Monday, September 21, 2020

Stumbling Blocks

[This is a difficult topic to write about... and it may cause offense to some]


One of the most significant stumbling blocks standing in the path of someone who is toying with the idea of becoming more religiously observant (or an observant Jew who who lacks an observant up-bringing/education), is embarrassment. Or more correctly, the fear of embarrassment.

You see, when viewed from the outside (i.e. from a Ba’al T’shuvah-eye view), religious communities and their intricate customs and institutions look like a huge minefield filled with endless opportunities to humiliate oneself.

On one of my first trips to a synagogue after my decision to becoming more observant, I was offered an ‘honor’ during the service… which I quickly declined. The following joke perfectly sums up why:

A non-observant Jew walked into a synagogue one Shabbat morning and timidly took a seat near the back. His intention was to watch the goings on without drawing attention to himself. But to his chagrine, the Gabbai (the person coordinating the service), noticed him sitting by himself and walked over to say hello.

“Shalom alechem” said the Gabbai by way of a greeting. “Are you a Cohen or a Levi?” Without a hint of irony, the newcomer shook his head and said, “No, I’m a Lebowitz. Dave Lebowitz.”

Instantly understanding that the newcomer was not familiar with the workings of a synagogue, the Gabbai gracefully ignored the small gaff and said, “Nice to meet you Dave. I’m Avi. We’d like to honor you with taking out the Torah in a few minutes.”

Dave looked thunderstruck. His big plan to sit inconspicuously in the back was quickly going down the drain, so he decided that the best strategy was to level with the Gabbai.

“Look”, he said, “I’m not religious and I have no idea what goes on in a synagogue. I appreciate the offer but I’d really rather just sit and watch this time around.”

Seeing a good deed in his sights, the Gabbai pressed on; “Don’t be silly, there’s nothing to it. I’ll explain everything you have to do. In fact, I’ll be right next to you the whole time so you can’t go wrong.”

Still seeing hesitation in Dave’s eyes, the Gabbai decided that a full explanation might be best.

“Here’s what will happen,” he began. “In a few minutes I’ll signal to you and we’ll walk up to the front of the synagogue together. We’ll climb the stairs and go stand by those velvet curtains. I’ll stay up there the whole time and I’ll show you exactly where to stand. When I nod to you, you’ll pull on the draw string that opens the curtains. Then I’ll point to one of the Torahs inside the ark. Whichever one I indicate will be the one you’ll need to pick up and hand to the guy who’s leading the service. Then you’ll go back inside the ark and see a bunch of silver ornaments. You’ll pick up the silver crown I’ll point out to you, put it on, then go back and close the curtains with the drawstring and then, when everyone else is following the Torah up to the reader’s table, you can go back to your seat. Later in the service when it’s time to put the Torah back, I’ll signal to you again and we’ll do the whole thing again, except in reverse order. Now that doesn’t sound so hard does it?”

Dave though about it for a moment and, despite his fear of committing some sort of inadvertent sacrilege, he reluctantly accepted the Gabbai’s offer.

A few minutes later the Gabbai caught Dave’s eye and motioned for him to make his way up to the front of the shul. He walked up on wooden legs and waited for the Gabbai’s next cue.

As promised, the Gabbai joined him next to the Ark and gave him a subtle nudge towards the spot where he’d be better able to reach the curtain’s drawstring. When the time came, the Gabbai nodded to Dave and watched approvingly as the curtains parted at just the right moment.

A few more moments passed while the congregation sang, during which the Gabbai took the opportunity to catch Dave’s eye and point out one of the seven sifrei Torah; a large one dressed in a deep maroon mantle. On cue, Dave walked up to the indicated Torah, lifted it into his arms and made a smooth hand-off to the Ba’al Tefilah who, by then, was waiting next to him.

The Gabbai again caught Dave’s expectant glance and jutted his chin towards an ornate silver crown that was sitting on a velvet cushion inside the curtains.

“I told you there was nothing to it” he whispered to Dave. And with that the Gabbai turned to make sure the other Gabai’im had cleared off the reading table in preparation for receiving the Torah.

Just then he heard the sound of muffled laughter coming from the congregation and turned around just in time to see Dave – who was following his instructions to the letter – trying to put the Torah’s ornate silver crown on his own head.

Now as improbable as the scenario in that joke may sound to someone who has grown up in an observant community, it is perhaps the perfect example of the kind of nightmares that keep countless not-yet-observant Jews from walking into synagogues and taking those first tentative steps towards ritual observance.

I can tell you from personal experience that reading Hebrew and knowing the songs are the least of a newcomer’s worries. Rather, knowing where and how to stand… when to bow… when to turn around… and even something as simple as when to say ‘Amen‘, are the things over which a novice is likely to lose sleep.

Obviously anyone who visits a synagogue more than a few times will have no trouble picking up the basics… and a gentle nudge from an understanding Gabbai or friend will often do wonders to bolster someone’s confidence. But at every stage of a ba’al tshuvah’s journey through life, there seem to be ever-new pitfalls and fresh ways to feel like an idiot.

For example, I clearly recall showing up in shul on a Shabbat morning during one memorable Sukkot with my Lulav and Etrog… only to note with horror that nobody else had brought theirs. On another occasion I came to synagogue on the morning of Tisha B’Av and had almost completed putting on my T’fillin before I noticed that nobody else was wearing theirs. On yet another Tisha B’Av, I unwittingly accepted a Gabbai’s offer of the last aliyah to the Torah during the afternoon service… not realizing that this also required me to chant the Haftarah for the day (a friend graciously helped me through the blessings and then bailed me out by performing the required reading).

On one particularly cringe-worthy occasion, I remember being invited to sit next to the Rabbi on Shabbat morning in a small synagogue in California. I was so intent on not making any mistakes that I accidentally recited the weekday Shmoneh Esreh – complete with chest pounding ‘Slach Lanu…“.

It is now almost four decades since I started down the path towards religious observance… and I still see people  - [mostly] unwittingly placing stumbling blocks before their fellow Jews.  The following story shows that even well-educated Jews who have been observant all their lives can be pushed out and shamed by thoughtless people:

There is a young man in his mid twenties to whom I'm closely related, who grew up in an observant community and had the benefit of an excellent Jewish education.  But he had always marched to the beat of his own drummer, and in his late teens entered a period where he struggled to find a balance between his deep spiritual connection to Judaism, and his lack of enthusiasm for organized ritual and prayer.

In spite of his dislike for synagogue services, he continued to come with me every week for Shabbat services because he liked sitting next to me, and knew it meant the world to me to be able to share that precious time together.  

One week as we walked towards our seats in the synagogue, someone we passed took a look at his jeans, sandals and t-shirt and asked this spiritual young man disdainfully, "That's how you come to shul?"

Without a word, he turned around and walked out of the synagogue... and has not been back since.  Because of the insensitivity of one person, a tenuous thread was severed, leaving a gaping hole in two people's lives.

So, if you've gotten this far, please look carefully at the people around you in your community; the stranger as well as the people you think you know well  There are people who are feeling unsure of themselves, shaky in their ritual knowledge, unsure of their place/value in the community, and perhaps struggling to define their relationship with their creator.

You may think you are a good, observant Jew... a pillar of your community and stalwart supporter of daily communal life.  But I assure you, if anything I've written above seems unlikely, implausible or unrealistic to you, you have almost certainly turned someone away... perhaps forever.  

The hedonistic, secular world out there welcomes people without judgement and without conditions.  It is our obligation to be at least as accepting, and to ensure we place as few stumbling blocks before our precious people as humanly possible.

Posted by David Bogner on September 21, 2020 | Permalink | Comments (6)

Monday, August 31, 2020

Listening to Movies

Apple Music has given me the opportunity to set the mood for my hour (each way), commute to suite my mood.  But sometimes I'm just not in the mood for music.  So I listen to movies.

Obviously action movies and such don't work because of the explosion and blaring 'adventure' music.  No, to be a good movie to listen to, it has to meet two basic criteria:

  1. I have to have seen it often enough to know exactly what's going on in every scene.
  2. It has to have great dialogue (think 'Casablanca')

Perhaps no movie meets these criteria (for me), better than 'When Harry Met Sally'.  Nora Ephron's incredible screenplay and Rob Reiner's masterful directing paint mind pictures that are just as enjoyable with the screen off.

The film takes place exactly during the era when I was dating, and is set in New York City (where I lived when I was single, dated, and ultimately met my wife).  The background music is excellent without being intrusive, and the there are layers of intended and unintended meaning in every second of every scene that reveal themselves with each subsequent viewing (or listening).

This morning, as I drove to work, I was struck by so many random things.  So, I guess one additional criteria is that to be good for listening, a movie has to be able to conjure personal memories and reference cultural touchstones from one's life. 

Here are a few:

The double date (when H & S try to fix each other up but end up inadvertently introducing their best friends to one another):  Dating was a memorable part of my single life back in the day... but there was only one double date (that I can recall, at least).  And the woman who arranged that double date; she was dating a college buddy and she set me up with a close friend (it was sooo not the right fit), is married to someone else, and they are some of our oldest friends all these years later.  I think double dates are hopeless.  They're like regular folks trying to do gymnastics; doomed to failure but ultimately memorable.

The whole 'men and women can't be friends thing: Back in  my 20s I would have agreed with Harry;  Men and women can't be friends because the whole sex thing (or at least the potential for it), gets in the way.  But looking back, I remained good friends with most of the people I went out with AFTER we stopped dating... so the romantic interest was no longer part of the equation.  So I'd like to offer an amendment to the earlier rule:  Single men and women CAN be just friends, so long as they were previously something more.

Even Jewish people get nostalgic for Christmas.  Christmas in New York City is a rich secular tradition, not just a religious event.  I don;t care if you are a religious Jew, Hindu, Buddhist or Muslim... I'm convinced that anyone who lived/worked in Manhattan during a formative time in their life, tears up (at least secretly), when Christmas music or seasonal references pop up in later years.  

I could go on, but I guess the real point is that I highly recommend listing to your favorite movies the next time you have a long solo drive.  Trust me... it offers a new level of appreciation you could have never imagined.

Posted by David Bogner on August 31, 2020 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, July 27, 2020

It's Time To Bake!

As in years past, this week, in preparation for Shabbat Nachamu, you can once again sign up to participate in the Challah Bake International.


To sign up, click here.

Happy Baking!

Posted by David Bogner on July 27, 2020 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

The Ultimate Downer of a Wedding Speech

A few years ago I was asked to speak at a wedding-weekend dinner hosted by the groom's family.

In my life, I'd suffered (and slept), through countless rose-colored wedding speeches that if used in an advertisement, would be defined as 'bait-and-switch'.  We married folks have a bad habit of gilding the lily, and IMHO, we do our single friends and children a disservice with our deceptions.

The reason it came to mind now is that the groom (who is still married and now has a beautiful son), reached out to me asking for a copy of the speech.  It turns out his younger brother is getting married soon, and he wants to give his little bro a copy.  He said it was the best advice he received regarding married life.

You can decide for yourselves if I did right or wrong:


Most people in my position, if asked to share a few words over a wedding weekend Shabbat meal, would probably offer the kind of speech that is long on blessings for a long, happy life of married bliss… and short on specifics on how to achieve that, or what to do when the real world intervenes and things don’t turn out exactly the way you envisioned them.

I think we can all agree that I’m not like ‘most people’.

So, when I sat down to write these remarks, I had a choice of going in one of two directions.  Happy and fluffy… or honest and a little dark.   I decided on the practical, honest one… even if it may not be as up-beat as one would expect at an aufruf.

To start with, who am I to offer any advice.?  After all, I’m not the groom's father and I’m too old to really be called a friend.  So what right do I have to offer advice?

There’s a term in English for someone who offers frank, harsh, or severe advice in order to educate, encourage, or admonish someone.  Such a person is called a ‘Dutch Uncle’.

I’ve never been able to pin down exactly what my relationship to the groom is.  But I’ve known him since he was born, and he lived in my home for nearly 4 years while he served in the IDF, so I think that ‘Dutch Uncle’ probably best describes not only my relationship to him… but also my responsibility to him. 

[looking at the groom] I can never approach the closeness of your relationship with your parents and family.  And I’m a whole generation removed from being one of your buddies.  So yeah… ‘Dutch Uncle’ feels about right.  I feel like that title gives me the right, and even the responsibility, to tell you some of the important truths I’ve learned over the past 25+ years of marriage. These truths may sound strange to you today.  But some day, if you are doing things right, they’ll start to make sense.

The one thing that seems to cause the most trouble for newly married couples can be summed up in one word:


The best illustration of this is an old joke about the difference between men and women that goes like this:

Men Marry Women with the Hope They Will Never Change. Women Marry Men with the Hope They Will Change.  Both end up disappointed.”

As with most jokes, at its core is a tiny kernel of truth… or at least a half-truth.

The full truth is that both men and women change throughout their lives, and neither really expects it.  And while I don’t have any scientific studies to support me on this, it seems to me that many of the marriages that don’t last contain at least one person who wasn’t able to accept or adapt to changes in their partner or themselves.

I recently read a compelling article in the New York Times by a middle-aged married person like myself, named Ada Calhoun.  It was entitled “To Stay Married, Embrace Change” (for those who are interested in a good read, it was in the ‘Style’ section on April 21st 2017)

The article starts out with the following statement that caught my attention right away:

A couple of years ago, it seemed as if everyone I knew was on the verge of divorce”.

That statement really resonated with me for the simple reason that Zahava and I have said the exact same thing to each other more than once over the years.

The author goes on to quote some of her friends whose marriages were in deep trouble:

He’s not the man I married,” one friend told me.

“She didn’t change, and I did,” said another.

And then there was the no-fault version: “We grew apart.”

The common denominator that shook the foundations of each of these marriages was ‘change’.  Or more correctly, the inability or unwillingness of one or both partners in the marriage to accept or adapt to change.

But if you look at all of the married people you know in your life, not one of them is the same person they were when they stood under the chuppah.  That means that, not only did they change… but they both adapted to and accepted the changes.

If you’ll indulge me one more quote from the article, I think it reinforces this point:

“Sometimes people feel betrayed by…change. They fell in love with one person, and when that person doesn’t seem familiar anymore, they decide he or she violated the marriage contract. I have begun to wonder if perhaps the problem isn’t change itself but our susceptibility to what has been called the “end of history” illusion:  “Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished…”

The reason I’ve shared all this with you (and your soon-to-be wife if you decide to show it to her), is that if you don’t remember anything else I say to you for the rest of your life… please remember this one thing:  that as long as you are alive, neither of you are finished, or fully formed.  You are both works in progress and you are both going to continuously change; mentally, physically and emotionally.

Another thing that bears mentioning is that it may be ambitious, and even noble, to try to model your marriage after some of the happier marriages you see around you.  But the truth is you can never know everything that goes on behind the closed doors of those you know and admire.

We put on our best faces for the rest of the world.  But nobody outside your immediate family really knows what your life is truly like.

I’m not telling you all this to scare you.  I just don’t want you to be too hard on yourselves if your married life doesn’t seem to measure up to the marriages of others.

I don’t want you to go into this thing thinking your parents or my wife and and I... or any married couple you may know, have some magical gift or secret recipe for our marriages' longevity.  We don’t. It takes constant work.  Hard work!  And the easier someone’s married life looks, the harder they are probably working at it.

Don’t get me wrong… marriage is great; perhaps the greatest thing of all!  But what makes it great isn’t that it is always good, or always easy or even always happy.  On any given day of being married it can also be hard, challenging or even frightening.

And one of the most frightening things that you will discover is that you are going to fight; …at first, a lot.  And I promise you that your fights are all going to be about one of the following three things: 

~ Money, Family or Sex ~ 

Seriously, if you are married 90 years, nearly every argument you’ll have will be connected - at least tangentially - to at least one of those things.

And like I said, arguing can be scary, for the simple reason that we all tend to think that by fighting, it means our marriage is failing.  After all, nobody else we know who is happily married seems to be fighting!  Guess what?  They are.  

It took me a long time to figure out that our arguments were simply an indication that something or someone in the relationship had changed… and that it caught one or both of us by surprise. 

As humans, we’re hard-wired to notice change… and to be alarmed by it.  From a survival and evolutionary standpoint, change has always been the doorway to the unknown, and the unknown is scary… and often dangerous. So it’s no wonder that change often triggers our primal fight or flight reflex!

Just remember what I said at the start of this upbeat little pep-talk:  Everyone, and everything changes over time, even though nobody expects it.  We’re never finished changing, and as much as we may try to be perfect and find perfection in others.  Perfection doesn’t exist… at least outside of Hashem.

To quote Robin Williams from the film, ‘Good Will Hunting’:

“You're not perfect, sport, and let me save you the suspense: this girl…, she's not perfect either. But the question is whether or not you're perfect for each other.”

And I’ll take that movie quote one step further by telling you that this myth of ‘bashert’ - some perfect soul mate that you are destined to marry and spend your life with - is just that; a myth. 

I’m not saying that you and your bride aren’t soul mates.  Right this minute, you may be.  But tomorrow… and the day after that, you’ll both be a little different.  And you will have to work to recognize the soul mate in each other… just as you’ll continuously have to work to be that soul mate for each other.  And while I can tell you from experience that it is totally worth the effort…it’s also really, really hard. 

And what makes it even harder is that some people are really good at making it look easy.  But don’t be fooled by appearances.  I don’t care who you are; being a grown up is hard.  Being someone’s life partner is hard.  Being a good husband or a wife is really, really hard.

Remember what I told you about never knowing what is going on behind other people’s closed doors.  What you are seeing outside your house is what people want you to see.  You are watching everyone else’s highlight film, while late at night your own blooper reel seems to be playing in an endless loop in your head. 

Keep that in mind any time you are tempted to feel like you, your spouse or your marriage isn’t measuring up.  Chances are you’re doing just fine.  You are just making unfair comparisons.

You may not be aware of this, since you’ve been busy getting ready for your wedding, but May 21st 2017 is a fairly significant date.  While you two are standing under the Chuppah on Sunday, something momentous, and a little bit sad, will be taking place not too far away.

After more than 100 years, on May 21st 2017 The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus will be giving their last performance before folding up the big top for the very last time.  It would be a shame not to find some deeper meaning in the timing.  All that excitement. .. all that magic… all those illusions… coming to an end, at the very moment in time that you two are starting out your new lives together.

What I would suggest you take from this is what I’ve been saying all along:  That what you see outside your new home together isn’t real; at least not completely real.  From where you are sitting, there is magic at work… and illusions… and excitement.  That’s what you’re meant to see.  It’s what you two will also show the world.

Don’t get me wrong; some of it will actually be real.  If you work at it, and conscientiously practice at it, maybe even a lot of it will be real.   But the love, happiness, satisfaction and respect you’ll have later on in your marriage will be completely different from the feverish, confused versions of those feelings you experienced when you first met and started dating.  And I promise you that it can be so much better.

A hint of this washed up in my email inbox a few weeks ago when a friend sent me a screen grab of a tweet someone had written about an event they had witnessed:

“My parents are wine drunk watching jeopardy and my dad just looked at my mom and said "you're my best friend" and that's all I want in life.”

That may not sound like much to you now, but as you travel down the bumpy, lonely, challenging road of life together, sharing that kind of intimate, trusting lifetime bond with another human being will make you feel like you’ve won the lottery.  It will feel like sitting in front of a roaring fire on a cold winter’s night.

Since you are a musician, and the son of a musician, I feel like I should end on a musical note, so I I’d like to close with the wisdom found in the well-loved standard ‘Paper Moon’ as it eloquently explains how everything outside the two of you isn’t really real, and you shouldn’t build your expectations for yourselves based on the illusions created by others;

“Say, it’s only a paper moon
Sailing over a cardboard sea
But it wouldn't be make-believe
If you believed in me
Yes, it's only a canvas sky
Hanging over a muslin tree
But it wouldn't be make-believe
If you believed in me
Without your love
It's a honky-tonk parade
Without your love
It's a melody played in a penny arcade
It's a Barnum and Bailey world
Just as phony as it can be
But it wouldn't be make-believe
If you believed in me”


[Postscript: At the wedding a couple of days later, I was called up as a witness as 'the Dutch uncle' of the groom.]

Posted by David Bogner on July 22, 2020 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 20, 2020

So, about that whole kidney donation thing... (Part 4)

[Read Part 1,  Part 2 and Part 3 first for context]

Now that I've shared a little bit about how I got the idea to donate a kidney, and the hoops I had to jump through to get to the point of being allowed to donate, I guess it's time to look outwards and talk a little about the reason for the entire exercise: the person who will (hopefully), wind up walking around with one of your healthy kidneys.

I'd like you to re-read the previous sentence. 

If the word 'hopefully' seems a bit out of place, I assure you it is not.  In fact, it's arguably the most important word in that sentence.  You see, there are several reasons why the person you want to get your kidney might not end up walking around with it:  The two most common reasons are blood/tissue incompatibility and unsuccessful transplant.

Mismatch:  Part of the medical screening process is a blood test to check the donor and recipient comparability.  It's actually a series of blood tests; the first being to check basic blood type compatibility, and subsequent ones (closer to the surgery) to check - and ensure - specific match between your blood and tissue and that of the intended recipient. There's an excellent discussion of the basics of blood and tissue matching for kidney donation here

If you want to donate to a relative or friend but aren't a suitable match, you can opt for what's called a Paired Donation; basically you end up donating to a stranger, while a better matched stranger donates to your intended recipient.  More about that here.  

Unsuccessful Transplant: When you make a charitable donation to an in individual or organization, you hope that your money will be used well by the intended recipient(s).  But there's no guarantee.  The organization may misuse or redirect the money, or the individual may squander the money meant to provide food or shelter, on drugs and alcohol.  

If you're considering donating a kidney, you need to make peace with the idea that the transplant may not 'take'.  Here are just a few scenarios: 

  • The surgeon may botch the procedure (not likely... but he/she is human). 
  • The recipient's body may attack the transplanted organ (despite blood and tissue compatibility). 
  • The organ itself may not function properly after transplantation. 
  • The recipient may neglect his/her anti-rejection meds, causing the organ to be damaged by the body it was intended to save.

The point is, kidney transplantation - while extremely safe, reliable and overwhelmingly successful - is not a sure thing.   

Think about this for a second:  We tell ourselves that we give our hard-earned charitable donations freely, and with no strings attached, and trust that they will be used as we intend.  But a dirty little secret that we rarely talk about is that we are secretly troubled by the possibility that our monetary gifts might be diverted, misused, or squandered. 

How much more so when giving away something you only have one of?!

I encountered an additional hurdle due to my imperfect Hebrew comprehension.

I didn't have a specific recipient in mind.  Maybe I was naive, but I honestly assumed that I had no say in who received my kidney if I didn't have a specific recipient in mind.  I've been walking around with an organ donor card in my wallet for most of my adult life, and figured that whoever was at the top of the list of people waiting for a transplant was the person who would get my organ when I was rolled into the operating room.

So, you can imagine it came as a bit of a shock when I was in the midst of my full day of medical and psychological screening and the social worker who was interviewing me started out her interview with, "It says here you don't have a specific recipient in mind.  So, tell me the criteria for who will get your kidney?"

I just sat there and stared at her across the table.  It was as though she'd been speaking Chinese.  She'd actually been speaking Hebrew, so there was a real possibility I'd misunderstood her.  I played it back in my head a few times to make sure I understood the individual words... but the sentence still made no sense. 

When I asked her to elaborate, she explained that some people gave general instructions, such as 'The recipient must be Jewish'.  Or 'the recipient must be religious'. 

When I just sat there staring at her, she went on; "Others get very specific", and tossed off a hypothetical,  'I want my recipient to be between the ages of 25 - 35, have blonde hair, blue eyes and be a non-smoker'.

She then restated her question: "Tell me the criteria for who will get your kidney?", and began tapping her pen impatiently on the notepad in front of her.

I was stunned.  I felt like I'd shown up unprepared for an important exam.  Clearly this was something a serious potential kidney donor was supposed to know... and I had no answer. 

Add to that the fact that she'd used the Hebrew grammatical imperative (a command rather than a request), so it seemed that I was required to provide an answer.  

I hedged.  I asked if I could think about my answer and follow up with her.  She scribbled furiously for a few minutes, nodded, and then moved on to the next question in the interview.  But I couldn't help feeling I'd flunked the test right there and then.

I went home and had a really troubled week.  Keep in mind,I hadn't told anyone but my wife I was considering kidney donation, at this point.  And I really didn't want to admit to her that I hadn't given any thought to a critical aspect of the process.

Night after night I lay awake troubled by the weight of the decision.  I couldn't escape the fact that no matter how I phrased my criteria, I was playing God.  The moment I gave any indication of who could receive my kidney, I was also giving clear instructions that others could not receive it.  

I was horrified by the responsibility of having the power of life and death over another human being.

When I went back to the hospital the following week to do a medical test that I hadn't had time for the previous week, and to drop off some follow-up paperwork from my family doctor, I asked to speak with the social worker again. 

When we were seated in her office, I blurted out that I wasn't sure I could go through with it.  I must have looked a wreck after a week of insomnia and a good cry on the drive to the hospital, but she pretended not to notice and simply sat with her pen poised over the legal pad, ready to write.

I told here that if I was required to provide criteria for who would receive my kidney that I couldn't go through with it.  I said that I really, really wanted to donate a kidney, but not if it meant sentencing anyone outside my donation criteria to a slow death on dialysis.  When I finished, I started to gather my things to leave.

I must have looked ridiculous with my red eyes and dramatic pronouncement.  But it was like a huge weight had been lifted off my chest.  For the first time in a week I felt like I could draw a proper breath.  I was disappointed to not be able to go forward with the donation, but I really didn't want to be the one to decide who lives and who dies.

Her reaction was a bit unexpected:  She started to laugh.

For the record, it's hard to feel a sense of closure when the social worker isn't taking you seriously after you've one of the most difficult divisions of your adult life.

She explained that I wasn't required to provide criteria... it was just a standard question since many potential donors preferred to have some control over where their organ went.  But many people opted not to provide any criteria; in fact some preferred not to know who was getting the organ!

She gently explained that I wasn't obligated to provide any guidance on who the recipient would be. She went on, that many people don't want to know who the recipient is until after the surgery is a success.  And others didn't want to know even then.

Hebrew is a simple language in many ways, but to a non-native speaker, it can be tricky sometimes.  Note to self:  The use of the imperative does not preclude options.

So, I told her to write down that I preferred not to have any say over who got my kidney (assuming I would pass all the medical and psychological testing, and be approved as a donor).  The transplant team, I felt, would be in a much better position to weigh the two most important factors I could think of: who would be the best match for my kidney... and who needed it most.

I slept like a baby that night.

Stay tuned for the next installment which will provide a short overview of the transplant surgery and the recovery period... and meeting my recipient. 

As always, if you want to be informed of new posts here, follow me on twitter @treppenwitz



Posted by David Bogner on July 20, 2020 | Permalink | Comments (3)

Sunday, July 12, 2020

A Cautionary Tale In Three Pictures




Quod Erat Demonstrandum

Posted by David Bogner on July 12, 2020 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 10, 2020

Photo Friday

Okay, boys and girls (not that I'm suggesting gender is a fixed binary structure...), it's that time again.

Just click on the thumbnail to view the full size image:

As always, if you'd like to be notified when new posts are up, please follow me on twitter @treppenwitz

Posted by David Bogner on July 10, 2020 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

The Sound of a Bee in a Bottle

I grew up in the '60s and '70s when the advertising prowess of the '50s still held sway over people's habits and preferences.  And as a result, pretty much every waking moment of every day was filled with the sight, smell and sound of cigarettes.

Seeing people smoking and smelling the stink of cigarettes are both fairly obvious.  But do cigarettes have a sound?

Well, maybe not... but the smokers sure do. 

When I was a kid, I knew which of my parent's friends were smokers; not from seeing them smoking, but from the sound of their voices.  Especially women.   If a teacher, telephone operator or waitress had a voice that sounded like a bee in a bottle, it was a pretty sure thing that she was a smoker. 

For that matter there were many actors and singers whose voices gave away their heavy smoking habit even if they were rarely (if ever), seen in public with a cigarette.

As smoking declined in popularity in the late '70s and '80s, so did the ubiquitousness of that 'smoker's voice'. 

But for all the good those health awareness and anti-smoking campaigns did, something happened in the '90s and early '00s.  Young people started taking up the habit in staggering numbers.  And despite legislation that prohibits smoking just about anywhere in shared public spaces, I'm again hearing 'smoker's voices' just about everywhere I go.   

And the truly head-shaking part is that these voices don't belong just to middle-aged people anymore.  I'm hearing twenty-somethings who sound like they belong in a 1940s film noir.



Posted by David Bogner on July 8, 2020 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 06, 2020

So, about that whole kidney donation thing... (Part 3)

[Read Part 1 and Part 2 first for context]

If you've finished reading the two previous installments, you now have a vague understanding of what put the idea into my head.  But everyone who donates a kidney comes to the decision by a different road.  Always keep that in mind.

Today's installment is about that critical stage where thoughts are translated into actions.  And here, pretty much everyone travels the same road.  

To be clear, one doesn't go from idly thinking that kidney donation might be a neat idea, to checking into the hospital and letting the surgeons remove the organ. 

Oh my, no... that's how altruistic financial donations work.   In fact, most charities count on hooking you with a compelling pitch at an impulsive moment, so that you'll whip out your credit card before you have a chance to think about all the other things you could do with the money you're about to hand over.  After all, you can always make more money.

That is the very antithesis of the process of considering living organ donation!  You have only two kidneys, and even under ideal conditions you can only give one away.

Obviously the the organizations that manage the stream of potential kidney donors (not to mention the potential recipients), are very anxious for as many people as possible to sign up for altruistic donation.  But there are two main hurdles that must be cleared in order for the donation to go ahead: 

1. Medical

2. Psychological / ethical 

Today I'll be discussing both. 

As an aside, for many people, there is a step before this which deals with the question of who you actually want to receive your kidney.  But I'll leave that for the next chapter. 

The Medical Hurdle:

In order to be able to donate a kidney, a person must be healthy enough that the surgery to remove the organ, and the future lived (to 120!), with only one kidney, do not present unreasonable medical risks.  After all, aside from the whole 'do no harm' thing that the transplant surgeons are bound by, the math falls apart if by removing one person from the list of sick people waiting for kidneys, they end up adding someone new to the list by allowing an unsuitable candidate to go under the knife.

Not only that, but there are a bunch of medical conditions ranging from weight to cardio fitness that can influence your chances of tolerating/surviving the surgery and loss of a kidney  

The kidneys are responsible for a whole range of essential functions in the human body.  The most obvious is removing waste and excess fluid from the body.  That's why people in kidney failure are dependent on ongoing dialysis to stay alive. 

But the kidneys are also responsible for regulating blood pressure, making red blood cells, keeping bones healthy, and controlling the body's PH levels.  If your body is struggling with any of these things with two kidneys, chances are you aren't a good candidate to give one away.

[More about what kidneys do here

That means that the first thing you are going to be asked to do when you make contact with a kidney donation organization or hospital transplant center, is to go to your family doc and get a complete physical exam (including a bunch of basic blood tests).  If you're a grown-up, you should be getting an annual physical anyway, so this might be just the kick-in-the-pants you needed to get into the habit.  

Bottom line, in order to be considered seriously - from a medical standpoint - as a potential donor, you need to make sure your body can survive the surgery and carry on comfortably with only one kidney.

Once you pass that hurdle, buckle up for a long journey of self-discovery.  You are going to find out more about your physical health than most people care to know.  I personally found this process reassuring.  But others take an 'ignorance is bliss' approach to knowing what is going on under the hood. 

I would also add that it is really important to have access to one or more people who have already donated a kidney.  Hearing the perspective of a layman is incredibly helpful to sort the wheat from the chaff.  I was blessed to have several friends who had previously donated, offer insight, advice and guidance during my journey.  If you don't know someone, the hospital and/or donation organization will certainly have a list of people who have offered to have potential donors contact them.

The actual time-frame for this screening process is not set in stone.  If, G-d forbid, you have a critically ill family member waiting for your organ, that might fast-track the screening process to a couple of months or even weeks.  But for most people, you're looking at a minimum of 6-8 months of testing before you get the 'Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval' to don the backless gown and surf into an OR on a gurney.

The Psychological / Ethical Hurdles:

Once you've gotten acceptable results from your basic blood work and physical exam, you will begin a long, two-pronged, path of testing designed to establish your suitability for living organ donation.  I've already talked a bit about the medical side.  Now for the psychological and ethical side.  Even though these two criteria are mostly unrelated, I've decided to address them together since neither can be determined using blood tests or other 'hard' medical exams.

From an ethical standpoint, they are going to want to make sure you aren't being pressured, or paid, to donate a kidney.  As hard as it is to imagine, there are deals being made with the devil every day where the imbalance of wealth is leveraged to essentially extort a kidney from someone in financial need.

I'm not talking about someone waking up in a bathtub full of ice in Tijuana after being rolled in some back-alley cantina. That kind of thing may happen occasionally in the third world... but is mostly the stuff of fiction.

But if someone has a pressing financial need (say, a wedding, college tuition or an expensive medical procedure in the family), 'selling' a kidney might seem like a quick and viable solution.  Sadly, there are doctors and middle-men around the world who profit from this imbalance of organs and resources... and it is as unethical as it is dangerous.  The screening process you are about to undergo is designed to prevent even the appearance of anything of the kind.

You will also be screened several times by a psychologist and/or social worker to determine if you are mentally fit to undergo the organ donation process, as well as to make sure you aren't volunteering to give away a healthy organ for unhealthy reasons (feelings of guilt, inadequacy, desire for accolades, extreme risk-taking behavior, surgery-fetish, etc.).   They will also ask a question that caught me off-guard:  How will you feel if the transplant is unsuccessful (meaning you gave away a kidney for nothing)?  It gets kinda real when you think about such things.

Many potential donors are focused solely on the act of donating.  But they aren't prepared for the day after, and the return to normalcy (and relative obscurity), that invariably occurs weeks, months and years after they've recovered.  That's a topic for another day, but it is worth mentioning that the psychological screening is meant to force a potential donor to take a brutally hard look at what is driving the decision process, and how it might all play out before, during and especially after the kidney donation is completed.

I'll be happy to answer any specific questions about MY screening process (your mileage may vary), in the comments or private email.  But assuming you successfully pass all the screening hurdles, you will find yourself with an appointment to sit before a multi-disciplinary committee tasked with giving final approval to you as a potential donor.  At least this is how it is done in Israel... I assume most developed countries have similar approval committees in place.

The committee is made up of medical doctors, mental health workers, attorneys and a civilian advocate.  They will be given your entire file of screening tests / reports to review in advance.  Their job is to determine - objectively - if you are a suitable candidate for living kidney donation.

What does 'objectivity' have to do with anything'?  Isn't the hospital that did all the tests objective?  Aren't they staffed by physicians bound by the Hippocratic oath to 'do no harm'? 

Yes.  But they are also an interested party.  In fact they are one of many interested parties involved in the process!

Your motivations may be ethically and psychologically correct/healthy, but the fact that you want to donate a kidney makes you an interested party.

The recipient needs a new kidney.  They would never want to do anyone else harm, but the fact that they have a need colors their objectivity.  So they too, are an interested party.

Even the hospital doing the transplant is an interested party, albeit their interests are confusing and often conflicting: 

On the one hand, they genuinely want to 'do no harm'.  Add to that, they are like a baseball player whose future prospects depend heavily on maintaining good 'stats'.  A ball player needs to keep their batting average or ERA at optimal levels.  A hospital has its own set of stats by which it is ranked locally and internationally; particularly in the realm of transplant surgeries.  A hospital with a strong transplant program wants to have a statistically 'all-star' success rate (for both surgical outcomes and long-term donor and recipient health).  Accepting bad candidates means increased risks... which translate into bad 'stats'. 

On the other hand, there are far fewer potential kidney donors than there are people waiting (desperately), for viable transplant organs.  Even if everyone signed their donor cards, and every fatal accident and illness ended with two viable kidneys entering the transplant pool, cadaver kidneys don't last nearly as long as organs taken from a living donor.  The difference can be the difference between a donor kidney lasting 5-8 years in the recipient's body... and lasting 15-20 years! 

So hospitals have an interest/stake in qualifying as many living donors as possible.  I don't believe they would deliberately qualify an unsuitable candidate for kidney donation.  But I could certainly see how they might qualify a borderline candidate with rationalizations and statistics to back up their decision.

So, standing in the way of all these interested parties is this final committee whose job it is to objectively determine if the person in front of them is medically, ethically, and psychologically suited to take the fairly drastic step of allowing the removal of a healthy organ from their body.

This committee is not a rubber stamp.  They will ask hard questions, And as adversarial as they may seem during what may feel like an interrogation... they are actually the only party in the entire process that is completely uninterested.  Their interest is protecting the health and welfare of the donor, and ensuring that the entire process is transparent and adheres to international medical and ethical standards.

If / when you receive the formal approval of this committee, you are free to commit to donate your kidney and schedule the transplantation surgery with your hospital team.

But (and this is a huuuuge but), at any point up to the point when you are rolled into the OR and put under general anesthesia, you can change your mind and decide not to go through with it.  The recipient will only be told that it turned out you weren't a suitable donor, and nobody will hold it against you.  At every stage of the process it is important to keep this in mind.  At no point while you are still conscious are you committed to the point where you can't change your mind.  This harks back to the previous installment when I explained why its best not to tell too many people in advance.  Leaving yourself the ability to back out gracefully is important to decision-making process and your long-term mental health.

Stay tuned for the next installment which will deal with the issue of who actually winds up with your kidney, should you decide to give one away.

As always, if you want to be informed of new posts, follow me in twitter @treppenwitz

Posted by David Bogner on July 6, 2020 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, July 03, 2020

Photo Friday

It's that time again...

Just click on the thumbnail to view the full size image:


As always, if you want to be informed of new posts, follow me in twitter @treppenwitz

Posted by David Bogner on July 3, 2020 | Permalink | Comments (3)

Monday, June 29, 2020

So, about that whole kidney donation thing... (Part 2)

[Part 1 of this series can be found here]

Zeus was a bit of an asshole.  For a god who was supposed to be the king of all the other gods on Mount Olympus, he sure seemed to display a streak of insecurity when it came to mortals challenging his authority.   

Look what he did to Sisyphus: For the ‘crime’ of being clever and upsetting the established order of life and death, Zeus sentenced Sisyphus to repeatedly roll a huge boulder uphill, only to have it roll back down again and again. 

Or Prometheus, who pissed off Zeus by stealing fire back for humanity, and who was punished by being chained and having an eagle eat his liver every day; only to have it grow back every night.

Being the son of an educator, I grew up with Greek mythology.  So much so, that in 1st grade I didn’t find it the least bit odd that we had cats named Dido and Aeneas.    

So, how did Greek mythology influence my decision to donate a kidney?

Here’s the thing… the problem with teaching kids about mythology is that they are very literal.  They try to apply modern logic to whatever they encounter… and it usually doesn’t work.

I remember my dad explaining that mythology was basically just a bunch of made up stories to explain natural events, or to offer morality lessons about human behavior.   

I asked him about the whole ‘liver regeneration’ thing.  He told me that it wasn’t real.  It was just a story describing the most painful punishment the author could imagine.

But it bothered me.  That story seemed oddly specific, yet didn’t relate to anything the ancient Greeks would have encountered.

And even as I completed my undergraduate degree in English Literature, I kept running into endless references to mythological figures/events.  All fine and good.  Dad was right, those myth-writers were just explaining observed natural events and human inclinations. 

Except for that liver regeneration thing.  There’s no way the Greeks created the story of Prometheus’ punishment and randomly chose that specific organ!

Then, one day while I was in college, I read a news report about liver transplantation from a living donor; made possible because a liver lobe that is surgically removed will completely regenerate itself within a very short time. 


Turns out the surgical technique for safely removing (and transplanting) a lobe of a living person’s liver - knowing that it would grow back - wasn’t pioneered until the second half of the 20th century!

So, how the hell did the ancient Greeks know that the human liver could regenerate itself?! 

That question bothered me for years.  Each time I stumbled on a report of live liver transplantation (and thanks to the ‘Baader-Meinhof phenomenon’, I stumbled on it a lot!), I would read the article carefully for any mention of Prometheus or some ancient knowledge of liver regeneration.  Nada.  Zip!

The more I read about living liver donation, the more I became fascinated by the idea.  I was a habitual blood donor, and was an early adapter to signing an organ donor card (despite Judaism’s early hostility to the idea).  So the idea of saving a life by donating something that would miraculously grow back, seemed a no-brainer.

Except that the more I read about living liver lobe donation, the more I discovered that it is a fairly risky and painful surgery, and they usually only allow immediate family members to donate in order to save a loved-one’s life.

Scratch that off the list. 

Forget the fact that everyone in my family has healthy livers (tfu, tfu, tfu).  As soon as the concept went from blood donation safe/painless, to life-threateningly dangerous (with a long, painful recovery period), it lost a lot of its charm.  Apparently altruism has its limits with this boy.

But in the course of educating myself about the stark realities of liver donation, I naturally came across a bunch of articles about a parallel living organ procedure that had been practiced and perfected to the point of becoming almost routine:  Living kidney donation.

I don’t know the exact date I began idly toying with the idea of kidney donation, but it was sometime around the time that the reality of middle age began to creep into my contemplation of my own mortality.  I spent almost a decade assessing and addressing creeping health issues; losing weight, getting myself fitter and taking my blood chemistry reports seriously (for the first time), etc.. 

And once I felt I had my own health somewhat under control, I began thinking about the feasibility of repairing someone else’s health.  What do they say, "there's none so zealous as a recent convert, nor so carnal as a recent virgin'.  Once anyone gets healthy, it's somewhat inevitable that they want to make others healthy.

That's enough for one day.

Everyone who donates a kidney comes to the idea from a unique starting point.  This was the story of mine.

[The next installment will get into the nitty-gritty of the screening and decision process]

As always, to be notified of new posts, follow me on twitter @treppenwitz.

[Read Part 1,  and Part 3 ]

Posted by David Bogner on June 29, 2020 | Permalink | Comments (5)

Friday, June 26, 2020

Photo Friday

In place of the usual Friday meme dump on FB (and in light of my having been declared persona non grata there ), I've decided to try it here to see if is less disruptive for people.

Just click on the thumbnail image to view the full size image:


Posted by David Bogner on June 26, 2020 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Birthdays Are Complicated (for me)

When you're a kid, birthdays are the cat's ass; the absolute pinnacle of your existence.  You literally spend your entire year - every waking moment - either looking forward to it with eager anticipation, or looking back on it with a bitter-sweet longing that you won't recognize as nostalgia until you hit middle age.  

I'm not sure when it happened, but at some point, for me, birthdays acquired an ominous pong... like a Tupperware in a hard-to-reach corner of the fridge containing a left-over science project that was once part of a delicious, festive meal.

Anybody who sent me birthday wishes this year received the following upbeat reply from me:

Thanks for the birthday wishes. 

Birthdays seem like a silly thing to get emotional about; like Steve Martin in ‘The Jerk’, when he gets all excited about the arrival of the new phone book.

Everyone gets one.  Everyone is listed.  What’s the big deal, right?!

Except that’s not really true, is it?  A lot of people don’t get a next birthday.  The book comes out, but their name isn’t in it. 

So yeah, it *is* a big deal, and I’m deeply grateful for another year... and for my wonderful family and friends.

And I mean/meant every word of it, from the bottom of my heart.

But birthdays are complicated.  And there's such a thing as 'a lie of omission'... where the moment the words leave your lips, your cheeks glow crimson with guilty knowledge of the rest of the story you just bit down on to keep if from spilling out.  That's what I felt sending out that cheery, upbeat thank-you note.

In general terms, I think some of my problem with birthdays come from secret feelings of inadequacy or unworthiness.

Some people lose their house in a fire or get cancer in the prime of life, and as they watch helplessly as the gleaming, scheduled express train of their life jumps the tracks and goes plunging into the ravine below, they demand explanations from G-d by bleating "Why Me?... what did I do to deserve this?!"   

My wiring seems to be screwed up somehow, because each time something has gone right in my life, I've found myself standing in the shuddering wake of a car that just missed me... standing under the chuppah next to the woman of my dreams... walking around a hospital delivery room holding my perfect newborn child... surveying my new, well appointed office... a small, inner child behind my eyes bleats, "Why me?... what did I do to deserve this?!"

As the years have passed, its only gotten worse. 

Friends who did everything right; studied hard in school, made responsible life decisions, chose practical careers... got 'put out' in the cruel, seemingly random game of dodge-ball that we're all forced to play.  

I took an unusual route home from work the other day; one that took me to a cemetery where a shocking number of people I've known and loved are buried.  I parked the shiny new car that my company just gave me and walked between the dusty rows until I came to the grave of a friend who had lived a charmed, magical life.  He was the smartest, most talented person I've ever known.  Everything seemed to come easily to him, and everything he touched turned to shining gold. 

Yet there I was, sobbing next to his grave... not because I missed him (I do), but because I can't seem to come to terms with why things work out for some people, but not others.  I sat there with the line from Billy Joel's 'Allentown' running in a loop in my head, "...For the promises our teachers gave, If we worked hard, If we behaved...". 

I never really worked that hard, and often didn't behave.  Yet I'm still here... amazed and confused to still be in the game.... screaming silently with a deep, maudlin sense of inadequacy, 'why me?!', when any sane person would be looking at my wonderful life, and celebrating every moment.

Posted by David Bogner on June 25, 2020 | Permalink | Comments (8)

Tuesday, June 23, 2020


I recently read something that was, in equal parts, fascinating and scary:

"Years ago, the anthropologist Margaret Mead was asked by a student what she considered to be the first sign of civilization in a culture. The student expected Mead to talk about clay pots, tools for hunting, grinding-stones, or religious artifacts.

But no. Mead said that the first evidence of civilization was a 15,000 years old fractured femur found in an archaeological site. A femur is the longest bone in the body, linking hip to knee. In societies without the benefits of modern medicine, it takes about six weeks of rest for a fractured femur to heal. This particular bone had been broken and had healed.

Mead explained that in the animal kingdom, if you break your leg, you die. You cannot run from danger, you cannot drink or hunt for food. Wounded in this way, you are meat for your predators. No creature survives a broken leg long enough for the bone to heal. You are eaten first.

A broken femur that has healed is evidence that another person has taken time to stay with the fallen, has bound up the wound, has carried the person to safety and has tended them through recovery. A healed femur indicates that someone has helped a fellow human, rather than abandoning them to save their own life."

    [Source: Remy Blumenfeld - Forbes]

So why is this scary?  Because I couldn't help contrasting Dr. Mead's description of the rise of society, to irrefutable evidence that we as a society seem to be devolving; figuratively coming apart at the seams.

Think about it; if inconveniencing/endangering oneself for one's fellow man is a sign of society forming, what does it say about us that in the face of a serious external threat, where our best and only way to protect our fellow humans from infection, illness and potential death is to inconvenience ourselves (in a minor way), by wearing a tiny cloth or paper mask, we, as a society, are prioritizing our convenience and comfort over the safety, health and lives of our neighbors?

That long ago human's fossilized femur gave evidence of the empathy of an adjacent human.  Yet today, even as scientific evidence conclusively proves the efficacy of cloth and paper masks to lower the chance of spreading infection to low single digits (thus preventing serious illness and death), I see people walking around with no masks... or with masks slumped ineffectively below their nose (bad) or chin (the same as not wearing a mask at all).

In a society where we are finally being conditioned (in a good way), to be protective of the cultural, sexual and racial sensitivities (e.g. protecting people's feelings) of our fellow man, how has protecting their lives fallen so far out of fashion?!


[If you want to be notified of future posts here, please follow me on twitter: @treppenwitz ]

Posted by David Bogner on June 23, 2020 | Permalink | Comments (7)

Monday, June 22, 2020

So, about that whole kidney donation thing... (Part 1)

I thought about discussing the science and potential risks of being a kidney donor, but that has already been done quite nicely by the organization that shepherded me through the entire process: Matnat Chaim.  They have a Hebrew site as well, but if you follow that link... the information is pretty well organized, and will have enough for someone who is at the 'kicking the idea around' stage.

What I will do is tell the story - in installments - about my personal journey that lead to my decision to donate a kidney.  This will be 'Part 1'.

Aside from the sidelong looks/whispering (yes, I see/hear you), and the excruciatingly embarrassing compliments (which I honestly don't know how to deal with), being a kidney donor - despite how noble and selfless it may seem from the outside - can be fraught with complex personal feelings unrelated to altruism.

Although the reasons for donating a kidney are probably as numerous as there are people willing to consider it... there are a few common milestones that are likely shared by a large proportion of people who start the screening process. 

The entire process - from first toying with the strange idea of letting someone remove a perfectly good part of you, to finding yourself on the operating table - can be a journey of anywhere from a few months to several years; depending on how enthusiastically one embraces the idea. 

Some people jump into the process head-first because a close friend or relative is in urgent need of a transplant.  Others [*raises hand sheepishly*], start with the germ of an idea, and spend several years slowly working up the nerve to even begin the medical screening. 

It's probably not really relevant to anyone else why I, personally, first started thinking about kidney donation.  But I'll talk about it in a bit because it seems to be one of the first questions people ask. 

Before I get to that, though, I want to say that what is hugely important is to get 'buy in' from your spouse / partner (or immediate family if you are single), early in the process.  I'm thankful that I did, because I can honestly say that nobody, even the most supportive person, will fully understand why you want to do this. The best you can hope for is that they don't feel like they've been sandbagged at the last minute to give their okay (which means that you've been planning this for a long time without consulting with the person/people who will have to deal with the consequences if anything goes wrong).

Think about it... if you wait until you are already approved and matched with a recipient, and your husband/wife gives anything but an unconditional, enthusiastic 'yes', it is as though they are saying they're not in favor of saving an actual person's life!  That's a lot to lay on someone who is hearing the idea for the first time. 

Better to talk to them as soon as you start to think about it seriously, so they feel that they've been part of the decision-making process from the get-go.

So... how did I get to the point where I found myself, a person in very good health (it turns out!), in the operating room watching an anesthesiologist with smiling eyes lower a mask onto my nose and mouth?  How does one even begin to contemplate such a monumental decision?!

Like many difficult decisions, I opted to use the 'swimming pool' method in my deliberations over whether to donate a kidney. 

For those not familiar with it, this method is the same used in the difficult process of getting into a very cold pool.  Yes, there are always a few foolhardy souls who jump in all at once.  Most of us first test the waters by putting a toe in... then a foot.. and so on, until we either decide it's too uncomfortable (and we back out), or we find ourselves far enough into the process with manageable discomfort to justify taking the rest of the plunge.

I've described it this way, because I can honestly say that there was never an 'aha' moment when a light-bulb went on and I felt that I could walk around to the diving board and simply jump in head-first.  I always felt that I could allow myself to back out gracefully at any point; and that was crucial!

One of the key factors that allowed me the luxury of knowing I could stop (chicken out of), the process at any time was that I didn't make a big announcement to the world that I was planning on 'going swimming'.  I kept the circle of people who knew about my deliberations to an absolute minimum until I was literally at the point of booking the date for the transplant surgery. 

The reason for this should be obvious.  If you tell everyone you know that you are going to do something difficult (think skydiving or running a marathon), their expectations - and the potential for embarrassment/disappointment if you back out - now become a factor in the decision-making process.  I can't overstate the importance of not letting external expectations influence your decision in so important a decision. 

At the outset I spoke about the idea only with my wife.  Then once I was fairly well advanced in the screening process, I brought my kids and siblings into the loop. I told a few close, trusted friends shortly before the surgery date.   I didn't tell my parents until after the surgery was over and I knew there had been no complications. I didn't feel it was fair to ask them to take part in the decision.  And if I wasn't consulting them, it seemed cruel to tell them in advance and cause them undue worry.  

It wasn't until I was almost finished with the medical testing (a process that took me almost eight months to complete), that I spoke to my boss and the head of my company's HR department.  Obviously, if you are going to be taking anywhere from three-to-six weeks off from work for the transplant surgery / recovery, you are going to need the willing and active support of your employer. 

By the way, in Israel, you don't have to use sick days or vacation time for the workdays you miss due to being a kidney donor.  It is handled by the national insurance in much the same way that they handle military reserve duty.  And all the expenses associated with the medical screening are picked up by the recipient's health insurance.

I think that's enough for one installment.

I'll pick up this thread with at least two or three more installments in the coming weeks. 

I'll respond to reasonable questions in the comments section. But if they deal with things I have't written about (or fully come to terms with), I may ask for your indulgence and patience. 

I'm still working through a lot of the things you're probably curious about.  So bear with me.  I'm using this writing process to enlighten myself, as much as to inform you. 

[If you want to be notified of future posts here, please follow me on twitter: @treppenwitz ]

[Read Part 2 and Part 3 ]

Posted by David Bogner on June 22, 2020 | Permalink | Comments (9)