I wrote this essay two years ago when I had to renew my health card, and have been hiding it in the depths of my computer ever since. I finally got up the courage to show it to Bob, my partner in life and Podcasting (he co-hosts, produces, and edits A Frame Apart with me). It took another several months before I felt I could show it to anyone else.
I went to renew my drivers license today. It’s been expired for a couple of weeks now, and I just let it sit there. My health card, too. I must’ve received the notices at least 60 to 90 days ago, according to the Service Ontario message on their phone line. In this package they sent was a form that reads:
Gift of Life Consent Form
Organ and Tissue Donor Registration
I read its big, bold letters laced with its big, bold implications, and immediately think “Of course I’ll register! Huzzah!” I grab my pen, and press the heel of my palm against the page, at the ready. And nothing.
Immediately my heart starts to race. “Am I ready for this?” I panic. Am I ready to sign a piece of paper that says, in the event of my death, during which time I will no longer find use of my organs or torso or anything within or without it, you may use said things to save the lives of others who are not, as of that moment, deceased?
I guess not.
So I tuck the form away, thinking to myself that “I’ll sign it eventually … I’m just not prepared yet.”
Enter today. The day I went to renew my health card and drivers license. And the polite woman behind the counter at Service Ontario asks me ever so politely if I’d like to register as an organ and tissue donor today?
“Of course I would! That’s such a wonderful thing to do! Why wouldn’t I?!” shouts my brain with pride.
My mouth has other plans. Its plans are to sit there totally agape and windless as my brain screams at it to utter a fucking sentence.
“I don’t think I’m quite ready for that yet.” I say instead of my humanitarian plea to share my innards in the instance of my ceasing to be.
“Not a problem, dear,” she says politely, but quizzically. “You can always fill out the form we sent you, or just go online whenever you want to and fill out the application then.”
But why don’t I want to? What am I so afraid of? My aunt, my mom’s youngest sister, is a double transplant patient. Let’s call her Aunt C. In 1992 when my cousin was born, Aunt C suffered liver failure, amongst other things. Within a year, she had a liver transplant. She was told she wouldn’t live beyond a year. Or was it four? I was only four years old at the time, so it’s a pretty sizeable blur of upset adults, and minimal comprehension.
15 years later and she’s still alive. However, as an expected side effect of her anti-rejection medication for the liver, her kidneys begin to fail. Tragic irony. She very quickly finds a donor in my other aunt, my mom’s older sister, Aunt D. Mom’s the middle of three sisters, and unfortunately was not a match. Aunt D, however, was. Aunt C is still alive and kicking 24 years after having my cousin, and at least 20 years longer than anyone expected. All thanks to transplants, modern medicine, and diligence.
So I have every reason to want to donate my viscera and everything that holds it together to a myriad of humans when I shuffle off.
One organ and tissue donor can save up to 8 lives and enhance 75 others.
The form informatively informs me.
You have the right to decide whether or not to consent to the donation of your organs and tissue. Your consent is not required in order to be eligible for a Health Card.
Thanks for the reassurance, Ontario. That’s kind. But I still feel panicked. And I know why. But I don’t want to say why. Because saying why means I have to deal with it. And if I have to deal with yet another neurotic issue I may combust. Or transform into the female equivalent of Woody Allen circa 1975. I haven’t decided. But, suddenly, as I’m writing this, all I can hear in my head is Woody’s neurotic drawl. It’s very distracting.
The fact is that, as soon as I sign that paper, as soon as I say “sure, I’ll give you all that I am and all that contains me whenever I kick it” I’m admitting that I will kick it. In signing on to be an organ donor I feel like I’m admitting my mortality, a concept I always thought I understood but now realize I’ve never even remotely contemplated.
After all, I’m 28 years old. What use do I have thinking about death? I’ve contemplated suicide in the past, but it always just occurred to me that not being here would be simpler than being here. The prospect of dying never occurred to me. The thought of being killed somehow, by beast or man, accident or fate, or Rube Goldberg machine if I’m feeling whacky that day, has never truly infected me.
And now, I fear it’s all I can think about. In signing that form, I admit to my own mortality. It means I accept my universal fallibility as a living, breathing, thinking, talking, societally-engaged creature. It also means that I will then be incredibly self-aware and terrified of things falling on me for the foreseeable future. Because I can’t live simply.
Not even in good deeds.