Chapter Eight: May 5, 1995
When night fell on Thursday, May 4, 1995, I could not fall asleep. I was all jittery with excitement about the next day. My friends were coming over to play my all-time favorite game Mahjong, gorge on snacks, and giggle and chat endlessly. On practically the crack of dawn on Friday, May 5, 1995, the ringing of our phones had me open one eye to see that it was around 5 in the morning. The midnight blue sky was out rather than a sliver of sunshine. I stirred awake and began to mumble and feel annoyed that someone would call this early. I guessed that it was one of my Dad’s relatives from Hong Kong or a business-related phone call for my Father. Certainly, someone had mixed up the time differences again. I threw the pillow over my head to catch some more sleep. I was drifting up when my eyes suddenly opened wide with fear at the sound of my Dad’s heavy footsteps pounding up the stairs and into my room. He threw open the door and announced: “You’re getting your transplant.”
He did not have to say anymore. I literally flew out of my bed and threw on the nearest clothes to me. Thank goodness I lay out my clothes and packed my school bag every weeknight. My father dumped in random items from mismatched clothing to my stuffed animal into a faded flowered gray suitcase. In the heat of the moment and with all the huffing, puffing, and rushing, I asked my Father who was my donor and he muttered that the only information that he had was I was receiving two kidneys from a little 4-year-old girl who encountered a freak accident when a glass mirror shattered over on her. The first thought I had was: “Two Kidneys?? What about someone else??” I said my thoughts aloud, but my Dad did not even hear me. This was the last thought I had about my organ donor before charging as fast as we could to the hospital.
Within minutes, my Dad and I were trampling over one another to get into the car. Time was of the essence yet again. Every second and minute it took for us to get to the hospital was the same for that living and breathing kidney organ that was pumping on its own rather than pumping life into someone else—into me. I fretted with each stop light and stop sign if the kidney organs would go to waste and die before I arrived there. I did not know anything about how long the kidneys would last. Would they die? Would I lose this second chance at life? In the car, I was a nervous wreck with jiggling my leg, biting on my lip and inner cheek, and running my hands over the seat belt. Light was beginning to break through the hazy clouds and there were a million thoughts zipping in my mind—all completely incoherent and speedy. In the midst of the maddening thoughts, the one thought that was clear as the day that was breaking through as we hopped out of the car was: “This is it. This is it. I was going to receive my second kidney transplant. I am going to have my chance at life again. Please do not let it be too late for us to get there in time.”
Once we arrived there, I was whisked off to a hospital room and changed into a starched and scratchy white gown. There was a woman who drilled my Dad with every question imaginable about my complex medical history, his medical history, the blood type of my biological mother (who was not around to witness the gift of life miracle that was about to happen), what I did last night, and what I ate last night. A guy who was the shape of a round Italian sausage with plastic black-framed glasses gave me a goofy smile while presenting his many goodies that involved drawing my blood. I forcefully and rather arrogantly told him where my good veins were. Though he smiled at me as though to say: “Oh, what a cutie pie,” he had an annoying glare glinting and unhidden behind his glasses. He ignored which veins I insisted upon and stupid me did not shut up with hissing at him: “No, I told you that this vein is good,” and I pointed to my right forearm. Out of anger or plain stupidity (I will never know), he finally pierced the needle into my left wrist, causing a sharp pain that made me catch my breath and my very own blood spurted out in ragged bursts. I had encountered many painful missed blood draws and intravenous lines that resulted in varying shades of blacks and blues, but the experience I had with sausage man was by far the absolute worst. When he finished and walked away, I took it has a scary sign that maybe something was destined to go wrong with my second kidney transplant. If my blood could not even be drawn easily, who was to say that life was going to be normal once receiving this transplant? My stomach crunched and cramped up into a knot of nerves. Nothing was ever easy. Life was never so easy.
As each minute ticked by with my eyes just about glued to the clock, I became crazy with anticipation, nerves, impatience, and anxiety as to when I would undergo the knife and this transformational transplant would begin. I was truly experiencing every imaginable yet indescribable emotion out there: excitement, nervous, happiness, and the guilt that I was receiving two kidneys instead of one and that this 4-year-old had died so I could live. I was delirious with adrenaline that coursed throughout my trembling body. But, the one emotion I did not feel was fear. I was nervous, but not afraid of this transplant surgery. To me, this surgery was worth all the risk and more because I was finally going to live my life again rather than dying as I waited for the transplant. As I was lying on the gurney and wheeled into the operating room, I knew right then and there that humans will fight and ultimately do whatever it takes to hold on to life and what they want/need rather than fall into the depths of death or give up. I had no idea what was going to happen to me after this transplant surgery, but I mentally prepared myself that I would continue to fight against any obstacle or challenge that was in my way. I was ready to fight for this new life that was about to begin.
At around 9 in the morning, I was just about to enter the operating room. Before the official entrance and lying upon the operating table, I glimpsed my primary surgeon decked out in a sterile and evergreen outfit, otherwise known as “scrubs” or hospital attire. My transplant surgeon was a calm and soft-spoken man with a wide and gap-toothed smile and the kindest eyes anyone ever saw. Both he and my nephrologist had been anchors for my entire family and me. All I could see were my surgeon’s warm brown eyes that twinkled and sparkled like diamonds at me. His one eye closed in a wink at me. I knew he was smiling, though the green mask covered his mouth. I wanted to take off his mask, touch his smooth brown skin, wrap my arms around him, and kiss him gently on the cheek for the greatest gift he was going to give back to me: my life.
The last person I saw before I was carted off to the actual operating room was my Father. He had never looked or seemed so special and beautiful to me at that moment in time with his shining eyes, half smile, and life lines etched on his round, jolly, yet tired face. I loved him more than I ever did when I saw him right then and there. I touched his cheek and he pressed his hand hard against his cheek. I thought to myself when I looked into his watery eyes and felt him squeeze my hand one more time before I was wheeled into the operating room: “Daddy, when I wake up, everything is finally going to be normal and okay as if all these years of waiting and problems that resulted from my first kidney transplant was just a very bad, bad dream. I’m going to get to live my life, and so will you and everyone else I love.”
In the operating room, green tiles and glinting silver tools, trays, and equipment illuminated so brightly that my eyes hurt and stung. There was a clock hanging that read 10:16AM. I would remember that time and this moment in my memory for as long as I lived. My surgeon and his crew approached me in their evergreen attire. I was not scared. I trusted them completely. Their gentle and understanding gazes washed over me with what they were about to do and what was about to happen.
I shivered and shook on the freezing operating table as soon as I was transferred on to it. My teeth chattered and blankets were heaped on top of me in masses. A mask was eventually and slowly placed over my face. My surgeon with those mesmerizing eyes bored into mine, and he whispered gently into my ear: “Mary, count backwards from 100.” I inhaled the anesthesia and was sure that I was going to vomit from the strong and intoxicating scent that resembled gasoline from the Mobil gas station.
In my mind, I counted: “100, 99, 98, 97….”
The last thing I remembered was how my ears were still tickling and tingling from my surgeon telling me to count backwards from 100.
I fell into a deep sleep before I reached number 90.