Monday, April 06, 2009

See what happens when the baby finally falls asleep...

I can blog! However, I've been up since before breakfast, so I may no longer be coherent.

I'm in a production of Godspell at my church and the free time that I don't have has all been given over to that. Hopefully, after this week, what with the play being over and a slow work week, I can get my act together and catch up on other stuff. Who'm I kidding, I've been trying to get my act together since Kindergarten. But I can dream.

As I may or may not have mentioned, April is National Donate Life Month. With soundtrack, here at donorcycle. Also, for no extra charge, I have a cool video from the folks over at Donate Life Illinois.

Included are a couple of folks I heart a lot, too.

Over at youtube are some video responses to it.

I was trying to think of why I became so passionate about organ donation. I only ever knew one person who needed a transplant: he was a neighbor who died waiting for a heart transplant. However, being young and not veru close, I don't think that played any role. I do remember the first time I heard someone talk about being a transplant coordinator. It sounded terribly exciting-running off at all hours to save lifes, leap tall buildings, dodge bullets and so forth. That was when I was a young, bright-eyed nurse who still stopped at traffic accidents and signed up at every opportunity to be on the hospital's Code Blue team. I have since stopped looking for excitement like that, but occassionally it still finds me.

It took about 8 more years before I got my dream job as an organ procurement coordinator. Stay awake for days at a time-check. Console grieving families-no problem. Deal with difficult doctors-bring 'em on. My motto was, " A 12 hour shift is only a half-day." Humility has always been a challenge for me. In fact, I own a button that says, "No. My powers can only be used for good."

Working for the NJ Sharing Network was different from being a trauma nurse or responding to codes. Resuscitating someone who rolls through the doors of an ER is pretty impersonal. Bringing them back is more about personal pride than selfless assistance. Working with donor families changed the way I thought about the end of life. I had always been afraid to die. Working in a trauma ER only cemented that: now I was afraid of dying in graphic detail. Or afraid of how my loved one's could die. It was only when I started to work with donor families that I lost my fear of death. The more personal it got with them, the less it was about me. The more I understood how to savor every day.

I always considered myself good with grieving families, although I never let down my composure in the ER. As a transplant coordinator, I have cried with so many family members. Before, I logically knew that different grief reactions were normal. With donor families I was a part of their anger, their disbelief, their guilt, their hope. So many times I had my heart stretched out so that I thought it would burst, then it would expand some more. And so many times making the decision to donate opened the door to their healing. It usually came during the "med-soc" AKA the medical/social history. If you've ever donated blood, you've done an abbreviated form of one: it asks about your medical history, including any risky behavior. Ours lasted about 20 minutes, ranging from questions about recent vaccinations to Chagas' disease. When we got to the "risky behavior" questions, I'd preface it by saying, "Now some of these questions are very general and some are, well, personal."

I tell you, there's no ice breaker like asking if Grandpa had sex with men for money.

Seriously, you'd think they'd want to slug you right then and there, but these are people who had been throught the most agonizing days of their life. This was small change. Almost always they'd start laughing. "Oh, if Henry was here he'd be so mad that you asked that." It was like giving them permission to break the tension. Then they'd start talking about the person who died. What they liked and didn't like. What cracked them up. They turned a corner. What had been "how could this happen" now became "how are we going to move on from this?" Organ donation helped. These families wanted to know that somewhere, somehow their loved one's heart still beat, their eyes could still see. I know there are people who regret donating. The law of averages says there must be. Let me know if you find any.

Working with donor families made me believe in the kindness of our species again. Go work in an ER for 5 or 6 years and you may come away with a dim view of humanity. It's not fair, of course, you don't get to see people in their best light. But as a TC, I would walk away after a case, over and over again amazed at how people in the worst moments of their lives could find it in their hearts to help another, a stranger they would most likely never meet. It touches me still.

Today at my hospital we had a table for National Donate Life month. Next to it was one of our donor quilts. I looked at the names and recognized several. "Oh, that's the kid who was killed trying to break up a fight. He had just gotten engaged. There's so-and-so's son, his only son. His parents were just devastated when he died. There's Mr. T-, I remember I had to get consent from all 8 of his brothers and sisters." My friend Pam was amazed I could remember so many. How could I possibly forget? Their names are written on my heart. If I never do anything else again in my life I know that, for a short time, I helped do some good.


BreathinSteven said...

First off -- thanks for doing a little promoting of our video!!! Both Melissa and I are proud to have little parts in this production... Scott and his group make the coolest videos.

Second, and most important -- thank you for helping do some good. And, it's been more than a short time. Thank you for recognizing and remembering those names on the quilt... That means a lot to me, and even though they might not know it, it would mean a lot to their loved ones... You told us once that we "all want to be remembered, to leave behind a legacy..." You remembering is part of what makes their legacy...

I was at the Iowa Donor Network annual gala last weekend. I met a zillion people like you. (OK, maybe somewhere between 20 & 50.) And after all of the hugs and the stories -- I hope I left them with the feeling that they "helped do some good." That's one of my goals in life now.

Thank you for being so passionate about organ donation, and thank you for letting that passion come through in your actions, and in your writing.

And you're going to have to enlighten us on that roll in Godspell!!!



TC said...

I'll try and get some video footage for you. Unless I suck.

Susan said...

I have been an organ recovery coordinator for 9 years in Arizona. Your blog so captured the essence of how it feels to work with donor families. I am always humbled by the generosity of the families we work with, at the darkest times in their lives. They are truly heroes. I enjoyed your comments about the medical-social questions we ask the family. It reminded me of the times I have asked those questions and laughed with the family as they answered our questions. Being in a position to help get much needed organs to people who need life saving transplants is an amazing job. Being able to help donor families through their tragedy and find something meaningful about their tragedy is awe inspiring and truly humbling.

2ndHeartBeat said...

Thank you, TC, for this lovely post that allows a recipient to take a peak inside your world. It is captivating for me to read your words. Please take care and continue to be you. Thanks once again.

Hillary Rettig said...

great piece - here is a link to my story of my organ donation:

donating (to a stranger) was one of the best things I've ever done. i'd do it again in a flash if I had extra kidneys. :-) Hillary

Sadaf Trimarchi said...

Thank you for such a moving post on such on important subject. It broke my heart all over again.


jenny said...

I really enjoyed your post. It is hard to find people that are truly honest in their blogs and I have a gut-feeling you are one of those rare posters. I look forward to reading more. Thank You

Katherine - Nursing Student said...

Amazing truth in this statement: "It was only when I started to work with donor families that I lost my fear of death. The more personal it got with them, the less it was about me."

I'm earning my nursing degree with American Sentinel University, and I originally got into Nursing to overcome my own fear of physical trauma and death- something that my studies and work didn't seem to be helping with, until I had a revelation that it wasn't all about ME!

Thank you for your stories and your insights TC! You've got yourself another dedicated reader!

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