By Norris Burkes Dec 12 2021
For those of you looking for the perfect last-minute Christmas present, I have an idea.
How about giving someone a kidney?
The idea occurred to me one holiday season while taking a break from my hospital-chaplain job to renew my military ID.
The military clerk worked hard to quickly return me to my civilian job, but she failed to check the box on my ID indicating my desire to be an organ donor.
When I pointed out the omission, she gladly fixed it.
“Thanks,” I told her, “It’s for Elaine.”
“Well, for Elaine and all the people like Elaine,” I said.
Her puzzled look invited a more thorough explanation, so I happily recounted meeting Elaine in our hospital dialysis unit. Elaine was an energetic Guam native whose constant excitement about life gave her a smile that challenged the boundaries of her face.
“Isn’t dialysis for people who don’t have livers?” asked the clerk.
“No, livers are more serious. Dialysis is for people who don’t have functioning kidneys.
“In place of kidneys, people like my friend Elaine go to a dialysis clinic three times a week for 3-1/2 hours or more. At the clinic, their entire blood supply is pumped through a filter to remove impurities.”
“What kind of impurities?”
“The kind of impurities normally filtered out in our pee.”
“Urine is how healthy kidneys remove impurities from your body,” I explained. “If you don’t have a kidney, then you need dialysis to remove those impurities. And while thankful for this life-saving process, many patients like Elaine wait for a kidney that will free them from the limitations of dialysis.
“That’s why it’s important for us to have the box checked on our IDs and driver’s licenses.”
“Cool,” she said as she returned my warmly laminated ID and dismissed me to return to my job.
Thirty minutes later, I was back at the hospital where I, coincidently, ran into Elaine.
“Chaplain, did you hear? I got a kidney transplant last month from a 45-year-old accident victim.”
“Wow!” I exclaimed, adding a mumbled postscript, “Glad they checked the right box on their ID.”
“Pardon me, Chaplain?”
“Oh, uh, nothing. That’s an amazing Christmas present. You look so great.”
“Yeah,” she said reaching in her pocket for her bottled water. “This is what’s really amazing. I can drink all of this.”
Most dialysis patients are unable to urinate and have rigid liquid limitations. Too much liquid and the lungs are flooded. Without dialysis, patients literally drown.
“Wow,” I said. “Let me buy you a soda.”
For the next 30 minutes, Elaine and I talked as she drank her soda and swallowed the 17 pills she takes three times a day. With the prospect of spending 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 a big smile, she pointed across the hall. I returned that smile when I saw her finger pointing to the women’s restroom.
“Merry Christmas, Elaine.”
According to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) 39,717 organs — hearts and kidneys— were transplanted into U.S. residents in 2019. Unfortunately, 17 people die each day because the organ they need is unavailable. More than 112,000 people are on the waiting list for an organ transplant. Visit Organ Donor.gov or kidneyregistry.org.
Column excerpted from Norris’ book, “No Small Miracles.” Contact Chaplain Norris at [email protected] or 10556 Combie Rd. Suite 6643 Auburn, CA 95602 or voicemail (843) 608-9715.