Thursday, June 1, 2017

It's so clear now... the meaning of giving

Note that I am posting this with only minimal proofreading.  I felt it was important to get it posted today.  I will, at some point, make some corrections....  or maybe not.  Maybe it needs to be left as-is... raw with emotion. 

Several months ago, my brother, Jay, passed away after suffering a cardiac arrest and brain death.  Once it was determined that he was no longer really with us, the organ donation process was started, per his wishes.  When all was in place, we would remove him from life support, let him go, and send our prayers with each of his donations, wanting the recipients to lead a full and rewarding life as a result of his gift.   It was an odd feeling...  we were heartbroken to lose our son, brother, father, grandfather, and uncle but satisfied that he could  still bestow these gifts upon those that needed them.

Of course, I understood the organ donation process....  someone donates their stuff and someone else gets the stuff.  Sounds simple, right?   What I didn't understand was what it takes to give gifts of this magnitude....  and what it is to receive them.

I won't lie.  The donation process was long, uncomfortable, and well, awful.   I felt I had ran through every ounce of emotional energy to get to the point of making the decision to let Jay go.  By the end of the donation process, I was not sure I could go through it again...  or if I wanted to donate my organs and put my loved ones through the process even though I was fully conscious of the fact that those that received the benefit of Jay's organs and tissues had been far more uncomfortable for far longer than I.  

The benefits of Jay's donations were realized almost immediately.  We were advised that his kidneys were successfully gifted to two gentlemen the very next day and that they were doing well.  Yes, I felt some gratification.  We were told the remaining tissue would be treated and stored until it was needed and could help many individuals, including burn victims.

But the process still sucked.   It seemed like we had been in limbo forever as we waited to make the decision to let Jay go and for the donation process.   It went through my mind that we could quit...  back out...  I wanted it over...  I knew we wouldn't...  I knew we couldn't... but it didn't stop the desperate thoughts.

It seemed that for months, my thoughts of my last moments with Jay were related to the donation process.  I was a little resentful this uncomfortable process replaced the memories I wanted to hold on to from those last hours with him.   As they say, time heals all and I learned to move those memories around and focus on the ones I wanted to remember.  The sharp edges of the donation process softened and my life moved forward.  I had no idea that this would all come back to me with such a velocity that my world would be forever changed.

My husband, a retired firefighter, has suffered with the traditional problems of long-time firemen:  bad knees, bad back, and bad shoulders.  Each year, his range of motion was decreasing and his pain was increasing. 

His right shoulder was repaired a number of years ago without incident and it was time to repair the left shoulder.  However, complications popped up. 

While three of the ligaments could be repaired, the ligament that runs along the top of the shoulder and is attached to the ball was so damaged, and had been damaged so long, that repair was impossible.  Years ago, the only option for this type of situation would be full shoulder replacement.   Shoulder replacement was complicated, possibly a short term solution, and required a long recovery period.

Fortunately, advancements in modern medicine included development of a consistently successful grafting of a two sections of tendons.  Cool!!!   Let's do it.

This morning, we prepared for surgery, arriving timely at the surgical center and feeling like we knew the routine since we had done this before.

This afternoon, my husband received a section of dermis, specifically a section of tendon, from a donor.  This donor section was grafted to the damaged end of his tendon and the surgeon was able to rebuild the attachment to the ball of the shoulder.

I hadn't even considered how a section of tendon would just magically appear at the end of the surgeon's scalpel to be grafted to my husband's tendon.  I am sure they mentioned it at some point..... didn't they?  Then I considered it.  And that's when it struck me....

An organ donor.

This evening, my husband is home, in his recliner,  looking forward to being able to use his shoulder again.

An organ donor.

Someone passed away and their family waited patiently, and probably uncomfortably, while the process was initiated and completed.... and their efforts helped my husband. 

Did that someone's family also pray that the recipient of the tissue would lead a full and rewarding life with their gift?

While I waited for the surgery to be completed, I further contemplated the lives involved in this exchange.   I could have looked at it as just a surgery.  No, I couldn't.  Perhaps prior to my brother's death I could, but things seemed different to me now.  When had they changed?  Maybe my brother's final gift to me was an awakening... an appreciation of the things I could so easily take for granted...  or not even notice.

Of course, the donor's information is private and protected but I knew they must have wanted to help others by giving what they could no longer use.  They gave to enrich the lives of others...   they gave to people they did not know.  They gave regardless of color, sexual orientation, or religion.   They gave everything they had.   They couldn't give more.    They had to be a good person...  how could they not?

I considered my husband.... a good man....  a fireman.   A man who chose a career that required him to risk himself to help others.   He helped others without knowing their name, their age, or if they likes artichokes.  He let kids wear his helmet, offered help on the side of the highway, and pulled a Great Dane and her puppies from a burning building.  He was a man who was viewed as a hero but wanted nothing more than to never, EVER hear another alarm.  He was a man who continued on, knowing his knees and back and shoulders were being destroyed.

Ok, so we have a tissue donor and a recipient.  But it seems more than that.  There is a circle here somehow...    someone helped someone who helped someone.

Perhaps I am feeling that this particular circle is more personal than it really is.  Perhaps it only matters that I am grateful for the two parts of the circle that is in my line of sight:  the fireman... and for the donor...  two people who gave so much... two people that most likely never met.... but two people who gave as much as they could.

Perhaps I would like to believe that, on some cosmic level, I can see this circle in its entirety.  A fireman helped the donor.  The donor helped a fireman.

It could have so many names:
Paying it forward...

Doesn't really matter, I guess.  The important thing is that I now understand about the giving of what can not be bought... and the receiving of what can not be sold.   I want to be part of this wonderful cycle... No.  I want to be part of many of them....  now and forever.

To the family of the donor...   thank you...  and I understand.

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