Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Temporary Insanity

During our visit in Philadelphia, Dr. Dino gave me a copy of a wonderful handout about mourner's rights from the American Academy of Family Physicians. Here's my favorite paragraph:
In some cultures, a mourner is considered legally insane for a year. The mourner is allowed to blaspheme, break promises, wake people up at night, change his or her mind repeatedly, and express emotions, including anger at the one who has died. While our culture may not provide as much grace to mourners, you should give yourself a break.
I absolutely love this. I wish I could say to all my friends, relatives, colleagues and students, "Okay, I'm going to be legally insane until next March: just deal with it." Alas, our culture indeed provides much less grace to mourners, although it does caution us not to make any important decisions for at least a year.

All of this was in the back of my mind when, several weeks ago, I suddenly became fascinated by the idea of being a living organ donor. I can't even remember what prompted this: some news story, probably, combined with the fact that Katharine's brother received a kidney from a co-worker last year. My interest struck me as bizarre even at the time. I'm very properly scared of surgery, hate pain, would have a very hard time dealing with any extended recuperation period preventing exercise -- even my measly gum graft was a challenge in that respect -- and, even if I were a perfect match for someone, would probably be ruled out for all kinds of reasons, including my age, my depression history, and prior abdominal surgeries (two laparoscopic procedures).

Nonetheless, I did enough research to learn that, for instance, while the surgical procedure for donating a kidney is slightly less strenuous than the one for donating part of a liver, the liver regenerates almost completely after the surgery, whereas once you've given up a kidney . . . well, you're down a kidney, which means you're in trouble if something happens to the one you have left. I found myself weighing these factors. I actually browsed a database of people with my blood type who need organs. I found one I'd really have been happy to donate to, and fretted about whether this person could wait until next summer, which is the soonest I could possibly have major surgery (and is, mind you, past the one-year barrier).

Am I temporarily insane yet? Yeah, I thought so too.

And then, the very next day, I learned that an acquaintance may need a new organ, and I heard myself saying, "If it comes to that, I'd be happy to be considered as a donor."

I don't think it will come to that. First of all, this person won't get to the stage of considering transplant for some time; secondly, I probably wouldn't even be a good match, and there are a lot of other people who'd no doubt volunteer, like this person's family; thirdly, I'm sure I'd ultimately be ruled out, for the reasons I've given above. (I don't even donate blood anymore, because my iron levels are too often borderline. It's not worth schlepping down there to be told I can't do it.)

I dutifully mentioned all this to my shrink, who blanched and looked very alarmed and said, "Susan! Don't do that! At least, don't do it right away. I don't think that's something you should jump into."

"They don't let you jump into it," I reminded her. (Being approved as a living donor is a very long, thorough process, and rightly so.) "Anyway, they'd probably say I couldn't do it just because I'm here in your office."

"I'd have to write a letter for you. I'd support you if you really wanted to do it. Just -- don't jump into it."

Don't worry: I wouldn't even if I could.

But isn't the timing really kinda freaky?


  1. Anonymous2:49 AM

    One of the most vivid traumas of my life occurred during the Iran hostage crisis -- but not for the reasons it was hard for most Americans.

    You see, my friend and next-door neighbor was born to a mother of Iranian descent, who came to this country when he was born, and then spent much of his lifetime trying to get her family (and its relative wealth) out of Iran (having seen trouble coming much longer than we did as a nation).

    The year the hostages were taken was the year that she finally secured the safety of her brothers and her mother. Unfortunately, that was also the year that her father died of natural causes, preventing him from enjoying the freedom she had worked so hard to procure.

    According to custom, she went into mourning, and, as her son was beaten daily for having the audacity to have been born with a heritage in the land of our enemies, she clung to her black garb, stoically withstanding the slings and arrows of political disfavor in both her homeland and her adopted country.

    If she went a little crazy during that time, I think it was a blessing that she was able to dress in clothes that said, "I'm in mourning -- don't mess with me." I have often wished we had just such a universal signal in our modern culture that granted protection to people who, like you, have lost so much of what allowed them to become children of God.

    Bless you during this time of mourning. May it come to an end in due season, with all of the other promises the Preacher made.

  2. I've thought about that for some time. But my restraint is that I live alone, and who'd care for me after surgery? completely elective but debilitating surgery?


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