Search This Blog

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Hello Kidney!

I was asked the other day why I didn't blog about serious stuff, you know, the sort of thing that I do at work. The answer's kind of obvious- that's work, that's what I do during the day, this is fun, this is what I do when I'm relaxing.

Nonetheless it did give me a thought, and that was 'What could I blog about related to work, the wouldn't be too gory, too boring, too technical or too confidential?'

Tough one. I split my time between Intensive Care (synonym 'Expensive Scare') which isn't renowned for laughs, and anaesthesia, which someone said is 99% boredom, 1% sheer OMG. I do have other stuff that I do, related to patient safety, management, education and so forth. And then it occured to me I could write a bit about organ donation.

Organ donation is a strange topic. I say this because it always reminds me how difficult it is to remember when I didn't know about something. Let me elaborate. Before I became a doctor I was a fairly astute kid. I watched plenty of TV, read a lot, was into science (and comics, and DnD, yeah, yeah, get to the point). What exactly, back then, did I think organ donation was?

I had almost no concept of what it entailed. I'd seen donor cards in the GPs surgery, and perhaps adverts in papers. I can recall comedy sketches about it (the bouncing heart in Airplane; the organ collectors in Monty Python's Meaning of Life). But what did it involve? Were these organs you donated when you were dead popped out days after? Weeks after? How were they put back in? Who actually needed them?

It's a very difficult thing as a doctor specialising in an area to try and think back to the days of not knowing what we know. It'd be the same for anyone who dedicates themselves to an area (whether law, education, IT, whatever). Of course, things are a little different now. In the 70s and early 80s computers were basic, and you had a homeopathic choice of TV channels. Books were the main source of info, which required forewarning and access. Now even the 10 year olds have smart phones, and Google has a frightening amount of power. Patients are far more informed, irrespective of social class and intellect. It makes the job bothe easier and harder when you are discussing topics like organ donation with them, because information doesn't always come with quality controls!

My first real experience of organ donation was as a registrar in Birmingham, about a decade ago now. Prior to this I had a mixture of ignorance and indifference, not really being aware of the benefits. In a sense I thought there was a ghoulish-ness to the process. Then I worked on a paediatric ICU, followed by  liver and cardiac ICUs, and saw the patients in need of transplants. It's one thing to be told statistics; it's another thing entirely to see an eight year old dwindling day on day praying for a liver transplant.

So now I'm the Clinical Lead for organ donation at my small trust in Manchester, and its part of my job to try and raise awareness in the hospital about it. Because most doctors are like I was pre- my experience in Birmingham-- a little bit indifferent and a little wary. And if doctors are like that, you can see why the average Joe is even more so. About 30% of the UK population is on the Organ Donor Register, and about 800K join each year. Soberingly in the UK there are almost 8000 patients awaiting a transplant, ten times that in the USA. Most of these are kidney transplants.500 people die each year in the UK whilst waiting, of all ages. About half of donations in the UK come from living donors (kidneys obviously) which is an amazing figure.

But these are numbers, and seeing the benefit of transplants, I can say that I'm really pleased that my career has taken me in that direction. It's an amazing thing to be part of.

Serious post over... click on the link if you wanted to find out more about transplants and donation in the UK here or in the US right here.

Next time I'll be back into the realm of fantasy, but in the interim here is one of the comedy clips on how it DOESN'T HAPPEN (and feel free to contact me if you wanted more info on any of the above).


  1. I certainly plan to donate my organs when I am no longer using them. I expect they will be in fairly pristine condition, as I don't smoke or drink, but I do enjoy mocking those who do!

  2. I have no idea whether or not my organs will be any good to anyone but hey, if they're no used to me, i'm game to try. I think people don't always realise the enormous extent of things that can be donated. It's not just liver, kindneys and heart, It's eyes, stem cells, skin... and why am I telling you this? You already know. Very thought provoking post.

  3. Thank's for such helpful review! I really appreciate it!