When Your ‘Gift of Life’ Doesn’t Go As Planned

Image by djedj from Pixabay

Earlier today, I published a post that talks about sitting with your negative emotions so you can identify and process them more effectively. Little did I expect that I’d have to force myself to follow that very same advice such a short time later.

A little over a year ago, I donated a kidney to a friend from my hometown. It has been a roller coaster of emotions ranging from feeling blessed and proud to help her live a better life to sad and afraid of what being a living donor meant to me. Primarily, I was concerned about what would happen if my one remaining kidney failed. I also feared the type of effects I might possibly feel 5, 10, or 20 years down the road.

Regardless, I worked through all of these and decided that I was going to donate. I had the opportunity to help a friend in need, which is what I would want someone to do if it was one of my family members. It was definitely the right choice for me.

I flew home, donated, and flew back. Overall it went well and, if I’m being realistic, my life hasn’t changed all that much. I have to drink a lot of water every day to keep my remaining kidney functioning as good as it can, I can’t take ibuprofen, and I have to monitor my protein intake. Some days I struggle with fatigue and my pee smells different, but other than that, it’s pretty much business as usual.

Well, today I found out that my kidney recipient has to return to dialysis. Her disease has attacked my old kidney to the point where it can no longer effectively filter the toxins from her body. To say that I feel defeated and deflated is an understatement.

The best way I can explain it is to imagine that a friend of yours has lost both of their arms. You love them and want to help out, so you agree to have one of your arms surgically removed and given to them. You know that being one limb short will change your life in some respects, but you’re willing to make the sacrifice because it will make their life that much better.

So, you go through with the surgery, give them your arm and, a short time later, their body starts fighting it off. It attacks it to the point where they can no longer use it. Now they don’t have the use of your arm and neither do you. What are you supposed to feel?

Part of me is incredibly sad for my friend. She tried her hardest to improve her health and do everything right by my kidney. In the end, her disease had bigger plans. Despite her best efforts, she couldn’t keep it from destroying the new organ, much like it had her own kidneys.

But I also feel an amazing sense of loss for myself. I feel like my kidney was just ripped from my body today and the life has been stomped out of it. Like everything I went through was for nothing. Like none of it matters. All it did was delay her prognosis and that doesn’t feel like much at all.

Following my own advice, I’ve spent the last couple of hours sitting with my emotions to process them and fully understand how I feel. This is what I’ve come up with…

The rational side of me knows that, while I feel like my donation didn’t matter, it most certainly did. At a minimum, I gave my friend a year off of dialysis, which meant that she didn’t have to be tethered to a machine for 8 hours a night. I also gave her an opportunity to feel normal again, even if only for a while.

I do still believe that, whatever the reason, this is right where I need to be. I was meant to give my friend my kidney and, in some shitty twist of fate, it wasn’t supposed to work out. Maybe to help others through this same type of experience? Maybe to really test my inner faith? Maybe for some other reason I don’t quite understand.

I don’t know the answers right now, not even close. So, I guess I need to sit with my feelings a bit longer. Both to grieve a little more and to figure them all out.

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