Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Out of the woodwork they came

It was a full moon yesterday, but I didn't have to look at the calendar or up in the sky to know it.

Our office receptionist was out, meaning that several of us shared the task of answering the phones. And by about 2 o'clock, we felt like just letting it go to voicemail.

First, our associate director fielded a call from a man asking if he could also donate his teeth, along with his organs and tissue. She told him thanks, but no thanks.

Next, I spoke with a gentleman who really, really wanted to donate his kidney while he is still living. Really. He said really about 25 times, to emphasize just how much he really, really, wants to be a living donor. Typically, living donation happens between family members, but non-family members can also be donors, as was the case with my friend LeaEllen, who was a match for one of her co-workers. Kidneys aren't viable outside of the body for more than about 48 hours, so it's not as though someone can give a kidney and then stick it in a deep freeze for a couple of months. As a result, the surgery isn't just done at the drop of the hat--the donor and the recipient have to match, blood products need to be gathered, recipients need to be healthy enough for surgery, etc. He was not deterred in his quest to donate, but he also didn't seem to grasp that he simply can't come down to the hospital and have his kidney removed. So I transferred him to the general donation information line.

Five minutes later, he apparently wasn't satisfied with what that person had to say, so he called again. Mercifully, our program coordinator answered. She referred him to the same person. No word on whether the surgery has been scheduled, but yesterday probably wouldn't have been soon enough. Out, damned kidney! Out, I say!

The final call I fielded truly trumped the rest. The voice on the other end rambled incoherently about something, and I thought perhaps he was drunk. He then asked if he could make an appointment to "come on down and look at your price list."

"I'm sorry, sir, we don't have a price list."

So, here's the deal with organ donation. If, upon being declared brain dead, you have chosen to be an organ donor, there is no cost to your family for the surgery to recover the organs from your body. After the organs have been recovered, your body is released to your family or next of kin or the executor of your estate to make funeral arrangements.

The other option is whole body donation, where your (embalmed) body is used for research and education by OHSU, then cremated at OHSU's expense. However, your next of kin must pay for embalming and transportation costs prior to this. Simply put, organ donation is not a way to get out of paying for the disposal of a body, but a surprising number of people, as evidenced by the kinds of calls we get, think that it is.

Case in point...a couple of weeks ago, I answered a call from a woman in some small southern Oregon town--I can't remember which--informing me that they couldn't afford to cremate her son's (I got the impression he was a teenager) girlfriend's body, so they wanted to donate it. Aside from the gruff, cold tenor of the woman's voice, I was struck by the fact that, ostensibly, this dead girl was so unloved, her boyfriend's family were the ones left to search for a way to dispose of her body, gratis.

I explain all of this to the man, and there is a pause. Then he says, "No, no, no, I don't want to deal with a funeral home. Just tell me how much it's going to cost."

Again, I tell him that a funeral home will have to be involved in some way in order for donation to occur, and that there are legal implications involved with the handling of a body, but he is persistent.
He again asks to make an appointment to "look at our price list," perhaps thinking that if he asks the same question multiple times, he'll get the answer he wants to hear.

"We don't have a price list, sir. We are an EDUCATION AND AWARENESS organization. We do not procure the organs ourselves. What I can do is put you on the list of people interested in the whole body donation program, and they will contact you." At the same time, I was thinking, and they'll tell you the same thing, and you'll probably be angry, and I don't care.

Maybe I should let the whole body donation program know that he'll be calling, and tell them to have their price list at the ready.


A. said...

If it makes you feel any better, last week I fielded a call from a fellow who wanted to know if we'd done any research on teaching Ninja Karate to teenagers with Autism. Yep, I took that one with a straight face, too!

Emily said...

That story about the girl's boyfriend's family is so harsh. It makes me really wonder who she was and what the story was behind her body being disposed of so summarily.

Emily said...

You know, reading this again makes me wonder if that's the kind of crap your receptionist has to deal with every day. The prospect is simultaneously hilarious and horrifying.

Celeste said...

She does, and she is kind of incredible at it. She is a sympathetic ear to the people who want to tell their life story (and they usually do) when asking about being a donor, and extremely patient with the weirdos who call in and ask, "Can I donate my testicles?" And yes, someone did ask that once, in complete and utter seriousness.

The call about the girl with apparently no family still bothers me, too. People who call are oddly forthcoming, so I suppose I could have asked the details, but part of me doesn't really want to find out the reason behind it.