Chopped Liver - A Community for Live Organ Donors and Recipients

Monday, January 30, 2006

Knit one, purl two, America!

During WWII, men and women on the U.S. homefront were urged to knit sweaters and socks for soldiers to support the war effort, spurred on by American Red Cross campaigns, college sorority drives, and well-planted media stories to teach the craft.

In support of my own little war against boredom, I learned to knit just before the transplant surgery. My plan was to knit a warm, cozy, fluffy blanket during my convalescence, as a way to both pass the time and create a lasting commemorative keepsake that I could pass on to my kids--or even better, to Joe's--someday.

With the help and advice of patient Michelle H. and the equally patient staff at the Yarn Cafe, I set myself up with all the supplies I'd need for my project. Baby alpaca wool in red with some pink and pale green undertones. I'm happy to say tonight that it's coming along swimmingly! Of the six six-foot-long panels, two are done!

So no, it's not Operations Management homework, or the latest and greatest corporate travel proposal for Global Conglomerates R Us, but I'm contributing! Take that, al-Zawahiri!

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Top ten things that seemed so @#$% easy just 10 days ago

10. Carrying a pillow from the bedroom to the living room.
9. Blowdrying my hair.
8. Standing in line for groceries.
7. Riding in a car for several hours.
6. Turning over from one side to the other.
5. Yawning.
4. Bowel movements.
3. Lifting my arms over my head.
2. Putting socks on.
1. Imagining how I might spend three idle weeks in Iowa at my parents' house without going certifiably insane!

Help! Visitors welcome!

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Loaded up and truckin'

The Chinese New Year celebration fireworks just finished a couple of blocks away on Illinois (we could hear them clearly and see them reflected in the windows of a building from Joe's 35th floor southern panoramic windows). In his tiny apartment, we're having a celebration of our own, of sorts: Mom and I are headed home to Des Moines tomorrow. Joe is having a strong day, and I've ranked my pain at a "1" on a scale of 1 to 10 for the first time since the surgery. So it's a quiet dinner in, followed by some calm evening family time.

Key healing landmark: I put my belly button ring back in today.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Left meets right in happy liver section reunion

Joe insisted we take some photos on his new digital camera once we were both feeling up to it. I offer the happy results: Left and right, together again! (I'll spare you the one of our bellies.)

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Chicago - Des Moines - Minneapolis

A quick note on my whereabouts and contact info for the next few weeks.

I'll be in Chicago until Saturday at the earliest. Use my email and cell phone to contact me, or leave comments. (Don't have my cell? Email me for it.)

Mom and I will leave for Des Moines only once Joe is officially over this bad pain hump and the itching is totally gone. I will send my home address via the email tree in advance of leaving. Not on the email tree? Let me know and I'll add you.

ETA in Minneapolis: Monday, February 20.

Its me - alive and one-lobed!

The warmest of all possible greetings, everyone! After seven days of some relatively severe "incisional discomfort" (who I promise you'll get to meet a little more formally below) and almost no internet access or logging energy to speak of, I am thrilled to be back. I returned to Chopped Liver by reading Sharon and Dan's updates and all your comments, had a good happy cry, and then dove straight to the posting page to submit the first of many entries describing our recovery so far and yet to come.

First, the most important bit: Joe and I are going to be great! We are over the worst of this. The surgery did work; my liver is functioning in him (and managing just fine in me). In time, we'll look back on this miracle fondly as we frolic as a family in proverbial fields of flowers and wafting dandelion seeds, or, less metaphorically, as we get back to our regular lives and stop lying around in fetal positions.

But second, the reality of today: I haven't pooped in five days. This is not comfortable. Joe was readmitted to the hospital yesterday for the same reason, except his uncooperative bowels were causing unbearable searing pain, not just irritating cramps. He was released again today but is still in pain. These lovely TMI facts are a few of many I could share to illustrate that we are certainly on a recovery roller coaster. We have been through -- and will continue to go through -- a series of frustrating and sometimes disheartening ups and downs.

Yet third, the beauty of our reality: We are going to be okay, and we can handle a roller coaster. Any of my short-term self-pity can be chalked up to a probably over-optimistic impression of what the first two post-op weeks would feel like. And while Joe's pain is more severe, it's overwhelmed (most of the time) by joy over the progress he's already made and the promise of more to come.

And now, on to bloggy stuff.

Meet my incisional discomfort
Straight up, its name is "Pain," people. But like Sharon reported, my scar itself is teeny. Think of this guy at left, at a microscopic level, repeated like falling Matrix 1s and 0s in a pattern that, once backed out to the perspective of the human eye, looks like a faint red line four inches long by 1 millimeter wide. There are also two tiny cuts inside my belly button. (Get THIS: Dr. Koffran tried a first-time ever technique he'd been considering might work to reduce scarring... he did all the actual cutting through scopes inserted through my belly button, and then used the incision only to pull the section he needed out of me!) But fear not -- the navel ring gets to stay! Alex, eat your heart out, tee hee.

Mmmmm, drugs...
So if you've been wondering what sort of drug cocktails a girl gets to enjoy after liver resection -- morphine? sedatives? medicinal marijuana? -- let me end your suspense. I get Tylenol. Extra Strength, of course. Oh, yes, and laxatives. I am exaggerating slightly, because I did leave the hospital with prescription-only Tylenol 3 (laced with codeine). But the docs suspect it's the culprit behind the constipation, so I'm trying to grin and bear it with OTC remedies.

A couple of personal notes
Ingrid: Send any Redbook editorial contacts you might have.
ISU people: Does anyone know John Loecke's contact info in NYC?
Terry in Mississippi: Keep me posted! I'm excited for you and so thrilled to be able to give you good news to serve as hope!
CSOM Strat Mgmt group: Your flowers made my day!
CWT sales, CWT marketing: Your flowers made two of my other days!

The gift of life, continued
Today at my first post-op check-up, I met with a woman who is getting worked up to see if she can donate to her 21-year-old daughter Michelle, a perfectly healthy college-bound woman who suddenly experienced inexplicable liver failure, which will be fatal if she doesn't receive a transplant soon. Her condition merits her a Status I ranking on the UNOS donation list, meaning that as soon as any cadaver liver that matches her blood type becomes available anywhere in the U.S., it's hers for the taking. But she's been on the list for more than a week and a half, significantly longer than the typical two- to three-day wait for Status Is, and she's hovering in a life-threatinging situation. The family had to try the live donation route, so they can take that step if no organ materializes in the next few days. I bring this up for two reasons:
  • First, if you have prayers left to give, put one in for Michelle and her family.
  • And second, with this encounter I officially began the second most important part of my healing process. I got to see my gift pay off in a new and unexpected way, as I was able to listen to this sad mother's story, understand her fears, offer any insight she might want to receive on the procedure, and just tell her I understand. My God, I am looking forward to a lifetime of that sort of healing.

That's it for now. Shorter posts will continue now that I'm back online. I miss you all!

Monday, January 23, 2006

Home from the Hospital!

(Posted on behalf on Becky by Joe's friend, Dan)

We are happy to report that both Becky and Joe are home from the hospital and showing steady signs of improvement. Their dad said today that Becky has shown "100% improvement from yesterday," so we're all glad to hear that news, of course.

Becky is now staying with her mom at a hotel in Chicago that was arranged by the hospital, while returning for daily exams and check-ups. Joe and dad are holding up the fort back at Joe's place.

I'm sure Becky will be up to blogging in the near future, so hopefully you'll be able to get her first-hand account here shortly. Thanks again for all your thoughts and prayers. They really do make a difference.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Hanging in there

(This post by Sharon, Joe's friend in Chicago)

Becky and Joe are still hanging in there. Becky was expected to be out of the hospital yesterday but she's still struggling a bit so she will be there until at least tomorrow (Sunday). She doesn't feel up to the phone or the computer but knows that everyone is pulling for her and she'll be in touch when she gets out of the hospital. They have arranged a room for her in a Residence Inn near Northwestern and her mom will stay with her there while she remains in Chicago. She'll have to come back to the hospital for tests and things - they have a shuttle so it should be pretty convenient and comfortable for both Becky and her mom.

Joe was sleeping when we visited today but according to his parents, he is improving slowly. He is more comfortable walking than Becky and I'm told he can make it several laps around the floor. Becky joined him for half a lap today and does half laps on her own a few more times a day. Exciting stuff.

There is talk of Joe getting out of the hospital tomorrow as well, but I think he has a few benchmarks to hit before he is released. Only time will tell. He will head back to his apartment under the care of his dad.

Hopefully tomorrow will bring a little more comfort to both of them. They're just taking it a day at a time.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

So far so great

(This post happily brought to you by Sharon, Joe's friend in Chicago, at the request of Becky who cannot get to a computer.)

Becky and Joe are both doing great! They are in rooms 1106 and 1108 (2 doors down from each other) and being well taken care of. As I know the phone tree was put into effect, everyone should know now that both surgeries went extremely well. Becky was in and out according to plan and Joe's couldn't have gone more smoothly. It was expected to last 10-11 hours and he was out in 6. They also expected him to be sedated overnight, but he was brought to consciousness last night and his new liver was already 'cleaning him out' according to his doctors.

Upon visiting tonight, Becky was resting and had just finished talking to both of her nieces on her brother's cell phone. They say the second day is the worst and Becky would agree, but she was in very good spirits and could carry conversations without too much strain. She got out of intensive care this morning and is recovering exactly according to plan - even getting up to go to the bathroom, although that did cause some nausea. She wants to make sure her family leaves the hospital and wants her brother to get to see some of Chicago so she's still thinking of others ahead of herself. She and Joe haven't spent much time together, although they did wheel them next to each other for a wave at some point. Of course, they both ask everyone about the other and his/her progress.

Joe is already losing some of his jaundice and his color will recover slowly over the next week or two. He is still incredibly itchy but he can't scratch comfortably so that's annoying. Moving and straining his torso is difficult and painful because of his massive scar.

So here's what you're all really waiting for: The Scar Report
Joe wins by a landslide. Becky has an incision a few inches long, everyone is surprised that it is so small. Joe, on the other hand, has a scar that that could be mistaken for the San Andreas fault. It is like an upside-down "Y" and stretches from his sternum to each of his hips. It is held together by staples whereas Becky has a nice clean suture. It is going to be impressive to say the least.

Becky hopes to get to a computer tomorrow if she can get out of bed easier. She is supposed to be out of the hospital on Saturday, give or take a day so I'm sure she'll be back in touch. Keep them in your thoughts, as I know you all are, but know that their spirits are high and they are recovering nicely. It's a long road to full recovery, but given what they've been through, they're doing just fine.


Tuesday, January 17, 2006

State of mind, the night before

My phone has been ringing throughout the evening with your well wishes, and I'm brimming with joy about how lucky I feel tonight to have all of you in my life. I'm struggling for words to describe my state of mind right now, but since so many have asked, I'll at least try...

First, I have my whole immediate family here (David got into Chicago tonight), and once we all were in a room together at Joe's apartment, I immediately got emotional. Then, Mom and Dad presented us some gifts--matching commemorative "Hugs" statues for Joe and me, and a gorgeous diamond pendant on a white gold chain for me. I dare you to accept that from your parents, who are so near tears they can hardly speak the words as they hand you the box, and not cry!

The most surprising moment of the night for me came just as we returned to Joe's apartment after picking David up at the airport. All Joe's Chicago-based friends were there, and were heading out the door. His friends Rishi and Greg gave me hugs, and one of them said, "Thank you, thank you for what you are doing for our friend." I lost it. I have thought so much about the fact that I am doing this to save a brother's life, a son's, an uncle's. I have thought about the fact that my actions have inspired and touched other people, friends and strangers. But until that moment, I hadn't really thought about this gift from Joe's perspective, and from the perspective of his fabulous and loving community full of people who care about him just like you all care about me. To them, I was not a hero so much for doing this, but for doing it for their friend, who they love. It blew me away. That gives me a tremendous surge of pride and peace as I pack up to leave for the hospital tomorrow.

Which brings me to my current state of mind. I am not scared, honestly, not a bit. I'm calm, and will probably even sleep pretty well. I hope I don't die or anything (the chances are a fraction of a percent, and really not much more than with an appendectomy or other minor surgery), and sure, I've had to face mortality today a little more than most 32-year-olds might in a given day. But overall, I feel calm. Ready. Eager. And above all, truly blessed. Give yourselves all a pat on the back.

Good night, Chopped Liver fans. Talk to you on the other side of the transplant!

T-Day details

Staying informed: My mom will call Michelle H. at CWT and McNarney on his cell phone as soon as there's news to report on the success of the surgery. Michelle, in turn, will email everyone on my Chopped Liver email list, and McNarney will post on his blog.

Contacting us: The surgery is at
Northwestern Memorial Hospital, in the Feinberg Pavilion building. I'll have no contact room-specific details until I'm moved on Thursday to a recovery room. Once I'm there, we'll get that information to you via the phone/email tree.

Chopped Liver posts: The hospital has free computer terminals with Internet access, so as soon as I'm up and around on Thursday, my incisional discomfort and I will hop to the keyboard and send you an update.

All is right with the world

Our surgeon, Dr. Koffran, could have begun his explanation in any number of ways, but he chose to start by explaining the "choreography of the day," drawing two squares on the white board to represent the adjoining rooms Joe and I will occupy tomorrow. "They are rooms 32 and 33," he said, "not that you need to know that...."

I almost fell over. He didn't understand why my mom and I broke out in laughter. Room 33 indeed. All is right with the world.

We were at the hospital for about six hours yesterday. I had my first EKG, a chest x-ray, and more blood tests, and for our efforts Joe and I were each rewarded with a plastic-coated, bar-coded bracelet that we'll wear until this ordeal is over. But all of that was gravy; the meat of the day was our meeting with the surgeons. Dr. Koffran is a handsome guy in his late 30's, confident in that way only talented surgeons can be. (Torgie, he's no Patrick Dempsey, though.) He's left-handed, and the the tips of the last two fingers on that hand are missing down to the closest knuckle--yet his strength, he told us, is in pediatric transplants, and he is relied upon to handle the smallest of ducts, veins, and arteries in cases like ours. Interesting. This will be his third live-donor adult liver transplant of 2006. The NMH Kovlar Transplant Unit is moving and shaking.

He answered all our questions patiently, as though the only place he needed to be all day was right there, with us. Pain came up, but he never uttered the word itself. "You will, of course, have some incisional discomfort for a while." With that, I laughed out loud for the second time that morning.

So, back to the choreography: My operation begins at 7:30, and should end by 10:30. Joe's starts at about 9, and should end sometime in the afternoon. I'll be in the ICU until Thursday morning, then transferred to recovery. Everyone is optimistic. Just one day left. Stay tuned! (Hospital contact info will be posted tomorrow.)

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Wow and amaze your friends

While we wait for the big day, I leave you with some trivia tidbits sure to increase your social status at cocktail parties.

* The liver is the body's largest solid organ and largest gland.
* It weighs about 3.5 pounds.
* It's approximately 8" x 6.5" x 4.5", for a total of 234 cubic inches -- equivalent to just over a gallon.
On this day in 1870, the Democratic donkey made its debut, in a Harper's Weekly cartoon. (Hey, even I need to get out of liver mode every now and then.)

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Heading South

It's leaving day... The car is packed, the party is over, and most of you have seen me for the last time as an original-livered human being. I feel great, powerful, hopeful, and full of courage, thanks absolutely to all of you.

I especially want to thank everyone who stopped by Thursday. There were so many of you, and from so many different pockets of my life, that I couldn't spend as much time with any one of you as I wanted to, and I apologize if anyone felt slighted! But judging from the energy and noise coming from our half of the bar, I'd say fun was had. Your cards and gifts were terrific, too. I'm loaded with activities to keep me busy.... chick books, Sudoku puzzles, magazines, and two books
--The World is Flat and Freakonomics--that I swear I will read when I have time, and now, well, I have plenty of time (thanks, Sandra, for bankrolling those).

So I'm off! I'll post again before the surgery, which is

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

A break from the Becky-related

Need a diversion? Check out Triumph at a Bon Jovi concert in Jersey. (Not safe for work. Unless, maybe, you're Mindy.) Thanks for the link go to Alan, whose fascinating, mature blog, Seat 1A, is refreshingly less self-absorbed than mine. :)

Monday, January 09, 2006

The T-Day timeline

One week from today the action begins! I will post hospital contact information here once we have it next week. Here's a quick overview of the upcoming schedule of events, beginning three days from now:

Thursday: The send off party (see below).
Friday: I drop off Owen at the parrot-sitters, pack, and clean out perishables from the fridge. This will take hours. I'm not sure how one packs for liver removal.
Saturday: I drive to Des Moines.
Sunday: Joe, Mom, Dad, and I drive to Chicago.
Monday: At 8 a.m., Joe and I arrive at NMH for an outpatient day of pre-op festivities, including chest X-rays, blood work, and a long-awaited visit with our surgeons.
Tuesday: We wait, with nothing to do and nowhere to be. I suspect Scrabble will be involved. (100 bonus points for anyone who spells "hepatic.")
Wednesday, 6 a.m.: Joe and I check into NMH.
Wednesday, 10 a.m.: By now, we should both be in surgery. Joe's will last about 10 hours, and mine only six.
Wednesday, late evening.: My mom calls the main phone tree branches to send out the "all's well" news. Phone tree efficiency ensues.
Thursday: I wheel my doped-up self to a computer terminal to post a celebratory, first-hand account of the joy I'm feeling. Or maybe I just stay in bed, gaze upon all my pretty flowers and cards, and enjoy some calm, IV-induced dreams for a while.
Saturday, 1/21: I'm discharged, give or take a day, and I move to my brother's downtown Chicago apartment where my parents await.
Wednesday, 1/25: Joe is discharged, give or take a day or two, and joins us at his apartment.
Sometime thereafter: I return to Des Moines for some R&R under the loving care of my awesome Mom.
Sometime after that: I return to Minneapolis for more of the same, under the loving care of some terrific friends.
March 13: Back to work. Chopped what? Honestly, I really don't recall....

Thanks to everyone for your kind words, offers to help, prayers, and interest in our story. You are making this possible.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

When's the party?

So, you gigantic community of cool friends (co-workers, fellow MBA'ers, mentors, crushes, soccer buddies, and more): Many of you have asked whether anyone is hosting a bash to send me off next week, and some of you have even offered to do the planning. Yea, and thanks! Of course there's a party! But since these last few days are so crowded, I'd really like to have just one event and invite everyone, rather than trying to squeeze in several mini-parties with my disparate groups of friends.

Here's the word:
Thursday, January 12, from 5:30 to 8:30 at McCoy's Pub in Saint Louis Park.
I'll be there the whole time, and hope you'll each stop by whenever you can for as long as you can. My thanks to Heidi for helping with some of the legwork.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Your anatomy.... in TRANS-VISION!

The ever-delightful Mary S. brought me a one-of-a-kind treat from her bookshelf today: A thin, stapled paperback Better Homes & Gardens Family Medical Guide publication, undated but probably from the 1950s, featuring six transparent full-color plates -- in TRANS-VISION!* -- of the human torso. If you've been wondering where your liver is, check out plate IV, pictured here. (Hm, looks like the painter of Prometheus shot a little low.) And note that Joe gets a significantly bigger piece. That's brothers for you.

There's a tiny green gallbladder peeking out from under Joe's half. That will go away entirely, into the hospital garbage bin.

*TRANS-VISION, copyright Milprint Inc., Milwaukee Wisconsin. I looked them up... today they print foil candy bar wrappers.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Welcome to Year 33!

Happy New Year! Many of you know that since 1995 I have named each new year as it begins, marking the occasion with an essay about where I currently stand and what I think is in store for the 365 days ahead. Yesterday, the Year of the Vertical Climb ended, and a very important year began. I'm struggling with this year's essay, because unlike every other year, 2006 has had its name set in stone since I began the project, and it's one that I have eagerly anticipated for ages. It's the only year that I've ever named in advance, and it chose me, not the other way around. It is Year 33: The year I turn 33. The number 33 has been signaling to me that 2006 would be momentous for as long as I can remember taking the time to notice it. Is it coincidence, then, that I begin Year 33 with such a monumental and life-altering act as this liver donation? I guarantee, I had no idea it would be a life-giving surgery. But I knew it would be something. It is my good fortune that the "something" is so stunningly beautiful.

The only thing to remain, then is to give Year 33 a subtitle, and I've chosen something that feels strong and apropos. Welcome, friends, to Year 33, the Year of the Greatest Gift. Take the title as liberally and widely as your spirit lets you. I do.

And thank you all for your on going support!

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