The past few months have brought me one ailment after another, side effects from treatments causing other issues, a lack of appetite (which is not a way to lose weight I would recommend) and no energy. (I’m not a hypochondriac; this is atypical.)
I admit I’ve been a little cranky. OK, VERY cranky. Luckily, I’m finally feeling better.
I spent Thanksgiving in Los Angeles at the home of an old friend, with my daughter and assorted family. On the Wednesday preceding Turkey Day, that friend had a house guest in addition to me: a young woman named Kelly, 42, who is recovering from a heart transplant. (For privacy purposes, I’m not using Kelly’s real name.)
My friend volunteers at a major hospital once a week in their patient and family care group. She’s assigned to a floor where patients are waiting for or recovering from transplants. Her job is to interact with the patients and their family or friends—and basically do a lot of listening. She has personally bonded with some of her patients, including Kelly.
Kelly lives in Houston, but flies into Southern California monthly for follow-up protocols. Although she has successfully come through the threat of rejection of the heart she received, she is now facing kidney problems requiring dialysis. Her weight is down to 89 pounds.
“I watch the Food Channel all the time,” she confided. “I keep thinking it will make me feel hungry.”
She walks haltingly, but is obviously very independent and taking control of her recovery, almost a year since she got her new heart.
After spending an evening with Kelly—someone who is so valiantly battling to keep herself alive—I feel ridiculous for feeling sorry for myself over the ailments I’ve suffered over the last few months. Yes, we all handle what we have to handle, but my issues feel so insignificant and self-indulgent by comparison.
All of this made me think about how lucky we are—palm trees included—compared to at least 90 percent of the people on the planet. Therefore, with the holiday giving season upon us, maybe there’s something we can do for those whose lives revolve around physical challenges we will most likely never have to face.
There are more than 122,000 people in this country officially waiting for an organ—heart, liver, lung, kidney, eye and/or tissue—according to the Universal Donor Registration Site, administered by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). More than 20 people die every day while on the lengthy waiting lists, and there are as few as 15,000 donors each year. Some people need more than one organ—a heart and a lung, for example. Some patients’ bodies may reject an organ and require a second procedure—and, therefore, a second donor. Matching donors to those in need is a complicated process. In America, federal law makes it illegal to “knowingly” buy or sell a human organ. It is true that there are countries where those with lots of money can cut in line.
I’ve written many times about having conversations regarding end-of-life choices and how important it is to NOT leave those critical decisions to others (who may not have a clue what YOU want). But even if those discussions and plans seem too difficult to confront, ask yourself: Have you at least made arrangements to be an organ donor? One organ donor can save as many as eight lives—but medical professionals must know you are a donor when your time is up. Otherwise, those legally empowered to speak on your behalf must be found; discussions must be held; and conflicts must be resolved. For example, what if you have more than one child, and they don’t agree? Don’t you want this decision to be yours?
When you get a California driver’s license, you have the opportunity to indicate that you want to be an organ donor. Your license arrives with embedded information that tells anyone treating you after an accident or during an emergency that you have made the decision to donate.
Even if you didn’t indicate your willingness to be a donor on your license, you can still register by going to Donate Life California, the state authorized nonprofit organization responsible for managing the Organ and Tissue Donor Registry. In California, almost 13,000,000 are registered.
Both the HHS and Donate Life websites offer information that can help you make your decision. If you are reluctant to donate your heart, you still might be willing to donate a kidney. In 2014 alone, more than 17,000 kidney transplants took place in the U.S.—and of those, more than 11,000 kidneys came from deceased donors. Donate Life California says that 3,000 new patients are added to the kidney waiting list each month, and 12 people die each day waiting for one.
There are those who, for religious reasons or because of cultural traditions, would not under any circumstances want their organs removed and transplanted. Most of us who have not registered as an organ donor, however, just avoid thinking about things related to the end of our lives. We somehow seem to believe that if we can push off those decisions, maybe death won’t really happen. Good luck with that.
My sister-in-law Denise has a combination of three auto-immune diseases, and the treatment for one can often make another worse. She eats very little of very few foods (again, not a recommended diet) and has been through years of treatments and protocols. Yet if you met her and my brother for dinner, you would never know she had ANY condition that impinged on her ability to be herself and enjoy the evening.
Not too long ago, Denise emailed to ask how I was feeling. I wrote back saying I was now fine, and that I felt silly complaining about anything compared with her every-day reality. She replied, “You take it a day at a time and make the best of it. That’s all we can do.”
When I asked Kelly, the heart transplant patient, about the impact of all she has been through, she said, “Some days it’s really hard, but it’s worth it.”
Pris, a desert friend, perhaps said it best: “There’s always something out there to put things in perspective.”
Enjoy the holiday giving season—and give someone the gift of life.
Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal,” and her radio show airs Sundays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KNews Radio 94.3 FM. Email her at Anita@LovableLiberal.com. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.