5 Ways My Recovery From Kidney Donation Was Nothing Like What I Expected

I haven’t posted a blog in quite some time. In the weeks since my last entry I’ve been struggling with how to depict what my recovery has been like. I had more than a year to build a series of ideas in my head of what the experience would be, and as the weeks and months have unfolded since my surgery day… I was way off. 

Some of my expectations were that it would be extremely painful, I’d have a really hard time getting my fitness back, and that I’d look at my kidney donation as being a really pivotal point in my life. 

Nope, nope and nope. 

Here are five things that were totally unexpected in my recovery.

1 – I didn’t have much pain at all. 

As part of the surgery, gas is pumped into your abdomen to puff you up so the surgeon can see what he’s doing in there (I’m big on technical jargon, obviously). Once you’re all stitched up there’s still residual gas that needs to work its way out, so it generally migrates up to your shoulders and can be intensely painful. Some donors even say it feels like you’re having a heart attack! The worst day is supposed to be the day after surgery. 


As soon as I woke up on day two I was ready for the pain. … And then there wasn’t any. I had zero issues with pain from the gas, and even the sensation in my incisions wasn’t much of anything. My nurses were super proactive with pain meds so that helped a lot, but I’m still surprised how little pain there really was. 

The worst was the night after I was released from the hospital. I was still taking pain meds, but didn’t have any anti-nausea drugs so I took a nasty turn headed straight towards nauseous town that day. So much so that I had the lovely experience of throwing up with a set of five freshly stitched incisions in my abdomen. Talk about OUCH. 

But besides that, I have had races and even long runs that were more painful than anything else I dealt with post-op.

2 – I have a new appreciation for what exhaustion really is. 

People said I’d be really tired, and I thought they were full of shit. 

I mean come on, do you know who you’re talking to? I’m basically Wonder Woman’s little sister.

But… They were right. 

The first few days I was at home I couldn’t talk while walking around the block or I’d get winded and dizzy. Literally dizzy – from walking and talking! Then I’d come home and take a nap! 

I had to put a chair in the bathroom so I could take rest breaks while getting ready.

When I finally ventured out on my own 8 days after surgery to buy a necklace I truly learned to appreciate exhaustion. After only 3 minutes of browsing in the store I had only walked two blocks to get to, I was so tired that I had to find a chair. For the next 10 days or so I was acutely aware of where the closest bench/chair/tree stump was so I could sit down at a moment’s notice. Now that was humbling.

3 – I re-evaluated my social circle.

Having 4 weeks to yourself with no plans, obligations, or agenda makes a person take stock of their social inventory so to speak. That large amount of free time made it very obvious how different people impact me. There are people that leave me feeling better, and others that are more along the line of being energy suckers. 

Recovery was an incredibly vulnerable experience for me, and having a strong set of people around me that lit me up, made me laugh, and kept me focused on the big picture were invaluable. I had all the time in the world on my hands, and yet I refused to make time for ‘friends’ that spend their precious moments gossiping, being rude, or being takers.

Often on the podcasts I listen to I hear people say that you are the sum of the five people you spend the most time with, which I sure as hell believe. I’m definitely picky with selecting those five.


4 – I had a mini-identity crisis.

I like contributing at work, and I like working out. Those two things are my comfort zones. I didn’t have either of those in my recovery.

And I lost my shit.

I wasn’t a bumbling mess, but I did feel really lost. In theory, days upon days free of any obligations sounded great. But once I got into those days and Chad was back at work… I had a lot of time on my hands. 

That time was filled with wondering if what I did actually mattered, if my work actually mattered, and if I had any self-worth at all if I wasn’t feeling athletic and contributing in some way. 

Thankfully my rock star of a boyfriend was there every day to help me navigate the waters of feeling so lost. He encouraged me to try new things, to explore my creative side that I often fail to prioritize, and he’d check in at the end of each day to see how I was feeling and what I created that day. 

I knocked the dust off my old camera and did some work for Helbach’s Cofffehouse, photographed flowers at Olbrich Gardens, tried some new recipes, and did some short hikes in new places!


Through his patient, consistent support I was able to emerge from my haze of self-doubt and realize that I’m a lot more than an athlete and a contributing employee. I care a lot about those things, but that’s not who I am. That’s what I do. Who I am is a creative, adventurous person that strives for connection to the world around her. It sounds so simple, but yet it wasn’t obvious at all until I sat in the discomfort of having all my normal armor stripped from my daily routine.

Thank you, Chad, for keeping me sane, keeping me challenged, and for reminding me that I’m so much more than I give myself credit for.


5 – I’m not any different, and my life is exactly the same.

I thought donating my kidney would be a profound experience. I thought it would be some kind of turning point in my life, that I’d be a different person. I thought I’d look at this kidney donation as a huge milestone.

None of that is true.

The surgery was no big deal, I had zero complications, you can hardly see my scars, and I actually feel better now than I did before. (I attribute that to eating even better and staying more hydrated now.) I’m exactly the same person as I was before the surgery, and things went so smoothly for me that it hardly feels like I did anything.

Maybe if I knew people who went through dialyses, or if I knew my recipient in person it would be different, but it’s just not.

This is my recipient on the right, and her amazing husband who donated his kidney to a stranger the very next morning to keep my chain going!

Though there was one shift in perspective that happened during my recovery. Everyone chooses to help others in their own way. Donating my kidney worked well for me. I knew that I was impeccably healthy, and I knew I would recover fully. Other friends of mine volunteer religiously at the Ronald McDonald House, or with the Stars and Stripes Honor Flight. Other people I know donate a large amount of their income. And others help those around them by being thoughtful, listening attentively, or what I consider to be the most giving thing you can do – have a child and actively try to be a good parent.

What I did is no better and no worse than anything other people do that help those around them. We all just choose a way that suits us.

6 thoughts

  1. Tracey: your blog is one to read several times, just to sense your deep and profound introspection. And I’m sure your thoughts go even deeper than what is actually written. How often do we are humans undertake such a thought provoking journey into ourselves…not often enough! Mirrows are not only for looking at the outside of us!!!!

    Your kidney donation will rank up there with true selflessness, but as you say giving comes in many forms. Life sometimes keeps us all on a treadmill of the mundane without true thought…work to sustain our lifestyle, grocery shopping for food on the table, paying bills, etc. Sharing your experience and its impact on your perspective is a reminder that life really is bigger than one person and that treadmill we put ourselves on.

    Thank you for sharing your experiences. The world is brighter because you have given of yourself 💞

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for the really thoughtful and sweet comment! I’m really appreciative that I can share something that really made me look bigger than myself. I appreciate you always being so supportive!

      Like

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