#39. A big gift - January 2012

Whenever you go to a big hospital there are things named after people.  This wing is the “So and So memorial wing” or that tower is the “So and so Family Tower”.  There are generous people who have donated lots of money. 

When my husband had to go to the Juravinski Centre, a local cancer treatment centre, to have our first meeting with the oncologist, I was amazed by the building.   The beauty of the architecture really did help in a difficult time.  I think the beauty of the building, the attention to details, gave us  the feeling of being cared for, the feeling that someone had cared enough to try and make this terrible experience you were going through just a little bit more pleasant. 

If I had millions of dollars, I would definitely donate money to hospitals.  But, having reached the age of 50 and having not broken into the millionaire range yet, I think statistically it is not likely that any hospital will be the beneficiary of my millions. 

But what can I give?  I read in a Globe and Mail article that dialysis for one person for one year costs the medical system $60,000.  So if someone is on dialysis for 20 years, that might cost $1,200,000.  If I donate a kidney, they don’t have to be on dialysis.  So maybe I can donate a million dollars.  A million dollar kidney sounds good to me! 

Of course, it could be my kidney would be rejected in a few weeks or months. There are no guarantees in life.  Here is the article where I read that statistic about what dialysis costs:

#38. A gift - January 2012

Doctors and nurses and the whole medical establishment are a gift to us, because they try and help us live.   Not everyone has access to medicine and hospitals.

When my husband was so sick, and we were worried he was dying, I read a remarkable book by Stephanie Nolan, a Globe and Mail reporter, called “28:  Stories of AIDS in Africa”.  It tells the stories of 28 people who were living with HIV.  It may seem like a very depressing book to read when you are grappling with cancer, but actually it was one of the most hopeful books I’ve ever read.  Nolen relates the remarkable courage of individuals in Africa who face hard health crises, in the face of very very little access to medicine and health care.  28 million people have HIV in Africa.  Somehow the book reminded me that sickness is not some strange anomaly in human life, but a very common human condition. 

I try to be thankful for what I’ve been given (remarkably good health and easy access to excellent health care).   And I try to feel compassion for people who, through no fault of their own, are facing difficult times.  

#37. Stranger is cleaner - January 2012

As I’ve thought about it, in some ways it might be easier to donate to a total stranger, than to an acquaintance.  I don’t know the situation of the person who will get my kidney, or anything at all about their life.  If they were an acquaintance, I might look at other people in their life, and ask, “Why aren’t they testing to be a donor?” 

Or maybe I might be judgemental about health decisions they make; are they living a good lifestyle? If they aren’t making health choices I approve of, maybe I would be reluctant to give them a kidney. For example, if they don’t exercise, or they drink a lot, or they smoke, it might give me pause as to whether I want to donate to them.  Would they care for my kidney the way I have cared for my body?

Or if I knew them, I might ask about the kind of life they are living.  Are they a kind and loving person, who people will miss?  Or are they a stingy, mean person that no one seems to care about?  It would be hard to give a kidney to someone who was very unpleasant to be around.

But a life is a life.  Doctors and nurses face this all the time.  They have to set aside all personal prejudices or value judgements about the way a person is living, and just try to save them. 
In some ways, not knowing the person, makes it easier to donate because it’s cleaner.  It’s a life.  What kind of life is it?  I have no idea, and maybe that’s best.  It’s a life, and that’s all I need to know.

#36. Extending the circle - January 2012

I am starting to tell a few more people about this kidney donation journey, and there are varying reactions.  I wonder if the reactions would be more consistent if I said I was donating my kidney to my daughter or to my son.  I really don’t think anyone would blink an eye, if I was doing that.  I can’t think of any parent I know who would not do that for their son or daughter or spouse.  The reaction comes because I am doing it for a stranger, someone I have not met.

I belong to a church community that is pretty small…we have around 70 or 80 people who attend each Sunday, but probably an extended community of 100-120 if you include people who are away at school or attend only occasionally.  People know each other pretty well.  If someone in our church had kidney disease, and no one in their family was a match for them, and we saw them getting sicker and sicker waiting for a transplant…I think there are people in our church who would get tested to see if they might be a match.  I think we would extend the “family circle” to include the “church family”.

I suppose the next level would be whether or not you would extend the circle to a co-worker or neighbour or acquaintance. Perhaps it would depend on the circumstances.  Does their situation stir up compassion in you?  For example, are they caring for or providing for children who might be orphaned?  Or maybe it has to do with their character, are they a fine person, have they done a lot for others?  Maybe it has to do with their story, and the poignancy of hearing how everyone they know has been tested and no one is a match.  Maybe it has to do with seeing them getting sicker and sicker.  Or maybe it boils down to, “Do you like them?  Do you like them enough to save their life?” 

The problem is that the wider the circle gets, the less responsibility you might feel to help.  “Someone else should do this…not me!”  “Certainly they have an extended family member who could donate…not me!”    “Someone who is closer should come forward to be a donor…not me!” 

But that’s the same reasoning we use about anything!  Why should I give money to feed starving people in Africa…someone closer to them should help!  Why should I care about anyone I don’t know?  If I was starving, I would want people I don’t know to care about me!