Kidney Music

The nurse came in with an enthusiastic voice (and I presume smile, but her mouth was covered by a surgical mask so couldn’t verify) and asked, “Ok, let’s put on some music before you go under anesthesia, what is your favorite?”

Wow, that is a tough question, I haven’t really thought about the best band for going unconscious. Now given time to reflect, I might select Portishead or Mazzy Star to just drift asleep, but I defaulted to my favorite musician, Bob Dylan. She gave me the affirmative and went to a computer to dial up a song, but no one in the room validated my selection, I was kind of hoping that the doctor would spin around, pull down his mask and say, “You like Bob Dylan, me too, he is my favorite musician, what is your favorite album?” I did not have the opportunity to select a song, the cheerful nurse made the selection. I’m not sure if they have iTunes or Pandora, but with Bob Dylan you could really end up with any type of genre given the span of his career, I just hoped it wouldn’t be anything from his bad stretch in the 1980’s. The nurse returned like a seasoned DJ and said, “Here’s Bob Dylan with The Times They Are A Changin”. I stared at the big round light mounted on the ceiling, it was so big, like I was 100 feet from the moon, the anesthesiologist appeared directly above my head, put a mask over my mouth and said, breathe deeply, come on breath deeply, big breathes.

Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’.
Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won’t come again
And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who
That it’s namin’
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin’.


This is the point that I went to sleep, I was out, super out. They say the surgery lasts 4 or 5 hours, so I cannot imagine the torture to my wife and family as they endured all that time not knowing what was happening, but it all went by in an instant for me. I went from hearing the Dylan tune to a nice voice whispering to me, “Mr. Deem, Robert, Robert, you are awake, your surgery was a success. You are now in the recovery room.” They pain medication must have been extraordinarily efficacious as I just felt like I was waking up from a long nap and gave a groggy, “That’s awesome, that was super quick.” They said I could have a guest visit me and I asked for Jaclyn to visit me first. I’ll let Jaclyn blog about it if she wants (first ever guest blogger opportunity), but in short, I think it intuitively makes sense that it would cause some anxiety if the person you loved, the person you depended on, voluntarily agreed to get a pretty serious surgery that would disable him for a bit and subject him to a couple of risks. She has been an amazing support, but would be most relieved to see me alive. Her presence also did me tremendous good, having her hold my hand caused lots of smiley faces to rush through my brain and it was all good.

After a little while in there, it was time to wheel me to my “long-term” hospital room. I cannot remember his name, but my hospital bed driver was good and at no point did we run into anything. It was a long walk, it almost seemed like an impossible maze, maybe he got lost and did not tell me, but in any case, I enjoyed the passage and looked forward to my new room.

We pulled into the fourth floor, a special unit for transplant patients in long-term recovery. My room was just for me, they said that living donors do not need to share rooms because they are “heroes”, that felt like a very strong word, but wasn’t going to do anything to jeopardize my current arrangements.

This all happened on Thursday. Thursday was a bit of blur, because I was heavily sedated and cruising on the gusts of heavy duty pain medication. On Friday, I had to take more initiative, they encouraged me to start walking around and to begin breathing exercises which hurt my chest. I did everything they asked and still felt relatively comfortable. Some of the more excruciating moments came when they had to remove tape and bandages from my hairy body. Speaking of my hairy body, they basically shaved my chest from right below my nipples to below my belly button. The nipples up are still hairy, back is still hairy. Having hair is never a great look, but having a partially shaved body is a really jolting image. Jaclyn advised that I should see what happens as it grows back, good thing I am married to a wonderful woman.

On Saturday, I started to ween off pain meds and walk around without too much issue. They weighed me and I was 20 lbs heavier than when I went into surgery. This surprised me because I had not eaten in a couple days, but the staff reassured me that it was because of the IVs and fluids they put inside me. Staff advised that I could leave on Saturday afternoon and I was happy to sneak out of the hospital.

On Sunday, Jaclyn and I shared an idyllic afternoon walking around Doylestown (she shepherded me through the streets and even stuck her arms out wide like a protective goose when I crossed streets so no one would bother me as I walked at a measured pace). That afternoon, we walked to None Such Farms and we enjoyed an Iced Tea and a piece of chocolate on a picnic bench.  It was nice having these moments by ourselves without work and children, but probably not sufficient enough to justify going through the surgery alone. I weighed myself before going to sleep and my weight was back to normal, I passed on any serious pain meds as I felt fairly comfortable and yearned for my brain to resume its normal function.

The recipient, my sister, has a kidney that is working properly. The recovery on her end had had more complications and challenges, but she is damn tough and know that she will get through it with much improved kidney function. However, this confidence is best left unsaid to someone in the midst of pain and I am just sincerely hoping she feels much more at ease soon. The good news is, the kidney is in her body and it is working as hoped.

You know when people win an Academy Award and say thank you to a bunch of people and say that there are so many more that they haven’t gotten to thank? Or maybe they keep thanking people and the music plays to drown them out to hurry them off the stage, that is how I feel now. There were many amazing staff members at the University of Pennsylvania, there are people at my work who are working twice as hard to allow me this time off, people raised money to cover expenses associated with the surgery, family is chipping in with meals, watching kids, dogs, spending time at hospitals. Neighbors are watching over the house and picking up mail. People are just cheering us on and that means a whole lot when you are recovering. My opinion of the world is pretty high right now, the love and support to help two people is generous and amazing.

In the end, I am may have lucked out to be a part of this whole thing. I am much healthier than I have ever been, which allows me to do more of the adventurous things I love, and perhaps will allow me a longer and healthier life.

It is going to be 80 degrees today and I am going to enjoy it.

4 thoughts on “Kidney Music

  1. Just want you to know what a pick-me-up your blogs alway are. That seems a strange thing to be saying to someone who is recovering from donating a kidney, but it’s true. I so enjoy your humor and honesty!


  2. I distinctly remember your sister’s scar from when she fell into a radiator and how tough she was about it all. So her being so strong through all of this is really no surprise. She’s so lucky to have a big brother who was so willing to give her such a gift. You are so lucky to have a wife who supported you so selflessly. Been following the journey from her FB, glad to hear your side and glad you are recovering well. ~ Bash


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