THE JOURNEY OF FAITH (AND A KIDNEY) BEGINS
“Hey Monica… I was thinking….” I poked my head around the corner of the bedroom door one evening in April… Now usually a thousand red flags start waving for my wife when I start a conversation like that. But for some reason her guard was down and she stopped reading her book and paid some attention to me. “What would you think if I donated my kidney to Mark?” Mark Koenig is a member of Peace Lutheran Church and has needed a kidney for almost three years. Every week we pray for him in church and finally it was finally dawning on me that perhaps his healing was inside of me! After a moment she answered “Well… I have often thought about doing something like that… but, you know, there is always some excuse. If you want to try, that would be OK with me.” I have a wonderful wife!
Within a week or so I had an initial package of information from Johns Hopkins in Baltimore and the process was begun. It wasn’t really that hard at all. A few trips to the local hospital for a battery of tests and then a half a day of more comprehensive evaluations and consultations with several specialists and doctors at Johns Hopkins. Amazingly the psychologist determined that I was of sound mind, even as everyone who actually knows me is aware that this is not so. It was a good thing they didn’t ask for any references.
WHOSE KIDNEY IS IT, ANYWAY?
We learn from scripture that nothing we have and count as precious is ours. Yet, the devil continually convinces us in our daily lives that we are in “possession” of the things around us. House, toys, our time and talent. Once in a while we might stop and grudgingly agree that all those are indeed gifts from our Heavenly Father and that somehow we are to ask for wisdom and strength to use them according to His will. But rarely do we stop and apply that principle to our very body parts. As a pastor I might warn against the woman with an unwanted pregnancy who says “I can do what I want with MY body.” But she might very well say “Yes, but that is easy for you to say, Pastor! But when have YOU applied the reality of God’s ownership of your body in a similar way?” Here was my chance! This was my opportunity to put what I said I believed into REAL practice.
+ Mark needs a kidney to be healed.
+ Amazingly God gave me stewardship over two kidneys to use for His glory.
+ I don’t need more than one for myself.
+ What is God’s will for me?
+ Who am I to say “no” to God if He makes healing possible with the miracle of 21st Century medical technology and one of “my” kidneys?
AS THE HEAD OF THE FAMILY SHOULD TEACH IT IN A SIMPLE WAY TO HIS HOUSEHOLD
The First Article
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.
What does this mean? I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given
me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still
takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life. He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil.
All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or
worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.
This is most certainly true.
FAITH AND FEELINGS
Of course to say “This is most certainly true” doesn’t always mean that your heart is always happy to agree. For the most part I was always quite excited about the opportunity and was very pleased when each hurdle was passed and each test and evaluation came back to say “Everything is a GO.” But all of a sudden it was a bit more difficult when the surgery was only two days away. The reality hits a lot harder. There IS risk – even of death. “How safe AM I in Jesus? This is major surgery. It isn’t going to be fun. You have never been in the hospital before!” I would say to myself. “How do you know you will be able to stand up under it all?”
The morning of the surgery arrived after a very short night’s sleep and Cy McFee and Mike Evans picked me up at 5:30 am and we headed for Baltimore. Things do become somewhat surreal at this point. Although the conversation stays remarkably off the transplant topic, my stomach is not well and my hands are clammy and starting to shake. Some of it might have been the fact that I hadn’t eaten in 24 hours and I was famished, but I also wondered to myself “You certainly are a fool, Kris.”
We arrive at Johns Hopkins hospital in Baltimore and found the Pre-Op receptionist by shortly after 9 am. For some reason I didn’t find it very comforting to read the signs about how Johns Hopkins was rated the best hospital in the United States. I asked if I could see Mark before the surgery. The nurse is very kind and warm and she leads us through the maze of hallways to his room where he and his family were waiting. There I got to shake Mark’s hand and share a word of prayer over our surgeries. It was then that I got to feel what this day meant to all of them – especially for Mark’s loving wife Kim. It was then and there that my heart was relieved of its suffering and doubt. It was wonderful! There was a good end to all of this and it would certainly be worth the bit of suffering.
Hebrews 12 states: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
THE HOUR ARRIVES
The gown was donned and the pressure socks fitted. All the papers were signed. The doctors had finished their briefings. The personal items were collected and bagged. The call home to Monica was made to let her know that everything was ready to go. The time had actually dragged on now to be almost 1 pm, but I was doing very well indeed. God had given me a beautiful calm that was ready for whatever lay ahead. The operating nurse finally came and wheeled me through a great maze of hallways to the operating room. It was in the basement and going there was almost like participating in a game of bumper cars – the bed crashing against hospital equipment and a myriad of paraphernalia as we traveled. Finally we arrived and entered the operating room behind sealed doors. Great orbs of lights hung above the thin narrow operating table and a multitude of medical instrument pallets surrounded us. It was quite different than the operating room on “House” in that it seemed much more cluttered and not as pretty. But it most definitely was a place of great and important business. After maneuvering myself off the hospital bed and on to the operating table I chatted briefly with the nurses and just as the anesthesia warmed my arm I admonished them all with a smile on my face to “Have a great time at it!” And I slept very well.
INITIAL RECOVERY PERIOD
I don’t remember very much of the recovery room. I remember only waking up briefly to see Kim taking a picture of me covered with the blue blanket that Susan Crosbie, our Parish Nurse, made for me. Then I remember standing up in my hospital room trying desperately to get some hospital pants and gown on and wondering why I didn’t hurt more. I feel badly for the poor nurse who was trying to help me! It must have been pretty funny. I also remember seeing for the first time the drainage tube with the collection bottle at the end of it coming out of a hole in my stomach. I was rather surprised. I hadn’t remembered being told that I would have one of those!
For the first 30 hours after the surgery I didn’t get out of bed at all. I had a catheter so I didn’t need to go to the bathroom. My lower legs were messaged by some kind of air pressure socks, and I had my “pain relief pump” which kept me comfortable, sleepy, and rather loopy. It was nice to call Monica at home a couple hours after getting to my room and letting her know that I was doing just fine. It was very nice that my surgeon, Dr. Segev, had called her after the surgery and told her how everything went. As well, Kim Koenig was calling and keeping Monica “in the loop” on how both Mark and I were doing.
Wednesday evening they took out the catheter and told me to get up and start moving around. “Good for the bowels” they said! “Got to get them working again!” I was eager to see Mark at this point and so with some help from his family members I took my first rather shaky steps to see him just five doors down from me. Although Mark was still hooked up to a myriad of monitors and his arm was really beat up with all the IVs sticking out of him, he was in quite good spirits and we were thrilled to get a picture of the two of us together. It was very good to hear that although he had a long way still to go, the kidney was doing well for him.
THOSE DARN BOWELS!
I had started drinking already the night of the surgery but nothing really tasted very good. I drank as much as I could the next day, but things were not settling very well in my stomach. I had been told that I shouldn’t have to be in the hospital more than a couple days, but of course they wanted to make sure that my digestive track was working before they let me go. Unfortunately things were taking a decided turn for the worse. Starting Thursday morning whatever liquids I ingested started coming up the wrong way. The nurses tried to keep the nausea under control with meds, but the side effects were quite pronounced on my state of mind. I tried to avoid them mostly by just not drinking anything (I hadn’t even dreamed about eating anything yet even though I was extremely jealous of Mark who was already eating solid foods by this time!) The doctors explained that in surgery my digestive track was “mussed with” and sometimes they react by just quitting or just getting confused about how to work properly. I just had to wait it out until they relearned how to do their job! So wait I did, though none to comfortably. It was very sad when Susan Crosbie (God bless her!) drove all the way down to Baltimore to visit me on Thursday only to be greeted with violent eruptions into the plastic bin setting next to me. I told her not to take it personally!
HOSPITAL STATE OF MIND
Friday came and life had become quite routine. Heparin shots twice a day, vitals taken every few hours, laxatives to try to get the bowels working, food service bringing me my “meals” and then taking them away again hardly touched. Over my hospital stay I got to study the large wall picture of a goldfish and lilly pad in a pond in my room like I had never studied another picture in my life. Interestingly I didn’t feel like doing a whole lot. I wasn’t “unhappy” in any major way, but it was as if my whole body just cared about one thing: getting better. Nothing else much mattered. Although I enjoyed it when Mark’s family came and visited with me, I never felt that I “needed” my family. I never felt any kind of loneliness in the least. It was really all I could do to keep everything I was experiencing in proper order. There was no time or energy for anything else.
On Friday at about 11:30 am the nurse came in to check something and in a rather non-chalant way asked if someone had told me that the hospital was in a lockdown situation. I said that I hadn’t been told. She then explained that there had been a shooting on the floor above us and that the situation had not been resolved. I got out of bed and looked outside and there were police cars, swat team trucks, as well as all other varieties of emergency vehicles, choking the parking/entrance area down below. The nurse told me to check the CNN news to see what was going on. I didn’t have the TV on but I was able to log on to the CNN website to learn about what was happening one floor above me. Sadly, a man who was not happy with what his mother’s doctor was saying, pulled out a gun and shot him. The doctor managed to exit the room before he fell in the hall. Fortunately the doctor was operated on immediately and his life was saved. Unfortunately the shooter actually ended up shooting his mother dead before killing himself a few hours later after a standoff.
This whole incident reminds me about how we often can’t see properly what is going on in our lives. We need to refer to outside, objective sources to get a proper perspective. And where do we go for that perspective? CNN? No! The Word of God!
Personally the only very sad thing was that our congregational president and his wife, George and Debbie Price, were traveling through Baltimore that day. They had stopped to visit, but of course they were not allowed anywhere near the hospital!
THE MIRACLE OF HEALING
Susan Crosbie hung around until Saturday in Baltimore with her friends, waiting to see if she could take me home. But still no progress with my digestive system. She decided to go home. Saturday I still did not drink anything, much less eat anything. Kim and Mark paid for my TV for me so I could watch some college football. I enjoyed a couple games on and off while I tried to concentrate on editing the Sunday bulletin and making arrangements for the service since it was clear I wasn’t going to be there like I had hoped. During the day the food commercials made me hungry for food even as my nausea grew in its intensity. Finally after I got my work done I took the anti-nausea meds that finally settled my stomach. At about 9 pm I prayed really hard, ate three crackers and about three containers of juice over the course of an hour before I fell asleep.
At 3 am I woke up to a very blessed sensation! I could tell immediately that I was better! I felt SO VERY excited. For the next four hours until the nurse came in to check on me, I sat up in bed and just prayed and praised the Lord. Finally the nurse came in and asked how I was doing. I pleaded with her to talk with the doctor to advance my diet. I had been dreaming about a plate of scrambled eggs all morning and I pleaded with her to beg or steal something so I could eat. Kim was going back to Scranton that afternoon and I really WANTED to get home. I was ready. Before that morning I had no desire to go home. But the switch had been flipped and I was definitely ready!
I was SO thrilled when the nurse came back to my room about a half an hour later with a plate of scrambled eggs and blueberry coffeecake. I would have given her a big hug if I could have! I got out of bed, sat in the chair, put the food in front of me. I CRIED as I thanked God for this sustenance, and for the first time in six days I ate a real meal. It was one of the most joyful and spiritual experience I have ever had. To tell the truth they were not very good eggs (and the coffeecake wasn’t any better) but I was DELIGHTED to eat them.
THE GRUMPY HUSBAND AND FATHER
As the morning went on I was happier and happier as it became apparent that the eggs and coffeecake were traveling in the right direction with no ill effects! And then I was even happier as I joined the Peace worship service at 10:30 and heard the liturgy and the beautiful hymns over the speakerphone. I thought I even heard my daughters singing! But then the connection got dropped and I missed the sermon time where the youth group (including two of my daughters) were to share about a recent trip to New Orleans. A bit later I got reconnected and heard the last part of the service. It was about an hour after the worship service ended when, much to my distraught surprise, my WIFE and KIDS walked into my room! And what came out of my mouth? In shock and dismay I crossly I said “WHAT are YOU doing here? YOU were SUPPOSED to be in church!” Yes, it took me a couple minutes, but I finally calmed down and admitted that it was very nice that they came down to visit me. It was especially good that my kids were able to experience a bit of my situation. They had actually come down because they didn’t think I was going to get back to Scranton until Wednesday, and so they thought that was too long a time without seeing me. But God worked it all out very well indeed that they didn’t have to wait too many hours before the doctors let me go! Many thanks to Susan Crosbie who helped drive my family down and back again even though she had just come back home the day before! My wife is just not a long distance driver – especially at night.
I am finishing this memoir now 16 days after the surgery. I am doing very well indeed. I am in very little pain and am probably working at a 80% energy level. My wife still likes to order me around and tell me what to do and not do. It is of somewhat limited effect, but it is good for our marriage. Erika went shopping with me last night because I am not supposed to pick up anything heavier than 10 pounds. We had a lot of fun together and she was a big help.
Mark has had some complications in his recovery, but is now out of the hospital. The kidney is doing well and it looks like everything is going to work out as hoped. I am just extremely satisfied and thankful to the Lord for everything. I would do it again tomorrow if I had another kidney to give away. It is truly a miracle that this is all possible and that we can be such a blessing to others through a transplant. Not everyone can make a living donation. There are many criteria that have to be fulfilled. But for those who are able, I would encourage them to seriously consider it!
TOP SIX LEARNINGS:
(in no particular order of importance)
+ NURSES ARE SO GREAT
They say that kidney donors are treated with “extra” kindness in the hospital. Although I didn’t ever get the impression that I was “doted” upon in any way, I still can’t say enough good things about the nurses at Johns Hopkins. Although it is true that I was not as sick and needy as I am sure other patients were, I always was treated so very kindly and compassionately. They always seemed to be trying their best to do what they could for me – and I appreciated it so much. And what was surprising was that even though many of them seemed very young, they proved themselves extremely skilled and knowledgeable. We most definitely need to do more about supporting our caregivers!
+ BEING IN THE HOSPITAL MOSTLY MEANS DEALING WITH DISAPPOINTMENT AND FRUSTRATION.
Everyone hopes that things will go well with whatever procedure is attempted in the hospital. The expectation was that I would be in the hospital for two or three days. My two and three days passed but the doctor’s best laid plans didn’t “pan out.” I didn’t get home for the Sunday service. I knew my wife was frustrated and worried being so far away. Dealing with those small disappointments were difficult – but I know they were NOTHING compared with the problems and setbacks that Mark had to deal with. And even those were nothing compared with the deep disappointments of so many with much more serious illnesses (take, for example, the poor fellow who shot the doctor!) We need to have true hearts of compassion for those who are suffering in the hospital.
+ BEING SICK MEANS YOU DON’T THINK RIGHT
Be understanding of folks in the hospital. The drugs they give you do nothing to help the clear thinking of the mind!
+ CHRISTIAN SUFFERING “CONNECTS” US WITH THE LORD
As strange as it might sound, there are blessings in suffering. One of the blessings the scripture speaks about is the connections that are made to Christ as we suffer. In any kind of suffering we can learn to depend on Him more and more. But, incredibly, when we suffer (like I happened to be) for the sake of Jesus Christ, we are then joined to His suffering on the cross, to his death, and finally by faith to his Resurrection and eternal life.
Philippians 3:10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.
+ TRUSTING OTHERS IS A NECESSARY PART OF THE HOSPITAL EXPERIENCE
They always say that it is important to always know what the nurses and the doctors are doing because they could very easily be making a mistake. It is true that paying attention to what is happening and monitoring the treatments and medications they are giving you is important. At one point, in fact, I DID refuse a heparin blood thinner shot when I was experiencing some rather heavy bleeding. However, the reality is that often it quite impossible to keep up with everything and there were times (especially immediately following the surgery) when I was very happy to do EXACTLY what I was told to do – no questions asked. This might not be what we think is the “best” – but it is the reality of life. A key ingredient in a happy life is the ability to TRUST others to do the best thing. Just as we trust other drivers to stop at the stop light, there are times that we need to trust the doctors and nurses to know what we need. How can we trust nurses and doctors? We can “trust” them because we know that ultimately, of course, the Lord is the one taking care of us and we are SAFE in Him, even if the doctor is wrong. This is life. It is GOOD that way!
+ GOD REALLY IS GOOD (IN CASE THERE WERE ANY DOUBTS ABOUT IT)