The Best Last-Minute Christmas Gift
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.
In her effort to get me out quickly and back to the hospital, the clerk failed to check the box on my ID indicating my desire to be an organ donor.
When I pointed out the omission, she readily 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, people who don't have livers are sort of ... how can I put this delicately? They are sort of dead. Dialysis is for people who don't have functioning kidneys.
"People like my friend Elaine can live without kidneys, but they have to go to a dialysis clinic three times a week for 3 1/2 hours. At the clinic, their entire blood supply is pumped through a filter to remove impurities."
"What kind of impurities?" she asked.
"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 drivers licenses."
"Cool," she said as she returned my warmly laminated ID as I returned to the hospital for our annual Christmas Advent service.
Coincidently, a few hours later, I ran into Elaine.
"Chaplain, did you hear? I got a transplant last month. The hospital called at 2 a.m. to ask if I still wanted a kidney because they had one waiting 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 her biggest smile of the morning, she simply pointed across the hall. I turned to look over my shoulder and flashed an agreeing smile as I noticed her finger pointing to the women's restroom.
"Merry Christmas, Elaine."
Norris Burkes is a former civilian hospital chaplain and an Air National Guard chaplain. Write norris(at)thechaplain.net or visit www.thechaplain.net. You can also follow him on Twitter - username is "chaplain" - or on Facebook at facebook.com/norrisburkes.