by Matthew Probus
My brother Mike was born with one kidney. And it wasn't a very good one at that. To make matters worse, it was "positioned wrong," which prevented it from "draining" (or something like that). Anyway, it finally wore out. Just over a week ago, with his kidney function between 7-9%, he had transplant surgery. Right on time, I'd say. Certainly from Mike's perspective.
One more thing—I was Mike's living kidney donor.
A few days before the surgery, as my wife and I walked along the trails by our house, she asked, “Would you give your kidney to anyone else?” Best question I'd been asked since I began this journey six months ago—a journey that consisted of type matching tests and various medical procedures and examinations that looked into every crevice of my body and mind. When I would tell people about the upcoming surgery, their most common reaction was to tell me how brave I was, how wonderful it was of me to give, or how lucky Mike was to have me. I felt strangely uncomfortable with these compliments, and until my wife asked me that question, I hadn't really been able to place why.
The compliments, although flattering as hell, focused on the wrong side of the equation. Me. That I'm somehow special. That I'm brave. That Mike is lucky to have me. If you've been thinking just that as you read this, don't worry; it's a natural response. And one I am glad to hear, by the way. After all, humans I love to feel special. But from my perspective, my decision to give Mike my kidney wasn't brave at all. I was pretty scared, and in the recesses of my mind I wished one of the tests would rule me out! How’s that for honesty?
I suppose Mike is lucky I was a match and that I said yes, but I feel like I'm the one who's lucky and Mike is the one who's special. You see, the question isn't what must I be like to offer up my kidney. The question is what must Mike be like to have me offer it to him.
My brother Mike is and has always been a perfect big brother. We are just over a year apart in age. We not only grew up together, we were best friends. We shared a bedroom for our entire childhood lives until he left for college. Mike always looked out for me. He took heat for me. He stood up for me in ways I dare not reveal. Mike showed me by his actions how to search for and find virtue and more importantly, how to stand by it.
Growing up I was able to watch Mike fall off a bike before I had to get on one. I watched him learn to drive before I had to get behind the wheel. I saw him go off to college before I had to leave home. He paved my way.
We have seen each other hurt, we have seen each other cry. And we have laughed until we cried together. As kids and teens lying in our beds at night, we would talk about our day, our friends, our hopes, and our fears until we fell asleep. I held Mike’s first child before most anyone else. Mike lent me money when I was a broke kid fresh out of law school. Mike and I shared the pain of watching our father die. Mike is kind, gentle, and caring. I've never heard Mike raise his voice in anger. Mike cares for people. He always tries to do good. He loves his wife and children with all his heart. He has beliefs he holds fast to and is honest without fail. In short, throughout my life Mike has shown me strength and given me love that can never be forgotten and cannot be repaid.
Except with a gift like a kidney.
So when I got “the ask” from Mike’s wife (Mike was, I suspect, too humble to ask for himself), I didn't hesitate to get tested. This was a person who deserved my kidney. A person who deserved to live a bit longer and enjoy a good life. A person who has earned it in his life with me. Every step of the journey was uncertain and frightening, but not once did I question my decision to give. That is how special my brother Mike is to me.
If you’re reading this, I hope that you will take stock of how you're living your life. Are you treating each day like the next one isn’t promised? Like you might need a kidney one day? Are you like my brother Mike, living in a way that strives to inspire and touch the people in your life so deeply that they would offer you their kidney without question or reservation? I think that is the standard of measuring a “good life," and since the surgery, I've been living each day with that in mind.
Matt Probus is a husband, father, lawyer, cook, cyclist, and poet. He doesn't even miss his left kidney. Visit him at poetryonsite.wordpress.com