get out of bed.  The getting home from the office and collapsing into bed.  The lack of appetite.  The pain.  My body wearing down.  As I celebrated by 32nd birthday, my body felt as if I was 80.  It was difficult to move.  It was difficult to walk.  It was difficult to work.  It was difficult to not be depressed.

Life was difficult.

But it wasn’t only difficult on me.  It was difficult on my girlfriend, Amy, who emotionally and physically stood by me every step of the way.  She became more of a nurse than girlfriend.  More mother than woman. She had to endure whispers “Is BT all right?” and lie to our friends– who could clearly see that my condition was deteriorating without knowing why.  Weight– of which I didn’t not have much– fell off.  My skin color became a greenish tint.  In short, I looked ill.

Yet, I didn’t want pity.  Nobody knew.  Most of the men who were to stand up in my wedding didn’t know.    It was not until the second week of June 2005, I told my bosses I had to take a couple weeks off in the end of the month– that I was going to have a kidney transplant in two weeks.

As my body slowly weakened in the beginning of 2005, I was challenged not only by my body’s failure, but to my reaction to it.  I hid that failure from people who cared.  The few that knew had to deal with me in a constant grief.

I wasn’t enjoying life.

Then at about 7:00pm on June 27, 2005, they wheeled me out of the recovery room and onto the floor.  My fiancee, Amy, excitedly ran down from the end of the hall and reported that my mother was doing fine.  Her expression was that of excitement coupled with relief.

It was over.

Yesterday, I had the good fortune of going to an alumni event at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.  I am part of a special group in a room full of very healthy looking kidney and liver transplant patients.  We shared stories.  We toasted our health.  Dr. Michael Abecassis, the Chief of Northwestern’s Division of Transplantation (an introduction was NOT necessary as he got a tearful standing ovation) gave a talk on the future of transplantation and all the great research they are doing at Northwestern.

The theme of the event was “Where Tomorrows Begin.”  And I couldn’t help to think about the eight and a half years of tomorrows my mother and those doctors gifted me.  My children– who will be five and two next month– are here because of those doctors.  I’m able to sit here and write this because of those doctors.

So although I have my health, the challenges persist.  I am busy.  2013 brought the birth of my own law firm; I moved my family to the suburbs.  I don’t have time to hang out with Amy, let alone write.  I really didn’t have time to go to the event last night.

And that’s the challenge:  Not to allow life to pass me by.  Not to be “too busy.”  Not to forget what my family went through to get ME where I am today.  The challenge is to stop.  And just be.  To enjoy the rain, the sleet and snow.  To enjoy my clients.  To enjoy my home.  And to enjoy my family and friends.

To enjoy the gift of life.

Filed under: Change of Pace


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  • This post is part of the ChicagoNow monthly collective "blogapalooza" wherein one topic is presented at 9 p.m. and bloggers have one hour to write, publishing whatever they have by 10 p.m. Today's topic:

    Write about a great challenge faced by you, by someone else, by an entity, at any point in the past or in the future.

  • Great job, Brian. What a story.

  • That's a tough thing to go through in such a small circle. I have a great friend that did 8 months ago, and still goes to northwestern weekly. I'm glad you're sharing so publicly - you're going to help many!

  • What an amazing story. Thank you for sharing it.

  • Thanks for sharing, Brian. Hope you're doing well and that your health is as good as your storytelling.

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