We were shopping for Christmas when the call came through. It was a big shop with Christmas decorations all over the place. It was noisy and crowded. We left the house early to spend as much time as we can to hunt for bargains and make it on time for my dialysis, something I do three times a week for three and half hours. My dialysis days were on Monday, Wednesday and Friday but the schedule was changed so that we can spend Christmas day, which fell on one of my dialysis days, at home. My two younger brothers didn’t expect much from me, they knew I only worked part time but it made me happy to get them something for Christmas. I also didn’t want them to see me as disabled because I was not.
My kidneys failed when I was young. I had no idea why I was feeling weak and tired. There was blood and protein in my urine. I even had specimen taken from my left kidney for testing. The doctors said I had IgA nephritis, a common kidney disease that causes inflammation of the linings of the blood vessels inside the kidneys. My parents had no idea what it was and how to treat me. The doctors said it was too late to help me, that’s until we moved to the US. I recall how I persuaded my parents to apply for the green card lottery. They were hesitant to do it first. I remember the joy when we got the visa but it was the beginning of a long journey.
It took us almost a day including the connection flight to Detroit where our host family was located. They greeted us in the airport with flowers. I wasn’t feeling well. I was weak and nauseated. I had twice vomited during the flight from Ethiopia. My younger brothers were deep asleep on the car to the house. My parents were very anxious; they knew I was sick. That night, I would end up in the emergency room of Detroit Receiving Hospital. If it wasn’t for the swift care I had there I would have died. My potassium was dangerously high, which is one sign of my kidneys failing.
Kidneys are not only filtering organs but they regulate key electrolytes, I recall the kidney doctor saying to the medical students, interns , residents and fellows all taking turn to hear the “rub” on my chest. I was in bad shape. The toxins that my failing kidneys were unable to remove were causing inflammation in the linings of the walls of my heart, what they termed as uremic pericarditis. That was how I started dialysis. It was new to me. I was fascinated by the science that my blood would circulate in a filter attached to a machine the size of our old black and white TV set to separate the good and the bad. While the people I later met in the dialysis unit were afraid to start dialysis, I was thrilled because I felt better with each dialysis treatment but as time went by it took a toll on our family. The boys started school. I picked up a part time week-end job in a nearby coffee shop. It made me proud to make the best coffee for each customer, I wanted to give back coming from the birth place of coffee, Ethiopia.
Four years went by until the call came through… on Christmas Eve…it was the transplant coordinator from the hospital.
“We have an organ for you.”
I didn’t hear her first, was I in shock?
“If you take the offer we want you in the hospital as soon as you can.”
We dropped everything and rushed to the hospital. The boys joined us later once they heard that I am having a kidney transplant.
The surgery went well. My new kidney immediately started working.
That was one hell of a Christmas gift !