The military is like a lot of corporations – they can make mistakes when processing large numbers of transactions. This mistake was a tiny unchecked box in the corner of my military ID. But as I approached the National Guard Pass and ID office, I was determined that someone would put a check in that box before I left the office. The warm smile flashed by the clerk quickly told me that the mistake would not require me to take a dramatic stand.
Looking at the empty box next to the words “organ donor,” she said,” Oh, I’m sorry we missed that. Let’s get it fixed right away.”
” Thanks,” I said, “It’s for Elaine.”
” Pardon me? Elaine?”
” Well, for Elaine and all the people like Elaine,” I said.
Her puzzled look seemed to invite an explanation, so, as we waited for the computer to spit out my new ID card, I recounted Elaine’s story. “When I’m not doing my weekend-a-month as a reservist, my day job as a hospital chaplain. Elaine is an energetic Guam native in the dialysis unit of our hospital. You’d love to meet her. She’s excited about life and has a smile that challenges the boundaries of her face.”
” I’ve heard of dialysis. Is that for people who don’t have livers?” she said, parroting a common misconception.
” No, people who don’t have livers are sort of … how can I put this delicately? Sort of dead. Dialysis is for people who don’t have functioning kidneys. Without kidneys, people like my friend Elaine go to a dialysis clinic three times a week and have their entire blood supply pumped through a filter for three and a half hours to remove impurities.”
” What kind of impurities?” she asked.
” Pee,” I said blushing a bit. Dialysis does for the body what urinating does for someone with healthy kidneys. And while thankful for this life-saving process, many patients like Elaine wait on a transplant list to receive a donor kidney from someone who has their box checked on their ID’s and driver’s licenses.” “Cool,” she said handing me my warmly laminated ID.
” Elaine and I thank you,” I said, standing in a rush to return for an afternoon meeting at the hospital.
As I began my hasty walk toward the conference room from the hospital parking lot, I happened to run into Elaine. Since the dialysis unit is not on the hospital grounds, we were surprised to see each other.
” Elaine! I was just talking about you. What are you doing here?”
” Chaplain, didn’t you hear? I got a transplant last month.”
Stunned at her sudden turn of good fortune, all I could manage was a blurted stutter,” Who?” Knowing God gave everyone two kidneys with one to spare, I assumed it to be a live donor from one of her siblings. Her face went grim as she confessed, “I don’t really know who it was. The hospital just called me at 2 a.m. and asked me if I still wanted a kidney. They told me it was a 45 year old accident victim.”
” Wow!” I exclaimed, adding a mumbled postscript, “Glad they checked their card.”
” Pardon me, Chaplain?”
” Oh, uh, nothing. That’s an amazing Christmas present. You look so great!”
” Yeah,” she said reaching in her pocket and pulling out bottled water. “This is what’s really amazing! I can drink all of this!” Since most dialysis patients can’t urinate, they have rigid limitations concerning their liquid intake. Without dialysis, liquids flood the lungs and they literally drown. “Wow!” I said. “Let me buy you a soda!”
For the next thirty minutes, Elaine and I talked as she drank her soda and swallowed the seventeen pills she takes three times a day. With the prospect of spending this Christmas with her new gift, she was giddy and grateful, thoughtful and thankful, playful and prayerful. Finally, she stood to make her exit, “Well, chaplain, it looks like it’s time for me to go.”
” Oh,” I said, saddened that our impromptu celebration had ended so quickly, “Where are you going?”
Mustering her biggest smile of the morning, she simply pointed across the hall. I turned to look over my shoulder and flashed an agreeing smile as I noticed her finger pointing to the women’s restroom.
” Merry Christmas, Elaine!”
Each day about 68 people receive an organ transplant, but another 18 people on the waiting list die because not enough organs are available. For more information about organ donation or dialysis go to OrganDonor.gov or ikidney.com.