“Why do we have two kidneys?”
My son asked this of the doctor last Thursday at the meeting the transplant center planned, in which my children met the transplant team and learned about kidney donation, the operation, and follow-up care.
My doctor was so thorough that it was the only question any of my three children had, the oldest listening in by speakerphone from Vermont. It was a good question. I don’t remember a lot of the doctor’s answer, but I remember thinking about the topic and talking with Mary Beth about it Saturday morning before we got up.
The embryo grows in various ways, and two kidneys are a part of the design. If we had two hearts, the doctor explained, that might cause heartbeat synchronization issues. I could think of other organs which serve a controlling function. It makes sense to not have two brains or pancreases competing with each other. We tend to have two organs where work needs to be performed without controlling the body, such as the lungs, ovaries, testes – and kidneys.
My wife and I talked about how after the fertilized cell splits into two, some organs grow as pairs and some don’t. There’s one heart but it has two chambers, one brain but both a left and right side.
It’s really all miraculous. Our very existence, our very consciousness, all miraculous!
Mary Beth brought up newer theories in physics – speculation that consciousness may be more real than the physical universe. Whenever we talk of such things now, it brings back fond memories of our earliest dates – discussing questions of existence, time, space, God…
We don’t remember the very first time we came across each other, somewhere on the office floors at Covenant House, a large non-profit in New York City. Our first specific memory is our puzzling over a diagram she had up in her office of an hourglass. The point where the sand falls through the thinnest part is the present moment. Above that is the future. Below is the past. But all of time, like all the sand, still exists. Time is relative. True reality, like God, is outside of time. Or something like that. God only knows.
Is it the imminent prospect of being put to sleep on the operating table that is causing me to ponder broader things? To consider more deeply my relationship with my wife, with God, with existence in general? Is it due to the time fast approaching when, under anesthesia, I will have no control over my body, having to trust entirely in another? Is this not a reminder of how life itself is a gift, one that we don’t control? A gift from some One else?
Anyway, the family meeting went well. My kids enjoyed hearing what we hope will happen soon. For example, the kidney, boxed in ice with a GPS tracker, will trigger the start of the operation on the recipient once it lands at the airport of its intended destination.
Meanwhile, if all goes as planned, the recipient’s donor’s kidney will fly off to a different city, a sequence of transplantation to be repeated three more times that week.
I started to tell the doctor I knew I couldn’t skydive afterwards, but could I – and then he interrupted. Where did I learn that? Don’t believe everything I read online. I could still skydive, he said.
I immediately reassured my wife I still had no intention of skydiving. The upcoming operation will be (I think) nothing compared to my anxiety if I were to attempt that. I was, however, glad to hear that I can zip line on a family trip we have planned for this summer. The only restrictions from my doctor: no boxing and no ice hockey. No problem.
Prior to this meeting, my son had not wanted to attend. My younger daughter hadn’t wanted to miss a day at high school. But leaving the transplant center they both said they were glad they had been there. I was glad they had indulged me.