I tried to listen to her words, but my brain was in overdrive.
While she talked, I flipped through my memory bank of primary school health lessons. I believed it was 1 liver and 2 kidneys, right?
Do we need two?
Can I give away an organ I have no need for, if not?
What the hell is going on?
Thank God she can’t see my face through the phone.
Her words kept bubbling and randomly broke through the surface of my conversation with myself. She was energized during her explanation. “I can stay with you while we both recover. My back requires firmness to sleep so I can easily stay on your floor. You don’t need another bed for me.”
“I promise you, it would be my preference.”
“There is no need to make you come here. The surgeons are better in Florida, and I’ll see if my medical insurance covers me there. With your grandson only being 1 year old, it would be an inconvenience for you to drag him here.”
Um. Yeah. It would.
My brain was spinning out of control. As we neared the end of what possibly could have been the most one-sided conversation of my life, she added,
“Naturally, you’ll have to be tested for compatibility and learn what the recovery process looks like for the donor.”
Oh, Lord. What if I match?
“Do you think you can donate your kidney to me?”
I never said yes, and I never answered no.
To this day, I have no idea what was expected from me, morally, biologically, or in God’s eyes.
I met her one brief time for dinner. My brother and I were in Vegas with our spouses for the Country Music Awards, and she lived in Nevada. She was small in stature, looked nothing like how I pictured for over 40 years, and would continue to be a source of my curiosity.
She was my biological mother.
In 1963, she and her ‘shot-gun wedding’ husband placed my newborn brother up for adoption. A year later, she gave birth to me. The adoption agency contacted my biological brother’s new parents to see if they wanted to keep us together. Needless to say, I was raised with my brother by the people who were our loving parents, my Mom and Dad.
Our parents chose the route of full disclosure. We were young when they explained how we came to be a family. We understood that we were chosen specially to be their children. Once in high school, I openly discussed my curiosity about the people who created my brother and me.
Genetics versus environment is my favorite internal debate that continues today.
The State of New Jersey seals its records tight as a drum. We all searched a bit, to no avail. As adults, my brother and I would periodically plugin search terms, post on websites, all courtesy of the new-fangled internet. Not until I was in my 40s, with children of my own, did the search become a medical necessity.
My child was sick. The still somewhat newish information highway had picked up speed. Finally, through the Children’s Home Society of NJ, we achieved the required 2 party-consent. This was necessary to contact each other. Initial heart-exploding and brain spinning contact was made, and medical info was exchanged.
Then, the initial fervor settled. Regulated breathing resumed. All this ultimately led to was playing word games online, and intermittent updates.
The extent of our relationship was kind of that, in a nutshell. She was lonely, and her 4th husband had passed away the same year I found her. Her financial obligations, fixed income, and declining health kept her from moving closer to people she knew.
She was alone.
For 10 years, the only known common ground we shared was our love of puzzles. We played Words with Friends daily, and she would send me an invite to Qwerty or whatever word-oriented game piqued her interest.
The year came that we planned to see our favorite country artists perform at the Country Music Awards. My brother, our spouses, and I trekked out to Vegas. We arranged to meet her in the lobby of the MGM Grand Hotel where we were staying for the weekend.
I was excited at the prospect of seeing what she looked like. Was she the basis for my brother and me to have such similar traits?
Turns out that we physically favor our birth father.
All stories for the future.
We met that one time, face-to-face, for roughly an hour of our lives. we politely sat and the air filled with polite and surface-level conversation. I had no tug of, Oh My God, My Mom!
She was pleasant, and I again thanked her for having the bravery to make a painful decision in our best interest. I could sense her fear of us, her sensitives and sorrows. Feeling her energy may have caused me to overstate how much I loved her.
But, did I love her? I loved and admired her strength and conviction. Her courage allowed my brother and me the chance to be raised in a happy, healthy, stable home. We certainly held no angst.
She definitely needed reassurances and I freely gave all I had and more. I watched her physical guard loosen as she settled in with acceptance. My heart is big enough, I explained, and as one who emotes with bells and whistles, I confirmed that both women were loved by me for different reasons.
She gave me life.
My Mom gave me “a” life. A good life, too.
They are both important women to me.
And so it was that this bond, or lack of a deep one, came back to haunt me.
After professing my love for her and her choices, we simply went back to our routine of online word puzzles. We were both cutthroat and competitive. It was rare for either of us to allow access to a triple word spot to our opponent. Out of all the people I played with on that site, no one will ever come close to the number of times we ended with a tie score.
The puzzles were our bond.
Aside from that, maybe a scant phone conversation rolled around once every year.
A few years elapsed and my landscape had changed dramatically.
Divorced, raising my grandson, still tied up with the requirements of the State of Florida as his Guardian, working part-time and trying to figure our lives, was a bit much. I could handle it, albeit barely.
And when the phone rang, I assumed it was that annual phone call.
I didn’t know she was in Stage 5 Kidney failure nor that she was on dialysis. Her body was breaking down.
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Still alone, still in Nevada, she was desperate for help.
There I was, watching my delayed-walker grandson crawl from place to place to find where he could best pull himself upright, and I couldn’t digest her request.
I am a caretaker by nature. Of course, this question made me die a thousand deaths of uncertainty.
After we hung up, I believe with my offer of looking into kidney donations, just to start, I cried.
- How successful are these transplants?
- What do I do about caring for my grandson during the surgery and more so, the recovery?
- What if I die?
- Am I supposed to give my organs to her because she gave me life?
- Why am I, or am I even, responsible to ensure that she lives dialysis-free?
- Does this question make me a low-life, scum of the earth, ignoramus?
- How in God’s name does she think sleeping on my floor in Florida is an option?
- Am I selfish?
- Where do caregivers draw the line?
Can they draw a line?
I am an organ donor and believe strongly in giving anything that still works well, to whoever would benefit from having it.
I had a bone marrow donation card and had gone through that, so I assumed it would be a similar process. But I didn’t know.
- Am I sacrificing my grandson’s quality of life for my birth mother’s wellness?
- I don’t want her to die.
- I do not want to die, either.
- The baby, who takes care of the baby?
- Do I owe her this?
- Really, do I owe her this for giving me life?
- My kidney?
To say I felt emotional turmoil doesn’t come close to the upheaval in my brain and heart. I was being ripped apart with conflicting emotions.
And then, she died.
Alone, on her kitchen floor, the emergency crew in Clark County, Nevada, found her. They had been sent hours after she missed her dialysis appointment to conduct a ‘well visit,’ or check-up.
And now, I will never know what I would have done.
I will never know where caregivers draw the line.
What would you have done?
I know I don’t know.
Lisa Gerard Braun is a writer focusing on mental health, physical wellness, inspirational personal growth, and equality stories.
This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.