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The phone rings: Part I

When I open my eyes, I'm not sure where I am and I can't move. The last thing I remember is having an oxygen mask clamped over my mouth and being told to inhale; it was quick and traumatic and now I feel as if I have awoken in that very scene. I am freaking out. "Where am I? What's happened? What have you done to me?"

"You've had a kidney a transplant," says a genial Irish voice, as though this sort of thing happens every day.

Sunday, 6:10pm

It is 6pm and I am on my sofa, writing on my laptop with one eye on Dinner Date. I feel peckish, so I decide to make myself some bulgar wheat and peas (don't ask) and watch the Strictly results - it's about time Dave goes, the joke has worn thin. The phone rings. A man with heavily accented English asks to speak to "Rosa....Rosymend....Edwards?" and I am about to tell him I am not interested in whatever he is hawking, the words are about to roll off my tongue, when he introduces himself as a surgeon at Guy's Hospital. "We have a kidney for you...." he begins. "Holy shit," I say, and he laughs.

By the end of the conversation, I am sitting on the floor, my legs no longer able to hold me up. It takes me a minute to compose myself but I told the surgeon I'd be at the hospital in an hour which doesn't leave much time to throw a collection of mainly useless items into a bag, ring my family and apply some more Laura Mercier eyebrow pencil. When I speak to Mum, the surprise in her voice is audible - we'd been drinking chai latte in Esca just hours before. But at this point, surprise sums it up pretty well; not shock, nor ecstacy, because you might remember, dear Reader, that I have been here before, and one phone call does not a transplant make. By the time I speak to my older brother, I am boring myself: "The hospital have called, you get the gist..." Besides - I have spent the last ten months coming to terms with the fact that I a kidney transplant was not part of my future. I have been in mourning for the life I could have lived, the children I shall never have, the holidays I won't take.

In the taxi, I start to freak out because the previous night I had been indulging in some...extra curricular activity, and in this one episode of ER, Dr Greene wouldn't give the patient a kidney for the same reason. I end up confessing something to Mum that nobody should ever have to tell their parents but I figure, fuck it, we're down the rabbit hole now. "You're an idiot," she says, and then, "but they can't not give you a kidney for that. It metabolises quickly anyway," and I feel strangely better.


The nurses are expecting me - that's different from last time, when Maisy and I sat in front of a linen closet for three hours. I am shown to my waiting bed. The surgeon who I spoke to on the phone arrives - he is not bad looking. He tells me the kidney has not arrived yet but that it "looks good". I notice that everyone is speaking as though the transplant is a done deal: "When you get back from theatre...." say the nurses; a different surgeon comes to examine me, and talks about where they might sew in the graft "I'll come back later to mark your skin," she concludes. I reassure myself that everyone is merely being pragmatic; I haven't even bought a change of underwear. We'll be going home in the morning; Mum and I decide to go out for breakfast then to see Captain Phillips at the Picturehouse.


The surgeon's earlier dictat that I needed to be nil by mouth from the moment I replaced the phone turns out be somewhat over-enthusiastic; I can eat up until 10. I am starving (despite having only eaten four hours earlier) but who knows when I'll be able to eat again? I dispatch Mum to buy everything from Marks and Spencer's and go to town on harissa chicken and quinoa salad when she gets back.


Feel sick. Shouldn't have eaten so much so quickly. The additional shortbread was a mistake.


The dialysis nurse arrives to give me a four hour session to get my potassium down, "before the operation". I recline in largesse and let her prep the machine on my behalf; if nothing else, I have had a night off doing it myself. I am forced to point out that she has left a cap loose and saline is leaking onto the floor; she is very nice, but clearly an amateur. The fact that I can needle myself causes great excitement - one of the ward nurses comes to watch. I miss Dermy. A bit.

My nurses hi-tech solution, reminding her when she needed to flush the lines


The session is underway: it's brutal, I'm not used to  doing short, intensive sessions anymore and my body is creaking under the strain. I wonder fleetingly whether this might be my last dialysis session but tell myself to stop being so ridiculous. To pass the time, Mum and I play "What's Your Favourite...." - a traditional Waiting To See If I'm Going to Get a Kidney game. I try and sleep for a bit (unsuccessfully); I urge Mum to go home, if only to take a shower, but she remains steadfast in the upright chair beside my bed, and I am really glad she stays.


Dialysis finishes, finally. A female doctor who looks to be all of thirteen arrives to ask me some questions and I decide I do not like having the balance of my health held by someone who has never heard of My So Called Life.


At some point (the hours have all melded into one, time has stopped retaining meaning) a doctor/nurse/cleaner told me that if I was to go down to theatre, it would be around now. A porter arrives to take me for a chest X Ray instead. X Ray is usually tedious and involves lots of waiting around for a two minute procedure, but I am wheeled straight in. I feel mega important, before I realise there is absolutely nobody else in the X Ray department, it's just me and the tech. I wonder whether she puts on music and dances around when she is not seeing patients. Maybe she X Rays each of her fingers in turn.


The kidney is in the building. It is downstairs, undergoing final cross matching. I find it incredible to imagine that it is outside of a body right now; it has been on ice, in a car. Something about this tickles me, imagining it it listening to some tunes, maybe eating some Skittles. Then I think about the donor and burst into tears.

We should know within the hour. I have never come this far before.


Make that another three hours. No news is not necessarily good news in this scenario, but nobody has said no yet, which is something. Ellie arrives. We all pass the time by reading trashy magazines and ragging on Nancy Del'Olio because she deserves it.


A doctor comes to my bedside to ask if I would like to take part in a research project. He doesn't remember, but he biopsied me once. He spends forty minutes explaining the ins and outs of the project, the ramifications and its objectives, even though I said yes after the first three and am so tired I could be agreeing to having my toes amputated. "Unfortunately the study won't be published for another decade or so, so it won't really benefit you per se..." He asks if I would like him to explain the science at which point I wrestle the pen out of his hand to sign the damn consent. He talks about my impending surgery and I clamp my hands over my ears, "If," I correct him, "not when."
"Oh, well I heard some positive mummerings in the hallway, and..."
I say, "Stop talking!" but I think, holy fuck, am I about to have a transplant?


A visit from a dietician who has come to slap me with a (theoretical - still theoretical) post-transplant ban on soft cheeses, marmalade and sushi. I am incredulous that I am still to be denied certain food stuffs even with a working kidney. It is a stark illustration of how medicine has progressed since my last transplant 16 years ago: I subsisted on cheese Doritos and gallons of milk for the six weeks hence and nobody batted an eyelid. The sushi will be a killer, I bloody love sushi.
"Now, as for shopping after the surgery, will you have someone who can carry heavy bags back from the supermarket?"
"Supernoodles aren't really that heavy." Mum, Ellie and I grin.
"These supernoodles, what would you be having on them?"

I am not sad when he goes away.


Suddenly there is a group of doctors standing in front of me, including The Professor. "Right, it looks like we're good to go," he says. It takes me a few seconds for my brain to catch up. I look at Mum and Ellie, whose mouths are open.
"I'm going to have a transplant?"
"Holy shit." The baby doctors snigger. "I'm going to have a transplant."
"Now about this Hepatitis B..." Ah yes. The Not Bad Looking Surgeon had mentioned something about this on the phone and it is coming back to me now; I can't remember specifics. "The donor was treated for Hep B in their lifetime so there is a risk of you contracting it, and it is very nasty..."
"So you're curing my kidney failure but giving me Hepatitis B instead?"
"No, no." The Professor waves his hand. "If we didn't treat you, there is a 5% chance of you developing it, but we are going to treat you which brings your chances down to pretty much zero."

I consider briefly just saying....nah, you're alright, I'm going home for eggs. But then I stop being a tit. For all their faults, I trust the doctors at Guy's. I have always trusted them, and they have always done their upmost for me; I know they wouldn't give me a kidney they didn't believe was safe. I think about the donor. I decide it is a man.

It's a go
Things happen really fast now. I ring Dad. I put on my gown and make Ellie take some ludicrous photos which shouldn't ever see the light of day. I am hooked up to an antibiotic drip and I check with Mum and Elle that they know who to call (my placement supervisor, my therapist - oh, and we need to give a meter reading to the gas company...). Then we wait for the porter and I smile: medical science has progressed to the stage where doctors can transfer a vital organ from one human to another; reams of medical professionals had been working through the night to make this operation feasible; I myself had waited six years to get here and, at the final, crucial moment, the hive of activity stopped and everything depended on how quickly a Polish guy decided to get into a lift.

I watched the lights whizz past above my head as we made the journey down to theatre. In the ante room, I got chatting to the anaesthetic nurse. "Who did your last transplant?" he asked me.
"Mr T."
"Oh right - he hasn't been too well recently. He has cancer, he's been off having chemo for a while."
"I can't believe you're telling me this now," I sobbed. Mr T is my surrogate hospital father; he performed the very first operation I ever had as a child at Guy's, and many more since; he is one of the kindest, most highly skilled men I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. The poor nurse was very apologetic and dabbed my leaking eyes with some sterile gauze. I decided at that momemt to have the transplant for the both of us, whatever that meant. There was just time to say a quick prayer (needs must) before an oxygen mask was clamped over my mouth and I was told to inhale.


Will I wake up? Will the operation have been a success?  And will I ever be able to eat sushi again? Stay tuned for Part II - COMING SOON!


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