Finding a suitable kidney donor can be more trouble than you think. Twisted Tales Nov.'12
|Note: This story was an entry for the November 2012 Twisted Tales Contest . To view the contest rules, click on Contest Rules: ▼
"Thanks again for having us over, guys, we had a wonderful evening."
Peter Westbrook shook hands with his pal, Ryan, and gave the hostess a hug. "You really outdid yourself with that roast, Lydia. I'm guessing I put on about five pounds tonight alone!" He paused just long enough to pat his stomach a few times. "Same with Janie; I haven't seen her eat like that in quite a while." He playfully tapped on his wife's stomach as well, but she barely seemed to notice; her smile weak and distant.
"I'm so happy you liked it, Peter. And Janie, you take care of yourself and keep your spirits up. I just know your prayers - all of our prayers, in fact - will be answered in due time." Lydia put her arm over Janie's shoulder and escorted her carefully down the steep porch steps to the car waiting below.
Ryan seized the opportunity to have a private word with his buddy. "No word at all yet regarding a donor?"
The exasperation etched upon Peter's face seemed especially pronounced in the telling light of the harvest moon; for that instant he appeared considerably older than a man in his mid-thirties. "I'll tell you, Ryan, it's really starting to affect her. No, check that, it's starting to affect all of us. The kids know something is up with Mommy; they know she spends a lot less time with them, and a lot more of her time in the bedroom, crying. Janie doesn't want to tell them anything until we know more, but it's reaching the point..." Peter's voiced trailed off as the tears began to well in his eyes.
Ryan reached up, took hold of his friend's shoulder, and grabbed it firmly. "You guys are going to get through this, Peter, I have no doubt. But, back to the prospects of finding a donor. Any luck?"
Peter sighed. "Oh yeah, that was your question, wasn't it? You know, when Janie was first diagnosed, I thought - hell, we both thought - kidney failure? Sure, it's serious and all, but we both assumed that since everyone's born with two kidneys, and you only really need one to get by on, that there'd be plenty of 'spare parts' - with regard to possible donors - to choose from." He shook his head vehemently. "Hasn't worked out that way; much more difficult than either of us ever dreamed."
"What's the hang-up?"
"Well, the way it's been explained to me, over and over again, is that with Janie's type of kidney disease - polycystic - coupled with her other health concerns, she needs an almost perfect match for a transplant to have any legitimate chance for success. In a nutshell, Janie's requirements whittle the potential matches down to about one in every ten thousand people. And that's just everyday people, not the donor list. When you consider the relatively small fraction of those people who are registered donors, the numbers become very disheartening. In, fact..."
"Peter, do you plan on joining me any time soon?" Janie's voice, though weaker than normal, still managed to climb its way up the steps.
Peter again shook Ryan's hand. "I'll keep you posted." He then turned toward the car. "Coming, Dear."
On the way down, Peter met Lydia on the steps. She grabbed his arm before he could pass.
"That woman," Lydia said while looking Peter straight in the eyes, "is like a sister to me. If you need anything - anything at all - please let me know."
"A kidney would be nice." Peter replied, dryly. He knew the sarcasm was uncalled for - but it was just that he'd heard the same refrain now for weeks - and the empty offers were becoming old very fast. He realized, of course, that everyone's heart was in the right place, but none of it was providing Janie with a kidney.
"Oh, if only I could..." Lydia smiled wistfully, "you know I would. Keep us posted."
"You'll be the first to know if anything develops." Peter's response was little more than that of the 'pre-packaged' variety; having already reached the point of losing faith in anything of real significance to occur.
"Sounds like a plan."
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
“Jesus, Doc, she's only got three god-damned weeks? Are you serious?” Peter slammed his fist on the table, startling not only Janie’s nephrologist, Dr. Wes Bellows, but Janie herself.
“Peter, try to keep a level head here. It will be okay, Honey.” She tried to rub Peter’s arm reassuringly, but her husband wanted nothing to do with it, yanking it away.
Peter got up and walked over to the wall which displayed all of Dr. Bellows' academic and professional achievements. He randomly chose two and carefully removed each one from the wall.
The elderly Bellows wasn't exactly sure where this was headed, but it was fairly obvious the general direction wasn't encouraging. “Peter, I realize you're frustrated, but we need to remain optimistic…”
“Optimistic? Optimistic? We've been nothing but optimistic for two stinking months now. Here’s a question for you, Doctor: I want you to tell me what this medical degree is doing to save my wife’s life.” He tossed the framed diploma, Frisbee-style, onto the Doctor’s desk, shattering the glass cover. “Or, how about this one?” Again, another framed document was sent spinning in his direction, coming to rest in virtually the same spot, and, as with the first, also accompanied by shards of glass shrapnel.
Doctor Bellows tried to maintain the appearance of one still in control, although it was clear that was no longer the case. The verbal dressing-down aside, it was reasonable to assume he'd never experienced the disgrace of having his degrees thrown in his direction. Although ultimately, he also must have recognized his customer did have a point, although an opinion had never been driven home in quite the manner Peter had just employed.
Peter placed his hands down upon the shards of glass which now littered the doctor's desk.
"What I need from you right now, Doctor Bellows, are some options."
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
"Mr. Westbrook...It's a 'Doctor Bellows' on line four."
"Thanks, Holly." Peter depressed what was now the 'button of last resort' and leaned back in his chair. "What have you got for me, Doc?"
"I'm going to do something I shouldn't be doing, Peter, but I know how desperate you and your family are, and how time is running out for Janie. A couple of hours ago I ran a check of potential kidney donors within a five-hundred mile radius of Dillsburg - or should I say the Harrisburg Airport - should the kidney need to be flown in."
"Hold on a second, Doc. How come we haven't had access to this list before now?"
"That's because this list is not a list of people who have volunteered their organs for donation. It is, however, a list of preliminary matches to Janie's donor requirements. It will be up to you to negotiate with the potential donor and see if some kind of monetary agreement can be arranged - and quickly! But I suggest you remember at all times, Peter, that these folks have no obligation to even open their doors to you. For whatever reason, they have opted out of the donor program, and if you can't change their minds, you must respect their decisions."
"I'll change somebody's mind, Dr. Bellows. I make good money here, and I can offer a lot of cash to whoever decides to help Janie. And, trust me, someone out there will help us. When can I see the list?"
"I'll send it over by courier; you should have it early this afternoon. Now, I need to stress, Peter, that you didn't get this list from me. I had to use some favors to obtain this, and if it ever gets disclosed that I provided you with the list, it will be the end of my career at Harrisburg Hospital. So don't..."
"Yeah, yeah, yeah, I get it, Doc. Just get that list over here, pronto."
The last hour leading up to lunch passed so slowly, Peter thought his watch had stopped. In fact, a couple of times he checked his cell to confirm that it hadn't. Funny, all this time looking for a donor, I wanted time to slow down, but it only seemed to accelerate. Now, I can't wait for the list to get here, and suddenly time is at a standstill.
Normally, Peter joined a couple of his work pals for lunch, but he canceled those plans for fear of missing the courier. Besides, he was such a bundle of nerves in anticipation of finding a donor for Janie he'd lost his appetite anyway.
Finally, the courier arrived at a little after one o'clock. Peter was so anxious to procure the list he tipped the grateful kid a twenty and was already skimming the names before the courier was even out the office door.
The plan, in Peter's mind anyway, would be to start with the names of the potential matches in his hometown of Dillsburg and then expand outwardly from there. There were probably about four hundred names on the list, and zip codes were provided, so he began with 17019, the Dillsburg zip, along with the zip codes of the immediate ring of surrounding communities. How fantastic it would be if there was actually someone nearby!
Peter scanned the list quickly, but about halfway through he began to get a sinking feeling there wouldn't be anyone close by; so far there was nobody. Just as he was about to resign himself to accepting the fact that he'd have to expand his search ring, he caught a zip code of 17019. Awesome....Dillsburg! His finger then followed the dotted line across the page until it came to rest at the name of the prospective donor:
Lydia Leftwich, Dillsburg
A wave of emotion swept through Peter as he continued to stare in a stunned, trance-like at the name of his neighbor. Initially he was relieved, but quickly became puzzled, and shortly after that, incensed. Lydia was one of the first to know about Janie's need for a kidney transplant - and how desperate we were from the very beginning. Even if she didn't want to donate, she could have said something. How could a so-called 'best friend' pull something like that? How could anyone be that selfish? She couldn't even work up the nerve to tell Janie or me she was 'opting out'?
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
"Yeah, Lydia, this is Peter. Listen, Janie left home this afternoon just after lunch, and just called me. She said she's out by the old O'Connor place near Mumper and Meadowview, and sounds pretty shaken up." Peter sounded like a man on the cusp of a meltdown himself.
"Oh my God, Peter - what's the matter?"
"I think it's just the pressure from not finding a donor yet, and being almost out of time. She's been a little disoriented the last couple of days, so she might be losing her grip on being optimistic. I'm afraid of what she might be thinking about doing. I'm on my way out to see her now, but you're much closer than me. Could you run out there and keep her talking until I get there? It would mean a lot to me..."
"I'm on my way, Peter. I'll call 9-1-1 on the way and..."
"NO! Please, Lydia, don't tell anyone what you're doing. I don't want our kids to know what mommy might be doing - they'll flip out - and if the cops get involved the whole damned city will know. Please - as a friend - keep this between you and me, okay?"
"Sounds like a plan, Peter. You said Mumper and Meadowview?"
"Yeah, not far from Yellow Breeches Creek. I'll be there in less than fifteen minutes if this god-damned traffic cooperates. If you find Janie, just keep her calm until I get there, and try to keep her from doing anything else stupid."
Lydia took off like a shot and was at the Mumper/Meadowview intersection within five minutes of hanging up with Peter. She breathed a sigh of relief when she saw Janie's Audi parked off the road and in the tall grass not far from Yellow Breeches Creek. The area was typically rather desolate, qualifying it as a great make-out place for the high school kids on the weekends because of the romantic features inherent to the ridge overlooking the creek, but was almost always deserted the rest of the time.
"Janie? It's Lydia! Where are you, Sweetie?" She approached Janie's car apprehensively for fear of what she might discover - given her best friend's state of mind - but the car was empty. "Janie?" Lydia yelled more forcefully this time, and strained her ears in effort to hear something which might lead her to her friend.
A loud splash from the direction of the creek caused Lydia's heart to skip a beat. "Janie?" Lydia broke into a full sprint to get down to the creek and hopefully save the mother of three - those kids needed their mother - as did Peter. When she arrived at the creek, she yelled, "Janie, please, I want to help you!"
A voice from behind whispered, "And that you will..."
Before Lydia could turn around, the back of her head took the full impact of a large rock. She went down in a heap only a few feet from the creek, and lost consciousness amid the sound of rushing water.
It wasn't more than a few minutes before Lydia began to come around, but she was semi-conscious at best. The back of her head was bleeding profusely, and she was having a lot of trouble focusing her eyes. She was able to make out Peter kneeling over her, with a portable cooler at his side.
"Pe...Pe...Peter...What happened? Di..Did you find Janie?" Lydia was so weak she was barely able to get the words out.
Peter ignored the questions and simply went about his business for several minutes. She was able to see he was referring to a sheet of paper every few seconds, as if he were reading a set of very detailed instructions. Finally, he looked around and grabbed a few small stones, using them to secure the sheet of paper on top of the cooler. He then held up a large scalpel, and she could also see he was wearing surgical gloves.
"This had better work, Lydia. I mean, when you pay a hospital lab technician twenty-five grand - cash - for general instructions on kidney removal, it had better work, right?" He laughed and shook his head. "The question is purely rhetorical, my dear Lydia, purely rhetorical. Of course, the hospital guy thinks I'm only stealing a kidney from a fresh corpse, otherwise he wouldn't have helped me. Guess he's 'above' the way I'm going about it, but if I'd offered him fifty grand, I'll bet he'd have volunteered a kidney from his own mother!" He shook his head as he unbuttoned her shirt, placed a cloth template over her abdomen, and then marked the critical areas for incision. "But, this guy also has access to the incoming hospital organ donor records and will make it appear this kidney arrived via some poor bozo in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. It will all look legit, and I'll have my wife back, and you will have the satisfaction of knowing you helped save Janie's life, even though you had intended to just sit there and watch her die like a dog. How could you do that, Lydia? 'Your best friend', you always said."
His voice was becoming louder with each spoken word, and Lydia could see the anger building in Peter's eyes. Lydia struggled to speak, but she'd already lost enough blood to severely inhibit movement; she was virtually paralyzed. A couple of soft "No's" were all the protest she could muster.
An enraged Peter leaned in closer to Lydia; his nose almost touching hers. "Listen to me, dammit. Janie's your best friend - or she was supposed to be. Just one of your fucking kidneys would have done the trick, and you both could have led normal happy lives. But you refused, and painted me into a corner, didn't you? You refused to help my Janie." Lydia's attempts to shake her head 'no' had zero impact on Peter. "You left me no choice. Now, this might hurt a little, because I'm concerned that using an anesthetic might adversely impact the shelf life of your kidneys, and we only have thirty-six hours from the time I get it out, to get it into Janie. Sorry if there's any undue pain. By the way, she's getting prepped for surgery as we speak." Peter then winked at Lydia. "If you haven't figured it out yet, Janie was never out here. I lied to get you out here where nobody will see us, where you will later have a tragic collision with a tree and your car will explode, and your body incinerated in the fire which follows. No one will be able to figure out you had a bit of 'unauthorized surgery', since you're going to look like a marshmallow which sat in the fire way too long."
Peter checked his watch and frowned. "God, I talk way too much, don't I? Let's get the show on the road, Lydia. Or as you like to say, 'Sounds like a plan', right? Jeez, Lydia, you said that damned phrase so often, even Janie swore she'd never say it because you'd said it so much. Well, at least Ryan won't have to hear it anymore, either." Peter pressed the blade of the razor-sharp surgical tool against a part of the outline on Lydia's belly. "Like the song says, 'The first cut is the deepest', my dear. I'm not going to lie, Lydia. This might hurt some..."
The screams were tortured, but brief.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
THREE MONTHS LATER
"We'll get through this Janie, I promise. We'll find a way..."
Janie didn't find much comfort in Peter's words this time; this time the bar of the hurdle of health would be set much higher, and she knew it. "Maybe we're reached the point where it's better to just let nature take its course, Peter." She looked awful; the wear and tear of the kidney problems of the previous six months had done a real number on her physically, and the latest news didn't help.
Peter slowly pulled up the driveway and hit the garage door opener. As he waited for the door to open fully, he wondered what exactly the next move for Janie would be. The kidney situation was bad enough. But cancer? The news that Janie's routine post-operative screening revealed she had cancer in her abdomen - the original source still unknown - which had already metastasized and was spreading throughout her body was devastating. He pulled the minivan into the garage, and leaned over and kissed his wife. He'd do anything for Janie, and he thought he'd already done plenty to save her life. How the fuck did she get a double-whammy like this? Peter told Janie he'd be inside in a minute. He needed a moment alone to collect his thoughts. He watched as she moved slowly through the door into the house. It looked like a death march. Now what? What could he possibly do now?
Peter got out of the minivan, and grabbed a garden trowel so he could finish taking a few of Janie's favorite plants out of the garden before the first frost. As the garage door was closing, he saw Ryan out in his back yard, raking some leaves. Peter and Ryan had only spoken briefly a couple of times since Lydia's death from that horrific auto accident, and Ryan - now all alone - was rarely seen.
Peter felt badly about what he'd done to Ryan with regard to Lydia; he still considered Ryan his best friend and even said a few words at Lydia's funeral. Ryan had been seeing a therapist to help deal with the constant nightmares resulting from the awful manner in which his wife had died; the horror compounded when Ryan insisted upon viewing Lydia's charred remains. While Peter took full responsibility - inwardly, at least - for the anguish Ryan had suffered at his hands, Peter always knew Ryan would look upon Lydia differently had he known Lydia could have helped to save Janie if she had so chosen, but declined. In Peter's mind, that made it all pretty much a wash.
"Ryan!" Peter entered the yard, and gave his pal a hug. "You're looking well." A complete lie, as Ryan looked about as healthy as Janie did at the moment. "Things getting any better for you?"
"Hey, Buddy, how are things?" Ryan forced a weak smile and tossed his rake to the ground. "Okay, I guess, all things considered." Ryan looked off into the distance. "I miss her, Peter. God, how I miss Lydia."
"I'm really sorry, Ryan, Lydia was a special lady. In a way though, I think she lives on in all of us a little..." Peter hadn't intended the sentence to come out like that, and he stopped abruptly.
Ryan nodded and wiped a tear from his eye. "You know, I just found out something earlier this week. Lydia's doctor had been out of the country when she had the accident, so he wasn't even aware that she'd passed, and he'd left a message on our answering machine to find out if she'd followed up with a 'Doctor Wentworth'..."
Peter shrugged. "Not to be nasty, Ryan, but what does it matter, now?"
Ryan shook his head. "It doesn't, really. It's just that I wish I'd have known, so I could have been supportive for my wife, like you are for Janie."
Suddenly, Ryan's conversation was beginning to draw some interest from Peter. "Good God, Ryan, what the hell are you talking about? Known what?"
Ryan forced a weak smile. "Funny, that was exactly my reaction when I called the doctor back. He was surprised that I didn't know..." Ryan was becoming more teary-eyed as the story progressed. "Sweet Lydia, she didn't want me to know - she didn't want me to worry like you were worrying about Janie - until she found out something concrete about the seriousness of her condition."
At wit's end, Peter grabbed his pal by the shoulders and shook him vigorously. "What the fuck was Lydia's 'condition', for Christ's sake, Ryan?"
Stunned at his buddy's sudden change in demeanor, he looked at Peter quizzically, then simply uttered, "Her 'condition' was cancer which had begun in her liver but metastasized to other organs in her body. Apparently, it had existed for some time..."
Peter's eyes widened to the size of saucers. "Cancer? Jesus, Ryan, why in the name of God didn't you tell me Lydia had cancer?" He fell to his knees, as all of the pieces to the puzzle began to come together in his mind.
Ryan was now becoming somewhat suspicious of Peter's behavior. "As you know, Peter, Lydia wasn't a complainer and as such never indicated anything to me. But I want you to tell me why Lydia's cancer is now so terribly important to you. It couldn't have affected you in any way now, could it?" There were a few dots in Ryan's mind which were starting to become connected, too.
"God, I'm so sorry for all the sorrow I've caused you, Ryan."
"Peter, are you coming home soon?" Janie was leaning against the minivan inside the garage. "I need to lie down; I'm tired."
For all of his good intentions, all Peter had really succeeded in doing was delaying Janie's death sentence. It was time for her suffering to stop too, before the kids got home from school. Peter yanked the trowel from Ryan's chest and started the slow walk toward the house.
Janie's distraught husband answered weakly, "I'll be home in a second, my darling; there's still one thing I need to do."