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Remembering Another January 12th

Have you ever found yourself on the anniversary of an important occasion in your life and remembered it even more clearly because the weather was just like it was that day?  That’s the kind of day I’m having now.  Yesterday, it was a sunny, un-winterlike day, about 70 degrees.  Today, it’s cold, dreary, and rainy, just like it was in 1998.  Join me in my little time capsule taken from my book.

It was a cold, dreary, rainy day that January 12.  My parents drove over, picked me up, and off we went to Oklahoma City.  The giant complex of medical buildings loomed ahead of us when we got there.  We parked and found our way through the maze of corridors to the transplant surgeon’s office.

The waiting room was large and crowded. 

Have all these people had transplants?  Are some of them waiting for that important call, just like I am?

I fought the urge to ask each one of them what their story was.  Time dragged slowly until my name was called and a nurse led me to an examining room.  What would this surgeon be like?  I hoped he liked me.  I hoped I would like him. 

Then Dr. Squires entered the room.  He had short, dark hair, wore the usual white physician’s coat, and stood a few inches shorter than myself.  And I’m 5 feet 9 inches in boots.  I don’t want to sound superficial, but it made him seem less threatening and intimidating than some doctors.  It took only a few minutes for me to realize there had never been any reason to be intimidated.  This was the most pleasant, humble doctor I’d ever met.  Weren’t surgeons supposed to be conceited and think they were God?  That was the reputation they had.

“The surgery will take about seven hours,” he told me.  This came as no surprise.   “The pancreas will go in your lower abdomen on the left side.  The kidney will be on the lower right side.  When it’s just a kidney transplant, it goes on the left.”

He explained more of the details to me.  I sat there, in awe of how far medicine had advanced since 1977, when I was diagnosed with diabetes.  What he was describing to me was a miracle.  And the best part of it all was that he never said, “This is what we would do if you were a candidate for this surgery.  But you’re not.  Sorry.”

He continued with details of the surgery. “I’ll perform the pancreas transplant.  Dr. Pennington will do the kidney.  We’re easy to tell apart.  He’s much taller than I am.”  He smiled.  Not only was he easy to talk to, he could laugh about his height – or lack thereof. 

How could anyone not like this guy?

It came as a relief to learn that most of the tests I had undergone to be listed for the kidney at Hillcrest could be used for this surgery.  I wouldn’t have to repeat them.

After the meeting, I practically ran to the waiting room to tell my parents all that I had learned.  We walked to the elevator and I repeated it all, word for word when I could remember it, as breathless and excited as a kid.  They both grinned.  It had been a very long time since I’d seen them smile like that.  We stopped at the Cracker Barrel in Edmond on the way back to Tulsa, where I ate fried shrimp, wondering how long it would be until I could walk into a restaurant and order dessert.  Dr. Squires said I could expect a wait of six months to a year.  This didn’t seem terribly long.  I had already been on dialysis a little over nine months.  He told me that being listed for two organs would mean that I racked up points on the waiting list twice as fast as when I was listed for one.

The rest of the way home, I peered out the window into the soggy landscape, trying to see the future in it as if it were a crystal ball.  It was still a big mystery, but now it was much less frightening.  It may have been a cold, grey day outside.  But, inside, I was all warmth and sunshine.  I had just received the best news of my life. 

Read more excerpts from What Didn’t Kill Me Made Me Stronger: How I Found Hope While Surviving Diabetes, Vision Loss, and Organ Transplant at Jim’s site JimFairbanks.net