Monday, July 18, 2011

3,285 Days...

I have been in more than my share of scrapes in 53 years, some I started, and others I finished. When I was 19 a severe electrical accident nearly killed me and I could not write for a year which knocked me out of college. On a less noble note I had more fights in the military when the liquid courage flowed than I care to remember, once getting beat on the head with a table leg in a full out brawl with some Marines in Boston that had me doing extra duty when I returned to the Coast Guard Air Station in Chicago after the Senior Chief got wind of my antics. I have been thrown out of bars and have thrown guys out of bars, once bending a biker dude backwards over a fire hydrant and it was only by intervention that kept him from being a permanent part of the pavement. Two weeks after my marriage in 1986 my then wife and I were hit broadside by a drunk driver and I was pinned in the wreck, narrowly surviving again. In my prime I could bench press 500 pounds and be it business or pleasure I never stood down from any man nor beast, holding my ground firmly to what I thought was right. By all accounts I have endured with crooked fingers, a knee that locks up a neck that constantly cracks and a nose that never gets enough air after being broken more times than I remember. My scarred hands hurt when its cold and my knees ache when its hot. Big deal.
If you look up the word “tough” in the dictionary however you will not see my picture there-you will see my daughter’s face.
Amanda Lee was born with a kidney defect that is common enough-reflux-which allow toxic urine to flow backwards into her bladder. Most kids grow out of this, Amanda did not. Right around her 2nd birthday the reflux was diagnosed, and the treatment was an ongoing bombardment of antibiotics and tests that created a lot of sleepless nights. Right before her fifth birthday surgery was planned for the reflux that was not correcting itself, a simple outpatient surgery that would fix the problem and give Amanda a normal life. I was on the phone in the kitchen in our little townhouse when the other line rang in. It was the doctor informing me that in addition to correcting the reflux, Amanda’s right kidney had to come out. It had grown toxic and was making her sick. In addition her left kidney had much less function and needed to be saved. Nothing prepares you for that news…no matter how tough you are.
The hours in the waiting room were agonizing for mom and dad. In the end the surgery went well and in no time Amanda rebounded. Check-ups and medication were still a part of the routine and everything went good for about eight years until the age of thirteen when her body began to change, and the little left kidney got tired of doing so much growth work. Beating the odds I turned out to be the best donor (both my dad and grandfather had kidney disease) and on July 18th, 2002 I prolonged my daughter’s life by donating a kidney to her.
That was nine years ago today.
In the 3,285 days that have passed since that morning at Children’s Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin I have watched the toughest person I know go thru tests, drugs, doctors and pain with nary a complaint. No questions of “why did this happen to me?” She is proud to show off the long scar that runs down the right flank of her body when the doctors took my really big kidney and put it in her small body. She has slowly become one with the organ that gave her a new life and I have not missed one day in nine years spending a least a few minutes in gratitude for the miracle. Amanda will soon be 23 and if she takes care of herself odds are that kidney will last the rest of her life.
There is a list that you are placed on when in need of an organ, upwards of 100,000 names are on that list waiting for a kidney or a heart or lungs. Every day people die waiting in line because for the most part we have not accepted our own mortality and the thought of becoming an organ donor means admitting that someday we will die. That list could be reduced greatly by simply signing a donor card in your state. Humans, greedy as we are seem to want to keep everything to ourselves even if we can’t use it anymore even our organs. Sorry to break the news to you-but none of us lives forever-but- we can live on in another by simply being tough enough to sign a donor card.
I did what any father would do and if I could grow kidney’s inside of me and hand them out as Christmas gifts every year I would. I remember the families in Madison that had been on the waiting list for years knowing that someone had to die in order for their son or daughter to live. More and more “angel donors” are popping up, people that are not related to the person in need but feel moved to give a part of themselves, be it a kidney or liver to help a stranger in some cases survive. Giving in such a way might just be the most Divine act any human gets to experience outside of the birth of children.
Life changes come in ordinary moments, when you least expect it and not prepared for it. The lessons that come with those changes are not something you can study for prior to the event, they are learned as a result of enduring through a change. I don’t see Amanda every day like I did when she was little. She has her own life now, working and in college, living six hours away and thriving. Those times when I do see her on my routine stops her eyes shine and her smile lights me up and I see a beautiful, talented and amazing young woman with a 53 year old kidney inside her helping her to live her dreams.
It’s been 3,285 days. Be an organ donor.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The People's Court

This is all Judge Wapner's fault- and Rusty Burrell his trusted courtroom bailiff. Doug Llewelyn the on the scene reporter is to blame as well. Back in 1981 when M*A*S*H , Dallas and Magnum P.I ruled the tube some really smart producer had the idea to get a retired judge to decide small claims with a camera in the courtroom. "I know you have both been sworn in and I have read your complaint" the white haired, black robed Wapner would say and for 30 mins America had access in a pseudo-courtroom and other people's business. Matter of fact for 12 years we could peer and pry into stolen television sets, bounced checks and dogs that did their business on the neighbors lawn and Judge Wapner would dole out the justice. Too bad the concept did not die out when the show was cancelled in 1993.

The list of "Judge" shows is too long to list here but its safe to say that Judge Judy took the concept to a whole new level. Part pit bull and part Jewish grandmother on steroids this feisty troubadour of justice sliced and diced the litigants verbally like none before her. One look from JJ and grown men peed their under drawers and even her own sex was not spared with comments like "its because your a stupid woman" or "did your mom send you here to piss me off?" Once again America loved it because in a world that seems so unjust- watching someone, somewhere get their just rewards was satisfying. Too bad it did not stop there. Now judges with baseball bats and judges with beauty queen looks and judges with deep accents and judges with best selling books are splayed out making sure the scales of justice are ...uh....maintained.

Some smart producer thought "Hey lets have an entire channel dedicated to millions of people sitting around watching other peoples business!" Court TV was born! Just like any good marketing move producers know that human brains have a hard time separating what is and what is not real. Meaning that you could watch a court case unfold before your very eyes, listening to opening and closing arguments and get emotionally involved in something that...A) you had no control over and B) it did not matter what you thought either way-because you are not on the jury. Audiences ate it up....and of course the OJ trial was brought right into our homes in and we learned that sometimes gloves don't fit like they used to.

A little girl died in 2008 and it made headlines but then with the ever changing news cycle it was lost in the shuffle until some really smart producer and a no-nonsense host began telling us that we need to watch this now and that its important and that someway somehow we have a say in how it goes. Phone lines were jammed during the trial with every sort of opinion of what did or did not happen by people who only knew what they heard on TV and as we all know-that is what matters most. My guess is that some really smart producer went to some really smart sales manager and said "Look at these numbers, imagine what you can charge for a 30 second commercial now!" It happens because that is what this game, in the end is all about from the media side of things. Pundits, talking heads, reporters and others all weighed in but the truth is...none of that ever mattered because 12 people had a decision to make-and even if you watched the trial from beginning to end-your voice really did not count in this...even if you felt it did. Was the young mother guilty? Will there be a movie and book? Will justice ever be done?

Every day in this country 5 children die at the hands of their parents or caregivers from abuse of some sort. That is 1,825 every year and a majority of these might make the third page of the paper and then is forgotten. Why did the Caylee Anthony case become so viral? Why do we know the names of people that most likely will never be a part of our lives? What is so interesting that viewers would watch hours of boring detailed testimony without any chance of weighing in on the decision? Because the media powers that be have us hooked in deep and they know it. My guess is that in a month from now-there will be a new tragic story or sensational courtroom drama that plays out and once again the blond bombshell host and the usual cast of characters will pick it apart. I predict a new round of outrage be it politician or celebrity, missing child or corporate greed and we will lap it up like hungry hounds, just like we have been trained to do.

The death of a child should never become a media circus, but that is what we said we will watch starting in 1981 when other people's business became our business. The purpose of this blog is to reach for Higher Ground and my only thought in that direction is to take the time that might be spent on watching other people's problems, no matter how enticing and engaging, and become a Big Brother or Big Sister. Go visit the elderly and read to them. Volunteer your time at a shelter for abused women or children. You can be around people that need some light in their lives, some justice to be done on their behalf and you won't have to be sworn in to make a real difference and change a life that has been forgotten, abused or mistreated.