I’m not a big fan of needles. After moving on to the blood and urine test phase to check in on my overall health for Niem’s possible kidney donation, I knew one would be involved. I’ve learned to look the other way and not think about it, which usually works for me.
It was easy to set up my appointment online by clicking the link Rachel sent me for a convenient appointment time right near my work. The place had a health-clinic-meets-a-nice-office-space feel to it and they first asked for my insurance. I wasn’t sure how to answer since it wasn’t my own that was covering this. After the receptionist got my order number from the computer, she said, “Oh, don’t worry about it, Mr. Garcia. It looks like everything is paid for and being taken care of.” There’s something special about involving others in the process, so I told her I was doing it to see if I could be a kidney donor. She was very sweet in her response and then handed me a cup to pee in.
As I sat and waited for the phlebotomist/nurse, I thought about Niem and what he’s going through. As I’ve looked into being a donor, a lot of emotions have run through my mind ranging from joy over the possibility that this could help extend his life, and sadness over the reality of what it means. It’s gotten me more in touch with a part of life I’ve never had to face much in my forty years. The illness of a close friend.
Dialysis is deceiving because there’s not much that tells you someone’s even on it. There’s the obvious tube that comes out of their abdomen, but that’s usually under their clothes. In this last year since Niem started receiving daily home treatments, outside of questions of whether overnight trips will have a power source for his portable dialysis unit, there have been no outward signs he’s got much of anything going on.
Once they call me in for the inevitable stabbing and extraction, I hang on to the thought of why I’m doing this, which eases my nerves. I tell the phlebotomist-nurse-possessor-of-the-needle I’m not a big fan of them and that I just survived my blood being drawn at Kaiser recently. He says they suck at drawing blood there, and he’d rather do it himself than go there. I laugh and feel a little more relaxed. I look the other way as he does a little wiggly move with his finger that distracts me from the initial poke. I notice that he takes a little longer than at Kaiser, so with the added time I decide to brave it and look at the needle in my arm! My heart starts racing and I get a little warm, but I don’t pass out.
After he puts the customary gauze and tape on me, I see he’s holding three vials of blood. I ask if those are all mine. He says yes. I’m shocked because they had only taken one at Kaiser, and he didn’t take that much longer than they did, but they only took one vial! I ask if he had to attach each tube separately into the needle because I didn’t feel a thing. He nods yes. I compliment him and feel satisfied in having worked with someone with samurai needle skills.
Four days later, I receive the news from Rachel that my glucose levels came in slightly elevated and that they need to do another test to see if I’m pre-diabetic or if it’s just that I have elevated glucose levels. After the heartbreak set in of potentially not qualifying to be a donor, the fear of possibly being pre-diabetic quickly set in. I’ve had blood drawn from my own health insurance provider twice in the last year and never once did I even get an email telling me I should come in and take another test. The best they did is tell me I had glucose levels on the higher side of normal, but that they still were within normal range. Well thank goodness I’m looking to donate a kidney or else I might never look to find this out.
Rachel informs me of the next step, which is to set up a glucose stress test that would take two hours to determine if I’m pre-diabetic, or have glucose levels on the higher side of normal. If I’m pre-diabetic, I can’t be a donor because diabetes can lead to kidney failure. If it’s the latter, then I’d have to lose some weight and regulate my glucose levels to qualify to be a donor.
I call and schedule it for next week and, oh yeah, Niem’s Cigna Health Insurance is covering this, too.
I call Niem and we decide to meet for dinner in a couple days. It’s actually the first time I have face-to-face time with him since I started this process. I’m immediately reminded of why I’m so happy to be doing it. I know some people say that donating a kidney is a selfless act, but as I sit there laughing with my friend and enjoying life for what it’s meant to be enjoyed for, I can’t help but think that it’s actually a little selfish. I want to live my old days with him and talk about how we got through this hurdle and the next one that comes our way. In life, we need friends, and if it’s selfish to want to keep them around as long as possible, then so be it.
I look forward to next week’s test. Whatever the news, I will be grateful to have found out now and taken the measures to lead a healthier life. Ironically, in my efforts to help Niem, he’s already helped me more than I could have imagined..