The vocational gardeners - 27+ years as a transplant patient

A personal account of his experiences from Stephen, a transplant patient at St George's and still going strong after 27 years.

Janet watched him hack through the brambles at the bottom of her garden. With good gardening gloves for his hands she knew there would still be blood and expletives. She was right.

She cleaned and dressed the scratches on his arms with plasters, tea and biscuits restored him and for his vice an ashtray on the garden table. Phlebotomists have a code ‘Treat patients and colleagues with respect, care and thoughtfulness’.  He wasn’t her patient, he was her colleague and boss and is her friend. He was a renal transplant surgeon. His two passions were harvesting and planting kidneys and planting and harvesting Janet’s garden. Maybe he thought about transplanting like moving a seedling into a flower bed.

Mick Bewick, celebrated, unique, successful, retired renal transplant surgeon built a team of all-embracing kidney transplant professionals; harvesting, matching, operating, nursing and post-transplant specialists.  Then he moved them all from Dulwich to join St Georges distinguished Renal Transplant team and Buckland Ward.

Among Janet’s other bosses, vampires have a lot of bosses, was Head of Transplant Clinic, Sue Snowden the power behind Mick, his wife. He stuck the transplants in, she kept them working. Proof is my cadaver transplant was around 20 years old when she retired. Just had its 27th anniversary (creatinine average!), I’m now 65.

My amazing post-transplant  journey, from seedling to mature garden story, is, I’m sure, typical. We all know the beginning. The catheter’s out, the kidney works, we’re home. We give it a name (mine’s Ruth).

We go to clinic. The gardeners take our blood, bp, weight and pee. They study our results, adjust our drugs. Three times a week, once a week, maybe a biopsy or maybe two. We are so absorbed in our minute by minute existence, it’s a while before we think, ‘are we people or are we receptacles for the precious organs they put in us’. The gardeners are probing their specimens. We are their living experiments. But… they know us and I mean really know Us.

They know our family, our work, our anxieties and, what they do is they care for all of us and the all of each of us. The key to it -  their work will all go for nothing, will fail, unless we make it through to living again. Living without being overwhelmed by all the anxieties that have been our lives; renal failure, dialysis, transplantation, complications, rejection.

Our gardeners’ meticulous persistence bleeds into our beings. I trusted them and without knowing it I was living again.  My set-backs, some of them massive, only once knocked me to my knees. Hodgkins Lymphoma, for the second time. Long course chemo.

Dr Snowden said to me, her great worry was that I wouldn’t crack, wouldn’t face how bad it was. Not just because I might not do what I was told, but that when the immensity of my cancer did hit, I’d lose ‘living again’ and maybe hasten an unnecessary end.

I was referred to Ruth Pettengell who heads up my St Georges Oncology team. They worked hand in hand with my renal team. I got cured and 11 years later I’m off long term review completely.

For me, cancers, mostly skin melanomas, some other stuff too, recur but, it’s really no big worry. Just the regular checks, some treatments and away I go. I don’t need to worry because of who’s monitoring and worrying for me.

Dr McPhee, I call him Dr Constant Sanity who together with all the consultants in the whole team, always on hand right next door in Buckland. When visiting clinic it’s so good to bump into them in the corridor and say hi. They see me well, it cheers us both up. When they see me ill, they’re familiar and reassuring. The continuity is such a positive thing.

The Renal Transplant Clinic, Dr Popoola and her amazing team. Rojean calls my wife -  “Stephen missed a three monthly check-up”, then I’m in real trouble  at home. Arjay seems to have all our appointment dates in his head.  Shiva like Rojean has time for me, my wife, my family and, when, occasionally I’m in some sort of trouble, we will email, phone or race in to clinic in the middle of the busiest surgery and everyone and the omnipresent Dr Popoola have time for us. And they always do what’s needed.

We’re so spoiled to have Dr Popoola. Do you know how good she is? All the accolades, awards, bursaries and fellowships she’s received for her work? Do you know that she has achieved our clinic’s rating as the best in the UK for patient outcomes?

Thanks and compliments to St Georges and all the colleagues, past and present, the professionals whose highest rule is work, work, excellence and, though they might not realise it, vocational gardening.

Stephen (Patient @ St George's)