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Notes on a transplant

On our first night home he gets up five times to pee. 'Hallelujah,' I call sleepily

Six years ago I started asking people to show me their scars. One mid-winter, Tony showed his zipped-up ribs. Then Pauline; a diagonal crease across her front. Mary-Jane; a new lavender line over coffee in a restaurant. A kidney; their spare, donated for a daughter, a son, a husband.

It took some doing. There were cigarettes to give up, wine and spirits to cut, kilojoules to burn, and months of testing before they were accepted.

My sources endlessly repeated their stories on request until the final question, "Pauline, what will I feel when I wake up?" Her jade irises flashed, "you will feel shit. But there's morphine and these days there's no need to feel pain."

The jacarandas revive exam time memories the day we go in. Our daughter at the wheel of my mum-mobile, our four kids 16 to 25 braving the knowledge that mum and dad will soon be out for the count.

At 7.30 the kids and I have a group hug and they go to their dad. I went to pre-op checks; height and weight and blood pressure. Then on to a bed with my unfinished book, along a glass corridor, between trees and sky, into a small room with my back to the main action. I meditate on the last visions held in my mind's eye and hold the kid's hug until cheery staff interrupt, and someone apologises to someone else for missing a vein in my right hand.

Warily I say, 'It's my right kidney I'm having removed. Can I mark it?' Someone hands me a purple pen and I make an X on my stomach and scrawl R. I don't care about the size of the scar now. I want enough vein and artery taken so it can easily be reconnected to my much larger husband. The last I remember the surgeon is stuck in traffic and the anaesthetist asks if a phial of milky liquid looks familiar.

Waking up I see their faces all at once, 'my darlings, I'm fine'. Down the corridor dad's kidney is working well, 'that's fantastic'. And dinner; plastic tubs of chicken soup, orange juice and red jelly will never, ever taste as good again. Awake all night I thrill to updates longing to see for myself.

He stays longer until finally on our first night home he gets up five times to pee. ¬ĎHallelujah,' I call sleepily, unlikely jubilation for any other middle-aged couple.

Nicky Burton