Spilling my guts… Kidney Donation Update

Been a while since my last post on the kidney donation process and a fair bit has happened over the last couple of months. All of it, fortunately, good.

The first big step after my last post, or at least the first one that comes to mind, is the mental health interview I had. Like most non-blood taking meetings in this process it was done remotely thanks to the joys of Covid, this time over the phone.

It was just about my biggest worry as far as the process of applying to donate goes. I’m lucky enough not to have any particularly dramatic history of mental health issues but, as with most people, there have been hard times. Although to be honest the prospect of going over them really wasn’t what concerned me. For the most part I think I’m a fairly honest and emotionally articulate person, where I’ve struggled in the past I’m generally aware of the causes and have no real issue explaining them. Which is essential with this stage of the donation process I think, you need to be honest during the interview because ultimately as a donor you’re unavoidably stepping into unknown territory. It’s not enough to assume that you can deal with the potential hurdles and outcomes of the process, although self confidence is certainly a key factor, you need to measure your own expectations against the expertise and experience of others.

For example one of the questions was about potentially comparable experiences I’d had in the past and how I’d dealt with them. Initially I said there were none. To have gotten this far I’ve had to prove that I’m pretty healthy (even if I’m completely out of shape) so while I vaguely assumed I could deal with any issues that might come up I didn’t think I’d been through any problems relatable to surgery and the potential complications following it. Talking it out though – and having the psychiatrist overtly state it – I realised that I probably did have a greater frame of reference for what might happen than I assumed. I have, unfortunately, had experience with episodic Cluster Headaches, aka Suicide Headaches. Episodes are mercifully few and far between, once every couple of years maybe but when they come they’re a pretty dismal thing to endure. A month or so with 4-5 crippling headaches a day, like some evil bastard driving a screw driver through your face from the inside. I’ve been diagnosed so there’s some relief to be found in the donkey strength pills they give me when the bad times come but still, it’s a thing. It isn’t, however, a thing I give much thought to unless I have to. I certainly don’t consider it some sign of my ability to endure suffering though, I don’t view going through those periods as a marker of inner strength or anything like that. But within the context of donating I suppose it is and having someone else push me to acknowledge that is helpful in a way.

Sure, I think taking that sort of view of your own experiences can be helpful to most people because in my experience we seldom see what we go through as anything greater than what it is. Be it mental or physical problems we tend to face them as immediate obstacles and not reflect on what they change or expose about us. We forget how much just keeping going can be a measure of personal strength. In fact even as I talk to people about my own plan to donate I’ve heard people infinitely stronger and more capable than myself say they couldn’t do it, or that I’m brave for going through it all. Always comes as a surprise to me because from where I stand a lot of people go through vastly more than me and to donate a kidney would be a walk in the park by comparison. Not that I’d ever suggest that anyone else should do it of course, it’s an entirely personal choice.

Anyway, that aside I still found this call to be the most daunting one so far. If there’s a downside to the way the process of being an Altruistic Donor is dealt with it’s in the vagueries of the details. From more or less day one I knew this meeting was something that would happen but up until I was on the call I had very little idea of what it actually involved. The purpose of it is to establish whether someone is competent to make the decision to donate, isn’t being pressured and will be capable of dealing with any complications that may arise. Asked how I could prove any of those things before that phone rang I’d have said I had absolutely no fucking idea. I’ve certainly thought a lot about what I’m doing but I still had only the faintest of ideas of what a psychiatric review would entail. How do you prove that you’re competent? How can you judge whether past experiences are relevant, which of them are going to be a positive or a negative, what possible issues arising from the surgery and recovery they want you to show yourself aware of and able to deal with? To be fair there’s nothing you can really tell a person about this stage to prepare them, it’s a conversation, not a test. But it is also a test, if you see what I mean, and there’s no escaping that no matter how reassuring and encouraging those involved are. So I suppose there’s no way not to have nerves about it, especially in comparison to nice easy blood tests and x-rays.

Take my word for it though, the inevitable nervousness only lasts until you’re in the interview and while it may feel a lot more demanding than the practical medical tests it’s ultimately more or less the same. You need to be honest and the outcome will be the outcome, you can no more pretend to be right for donation than you can pretend to have a healthy kidney and while the questions are definitely probing they’re not being asked to catch you out.

I’ll leave this post there I think. Having left it so long since the last update I’ve plenty more to add but I’ll save that for next time rather than ramble on for too long.