I arrived at the hotel in Blackpool feeling mightily impressed with myself for having lugged the cycler on the train on my own (well, almost on my own, the station staff helped!). I checked in and then went for dinner with some friends, both of whom are transplant recipients. After dinner we went for a walk to look at the Illuminations and have a drink. While we were walking we spotted a tram with a big pink NHSBT “Donate Life” banner on the side of it. We thought this was pretty cool, but it wasn’t until several days later that I saw this photo on Facebook. The tram is in the background.
After we’d walked as far as we could, we stopped for a drink and Sarah started talking about how it was coming up to the 10th anniversary of her transplant and what it was like when she got her call.
Sitting in the pub, I looked at my phone to check the time. I saw 18 missed calls, text messages and Facebook posts. I knew.
I don’t remember what I said as I jumped up and ran outside onto the street to phone Emma back, but I remember thinking “Shit! My phone is on 5% battery for possibly the first time ever and THIS is what happens?!”
My friends very quickly figured out what was going on, and having both been through this themselves, they realised how big a deal it was. I’m so glad they were with me. By the time I’d spoken to the transplant coordinator, we’d established that everything was ok time-wise (I ended up arriving at the hospital long before the kidney did anyway), and my next task was to get back to the hotel, pack, and then wait for a taxi to go to Manchester Royal Infirmary.
I remember being surprisingly un-panicky on the tram on the way back to the hotel. I don’t know why, usually I’m the first person to run around in circles in a situation like this, but not on that occasion, or not yet anyway!
Once we got back to the hotel, we discovered that the staff had made an absolutely mammoth effort to locate me! They had checked every bar, restaurant, the gym (HA!) and the smoking area. They’d also been up to my room multiple times hammering at the door! Eventually they double-locked it so that I’d have to go to reception to see what was wrong with my key card.
When I had packed, we went down to Reception to wait for my taxi. And wait. And wait. The taxi took a ridiculously long time to get from Manchester to Blackpool! The reasons for this will probably be forever unknown, but by this point my stress level was certainly increasing!
Contrary to what I thought I would do, I didn’t tell very many people what was going on. I knew straight away I didn’t want anybody else at the conference to know where I’d gone. This was partly because some people get calls for transplants that don’t end up going ahead for various reasons, but also because of my parents. As luck would have it, they were on holiday in Tasmania, driving through a remote area with very limited phone and internet access. The last thing I wanted was for them to find out via social media!
Obviously some friends already knew, and once the taxi finally arrived I sent text messages to two others in NZ. Both of them then talked to me the whole way there, as it was daytime for them. As Jenny put it; “This must be one strange taxi ride!” I remember arriving into Manchester off the motorway and seeing all the cranes lit up, while Cyndi Lauper and Michael Jackson were on the radio. That’s a moment I won’t forget.
When I arrived at MRI, I went up to the ward and spoke with the nurse on duty. It was about 3:30am by this point, and as tired as I was, I had very little sleep as people were in and out talking to me, taking bloods and checking I was fit for major surgery the next day.
It was when I was sitting there on my own in the middle of the night that I started thinking. I realised that although I was there for an amazing reason, somewhere else in the UK, in another hospital, another family was also awake in the middle of the night, saying goodbye to somebody they loved. Somebody who could have been a son, a brother, a husband, a father and a friend. Somebody who, because of a choice he and his family made, was about to become my donor. Only other transplant recipients can ever know what that’s like. I think of him every day.
At some point in the early hours of Saturday, I met the surgeon and he told me he’d seen the kidney and that it looked like a good match, but wasn’t perfect. I asked him whether he would accept it for himself or one of his children. He said he would, and that I shouldn’t be worried about anything because “today is a good day”.
Before I end this post, I want to share something I wrote online a few days after my transplant. This is vitally important.
In the midst of my excitement at getting another chance at a healthy life, I cannot forget the reason behind it. This kidney did not fall out of the sky by itself. I am sitting here writing this because somebody decided, at the very worst moment of their life, to honour the wishes of their loved one and donate their organs. This choice is why I now have hope.
Quite a few of you have asked if there’s anything I need, and if there’s anything you can do. In terms of practical help I have good support, so what I’d really love is for you to visit one of these sites, register as a donor and then TELL your family that this is what you’d like to happen when you die.
In the UK, three people die every day because they don’t get transplants in time. I presume statistics are similar in NZ. Because somebody said YES, I am not one of those three. Instead, I will be absolutely fine. When I have recovered, there will be very little I can’t do.