I stood over her calm and resting frame on a hospital bed in one of the ICU rooms at Alexandria Hospital. The room was deathly silent, save for the slow and steady beeping sounds of the EKG, beeps that sounded in tune with each heart beat, each breathing in and breathing out. It had been nearly 36 hours since the transplant operation ended and my inner senses kept beckoning on her for reasons I still could not fathom. She looked so pale in her bronzed skin, yet so beautiful and at peace with herself, her lips dry and slightly parted as the oxygen nozzle aided her breathing. Her hair, thick and full, was braided into French braids that draped over her shoulders. Her long and curved lashes firmly strapped over her eyes. The thin, light scar running across her forehead the result of a previous minor operation. In all, I’d never seen anyone look this peaceful, but it was only because that was what she needed. Peace. Rest. Strong health.
She was my first major breakthrough in my fairly young medical profession as a surgical nephrologist, my first successful attempt at a kidney transplant and firsts are always never forgotten. I’d known her for only a month since the time she was brought here but I couldn’t categorically explain why I let myself drawn to her, by her. It was probably because her case seemed critically hopeless and irredeemable at first, or maybe because she was a Nigerian from the Igbo tribe – something I could easily relate to since my mother also shared the same heritage – but it was more likely because my inner thoughts cajoled me to peek further into a world of innocence ladden with pain and suffering. I smiled as I rolled her name out in my mind. Kelechi Krystal Mbanefo. A 25 year old young and ambitious lady who had just begun an MBA program at Lethbridge University, she had only spent the first four weeks of the fall semester before her tragic situation sprung up. I couldn’t quite erase everything in her case file from my mind because I’d spent four agonizing, sleepless weeks studying her case, desperate to give her another chance, another solution as she was desperate enough to cling on to the very recesses of hope. I particularly liked that she was a mixture of beauty and brains, for with the current state of the Nigerian education system, you’d have to be darn well lucky enough to graduate with honours from Ibadan. She was quite the fierce fighter, born with one abnormal kidney which was taken out at the age of 12 and she’d been surviving with the other up until recently when she had to fight with her body in order to stay alive. She’d been fighting with her system almost all her life and she’d won the battle. A determined conqueror she was.
I could recall when emergency paramedics brought her in on a stretcher, cold in a swim suit, eyes bloodshot, half dead and scared, struggling to breathe through an oxygen mask on Labour Day. I’d just completed my evening ward round at the Renal Unit and was about to go home when I caught sight of her and immediately sprung into action. It was her first time in Edmonton and her aunt decided to take her sight seeing at the famous West Edmonton Mall. She’d actually decided to take a dive at the beach side area of the mall when she collapsed in the water and nearly drowned. Sure enough, I’d succeeded in resuscitating her, but it wasn’t long enough before I found out that the one surviving kidney was at risk of failure and needed an urgent transplant. She’d have had to be a quintessential example of what it meant to be lucky, for there was an organ replacement that matched hers readily available in the following week. Most people with kidney issues never lived to tell a sordid tale, at least 70% of them.
It took only but 12 anxious hours in the theatre, cutting and dissecting her lower abdomen, taking out the old and bringing in the new. It was okay that the CMD of my unit presided over the operation – as he did with all other surgical operations – but it was somewhat nerve-cracking that he let me be in charge while he relegated himself to supervision. Mistakes weren’t to be tolerated. I needed my job while she needed her life, a balance of which rested in my oars. Twelve hours of pulling muscles together and I was through, job and life safely balanced. I still couldn’t sleep after the transplant because she plagued my mind like a virus, eating away at my thoughts. I let my usual coffee caress and warm up my numbing thoughts but that didn’t really come to fruition. I wanted to see those eyes terribly, I wanted them out of the darkness and into the light.
There I was, standing before her in the last two hours, watching and monitoring, thinking and waiting for that moment that never seemed to come forth even after setting up a mind connection. She would not be disturbed until she deemed it fit herself. I became tired and hell, I needed some good dose of sleep myself. I sighed heavily through my nose mask and turned away from her toward the door, making up my mind to cancel all calls and go home to my bed. I’d just begun to leave when I felt something warm and soft clutch my little finger. Instinctively, I turned around to find her right finger gradually curling up on mine until all her fingers locked into mine. I looked up at her to see her blinking and twitching her eyes, adjusting them to the present settings. She slowly turned to look at me, her face awash with confusion, then nervousness and finally, fear. I pulled down my nose mask for her to see my full face. Her face was expressionless this time. I felt that tidal wave of self consciousness nearly consume me while she stared at me, from my head which was covered in a cap, to my facial features and down to the name tag on the breast pocket of my coat. And then her lips curled up into a smile, a smile that now fully understood the mind connections, which at that moment became the highest point of my first ever transplant operation.
“I’m alive,” she whispered in her mind.
“It’s Thanksgiving Day. You’re awake!” I whispered back. The mind connection was electrifying, no words spoken out….
The alarm began ringing just as my phone rang, interrupting my very carefully planned dream. It was Remembrance Day. I did not want to wake up to present day at 9am, I just wanted to remain revelling in my private dream, without any interruptions. Carefully opening my groggy eyes, I tried to silence both alarm and phone at once but ended up pushing the alarm to the floor and cutting off my smart phone. The silence that came in the next half minute was enough to make my groggy self drift away again before the phone rang the second time. Darn it! I’m off duty today, I grumbled to myself as I reluctantly picked up my phone and made a feeble attempt at sitting up.
“Hi! Good morning!” A soft, subtle but vibrant female voice spoke on the other end of the line. Itaroused my senses this time and jolted me to an upright position. Just when I thought my life couldn’t get any weirder as a doctor, that was when a female stranger would decide to call me at 9.04 am on a public holiday. I looked at my phone for a split second and after assessing it as an unsaved number, put it back to my ear.
“Huh-llooo? Are you there? Am I speaking with Dr. Micheal Harris?” The voice seemed to filter in, joggling me back to the present again.
“Yes. This is he.”
“Eerrm…. I hope this isn’t a bad time? I was told you’d be off duty so I decided to try my luck again, seeing that you’re quite hard to reach.”
“How can I help you?”
She laughed. An excited rumbling sound that gunned me down like a toddler gunned down by a mother’s love.
“Actually, I kind of sensed you’re just waking up. Maybe I could help you since you’re off today. When I got discharged from Alexandria I tried so much at contacting you whilst still recuperating but it was fruitless. I was wondering if I could have lunch or coffee with you or at least get a chance to see you and thank you for saving my life…”
“Don’t thank me, thank God. I was just a mere vessel,” the words flew out of my mouth before I had a chance to process them. I didn’t mean to interrupt her speech.
“Oh sure! That’s certain.” She laughed again, a nervous one this time. It took a while for me to get hold of myself.
“Who am I even speaking with?” A mixture of confusion, surprise and irritation playing host within me.
“It’s Kay,” she said after a long pause. “Kelechi Mbanefo.”