One of the top five happiest days of my life was this past Tuesday, the day of my surgery. It rates right after the day of my marriage and the days my three children were born. My dream of sharing my spare kidney was fulfilled, and I learned that the recipient was doing well with it.
Furthermore, through the National Kidney Registry, the recipient had a donor willing to “pay it forward,” and this began a kidney chain that would result in three others getting a new kidney that week.
It happened at Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, NJ, through their Living Donor Institute. After NKR gave me preliminary approval as a donor, they asked me to chose a transplant center from their online list of those in their network. The choice of the one at Saint Barnabas was not difficult. It was the closest (40 minutes away), the largest in the state (and second largest in the country), and very highly regarded.
I have never regretted the decision. Dr. Shamkant Mulgaonkar and everyone on his transplant team have been generous with their time, highly competent and caring, and I can’t imagine how the day of the surgery could have gone smoother.
It began about 3:45 am when Mary Beth and I woke to arrive at the hospital at 5:15 for the 7:30 operation. Fearful of throwing everything off with a last-minute accident, I was extra careful driving that morning. As we waited in the receptionist area watching the Three Stooges on TV, I was nervous but glad that I was not waiting to go skydiving. For this operation, I would just have to lie there and trust in others.
Soon we were in the pre-op room and I changed into my hospital gown. My vital signs were checked and the portal for inserting the anesthesia was installed in my left arm.
After a visit from the anesthesiologist, my surgeon, Dr. Stuart Geffner, came in. I told him how I had read in a Newark Star-Ledger series of articles from 2009 of the nice things he said about the care donors should get, and thought to myself that that’s the surgeon I want. So I was glad he was the one. He smiled and explained essentials of the upcoming procedure.
He said there was a chance that if complications arose, he would have to switch from the minimally invasive procedure to open surgery. I appreciated his adding that in over 1,000 such operations, he has had to do this only twice. I had heard that the open surgery, common before the current laparoscopic technique, left a huge “shark bite” scar.
Before he left, Dr. Geffner said we had to do the “yes.” Using a marker, he wrote it on my stomach, about eight inches to the left of my belly button.
About 8 am the bed I was on in the pre-op room was wheeled into the operating room. This seemed natural. Only now as I think back do I wonder why this bed was needed. I was not sick or injured. Why not have me walk to the operating room and then hop up on to the operating table? Because, I figure, that’s not the culture of the operating room.
I’d only been in an operating room once before. That was 24 years earlier, to videotape open heart surgery at a hospital in Miraj, India (not far from Dr. Mulgaonkar’s home town).
There are about a half-dozen people in the OR, and I see two or three monitors with color bars on them. As they have me slide myself over from the bed to the operating table, I ask about the lighting used by the laparoscopic camera, and how, as Dr. Geffner had explained, the camera and other instruments like scalpels are moved around as needed, using the four laparoscopic entry points. Their answers are interesting, and I’m thinking how this is good. It is taking my mind off what is to come.
On the table I see the anesthesia already start to drip into the tube connected to my arm. For my recent colonoscopy, I was told when the anesthesia was beginning. I lay down and started counting silently to myself from ten. Before I got down to six, I was out.
But this time, my last memory is being in conversation about the cameras, talking about how I had first thought there would be four – a multi-camera production.
I wonder now if the OR staff thought it funny how my talking suddenly came to an end.