Part 3: Telling Family and Friends About Being a Kidney Donor

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After weeks of online reading  I still had not told my George. It was a delicate situation. I felt Taro’s life ticking away but breaking something like this to a husband is not easy. It isn’t like telling them you are pregnant.  So I waited for a lull in our lives.  In the meantime, I worked and I worried  a lot.  I began to feel like Frodo with the ring around my neck getting heavier and heavier. I thought a lot about a world without Taro. Mostly, I thought how awful it must be for him. How lonely I would feel sitting at dinner with friends or passing people on the street everyday with a spare kidney while I needed one so desperately. I also thought about my own situation. What if my husband agreed and something went wrong and I died. I thought about my children growing up without me. I imagined the house without me and saw them wandering from room to room looking at the places where I normally sit. The idea of abandoning my children was powerful but the countervailing feeling was always more powerful. I had tried to teach them compassion. If I did not offer to help one of my oldest friends, I would feel like a fraud.  I now knew precisely how Atticus Finch, the lawyer in To Kill a Mocking Bird felt when he landed the racially charged Tom Robinson case. To take the case invited personal disaster, not to take the case invited moral disaster.  If I wanted my children to grow up as I hoped, they needed to know that I practised what I preached. I knew my husband would try to help them understand. Still it was not an easy burden.

After several weeks of nightly searches I had exhausted the websites on transplants and kidneys.  I concluded that the right time to tell George would never come to pass so I ended up telling him at a party. I explained Taro’s situation  and said that I wanted to offer him one of my kidneys. I told him that I was asking his permission and that I would respect his wishes in the matter if he said ‘no.  I was expecting him to say he wanted to think about it. Instead he looked into space for a moment then agreed. I thought I would sleep badly as the enormity of what I had done sank in but I slept like a baby. The load was off my mind and I felt wonderful.

The next day I sent Taro an email making the offer and asking him to call me. Later that night he called with profuse thanks and we had a reasonably long conversation in which he informed me that a family member was being tested. He said it was out of the question that he would take up my offer “ if it remained on the table” — unless he had to. I also learned in this conversation that the transplant would be in the United States rather than in Japan.  I had pictured myself recovering in a hospital in Japan trying to speak to nurses with the help of a phrasebook. This was also good news because my mother and sister are there.

In the meantime, I did tell a few close friends I had offered but not many as even their emails gasped.  I did not mind the shocked looks on their faces – in a way I had shocked myself!  One friend reacted with horrified humour  ‘I don’t want to be crass but can’t you buy those things from somewhere?’  After the initial reaction every friend I told was very supportive, sending me articles on successful transplants. The main comfort at the time however was just being able to talk openly about the entire situation including issues like the nature of friendship and whether it can ever take absolute priority over family ties. In fact, these talks were some of the most enriching parts of the whole experience.

My period of limbo came to an abrupt end in late August.  I was to attend a birthday dinner for my friend Alison that evening but before I left work Taro sent me an email telling me that his relative was unable to donate and that this placed me in first position. He went on to say that offering to donate must be a frightening thing and that he was very grateful that I had offered and would remain so if I chose not to go through with the donation. I knew he meant it. I held my breath for thirty seconds and then sent my reply. I wrote ‘I would be honoured to honour our friendship in this way.’  I went to the birthday dinner and since Alison was one of the few who knew I had offered, I told her.  I was nearly moved to tears when she told me at once that she would fly to Washington DC for the operation. She was as good as her word.