Orla Tinsley: My only hope is a living kidney donor and that is difficult to unpack

I am swimming around in death and hope, but something gloriously gloomy is afoot

I am over here living at the edge of dread and destiny picking over the possibilities. Adrienne Rich writes about it: “There’s a place between two stands of trees where the grass grows uphill and the old revolutionary road breaks off into shadows.”

That image has been plaguing me of trees and an imperceptible road and I am both comforted and haunted by the unknown. Hope flows in from the roots I am connected to but it is convoluted and unclear and I am trying to channel to the future: a kidney transplant. My only hope is a living donor and that is difficult to unpack.

How does one ask for so much?

When my best friend phones from New York she says something I am not expecting: “I’ve been watching Wednesday and for some reason she reminds me of you.” Here I am swimming around in death, and hope and transplant, but something gloriously gloomy is already afoot. She is talking about Wednesday Addams, the gothic goddess anti hero so hell bent on revenge she would not hesitate to launch a swarm of flesh eating piranhas into the swimming pool of the scoundrels who slighted her sweet, squat and sinister brother.


Maybe the need for a second transplant is the perfect time to enter my Super Grave Goth Phase. Now there’s an opportunity! How ghoulishly delicious to be dying and choose to look precisely like death rather than some paragon of light.

But was that it?

“No! It’s her attitude! And something ...”, my friend said, delightfully horrified. I felt limp inside, like a squashed cockroach who had just had its wings torn off by a one-eyed black cat. Delicious. Some days later, with my inner Wednesday activated, I offset the urge to pull out the rusty old guillotine by deciding to make something sustainable.

Traditionally, in fictionalised pop culture, transplant is conveyed as tragically gruesome or in supernatural terms which betrays the scientific medical masterpiece that it is. Since I have not yet acquired Wednesday’s powers of premonition – and since I have never revealed the supernatural powers my last transplant gifted me – I cannot speak any more on this but I can say that recently my inner inosculater had taken hold. That’s a word I made up and without the “er” to inosculate means when two branches of a tree grow naturally together. Trees in proximity, where the stands touch, can mingle and self-graft. A joining together instead of that unknown path, or worse, a guillotining – appealing.

It is also, I think, what happens when a donor kidney is transplanted into the body and the surgeon connects the life saving blood vessels of the new kidney with blood vessels in the lower part of your abdomen just above your legs. Planting something in the body or in the ground is an act of self-care and a commitment to self-reliance. It requires delicate hands, strategy, time and luck. Supernatural luck, maybe.

I figured planting something and watching it grow was the kind of nourishment I could give myself during this unpredictable time of wintering

I am now the owner of a Guinness barrel sized terracotta planter that I purchased from the lovely people in Hobert and Mays in Monkstown. I visited on three different days to talk about plants, growth and durability and death. What could I grow to time stamp the moments that threaten to leave unmarked? I am not a big fan of waiting, I prefer proactivity to reactivity and either of those choices to surrender. The plants are purely for pleasure in my own little effort to foil capitalism with foliage – Wednesday would approve.

I choose a corner on the balcony where the neighbourhood dog does not stalk and where a strip of light falls on sunny days. My plant guy advised one giant sturdy pot to avoid any turbulent winds. Now, in my Super Grave Goth phase, I love a good chaos wind. Thyme crawls low across the soil and Rosemary spikes upwards slithering towards the sun. They require the least amount of work and watering. There is also the mother monster: an Irish bay leaf tree.

I figured planting something and watching it grow was the kind of nourishment I could give myself during this unpredictable time of wintering: a time in which I stay in place and grow things that nurse and nourish the future and present self. We have all been there. Beneath the soil, imperceptible to me, are the roots of the bay leaf tree which take up most space in the pot. I imagine them tunnelling downward through the earth and, like an octopus, reaching out to connect to their sister tree’s roots. The possibility of interconnectedness sets me alight and suddenly my mind moves anything root-like around like a puzzle wondering how things might go.

The fake holly from the kitchen table inosculated with the vase, a great hybrid beauty is born of gold and grit!

The inosculated guitar neck entwined in perfect cadence with the metal stand it lives on.

The cat’s tail slides silently around the lamp light, serving a new kind of light.

I sit marvelling at the cold clear hope of connection and stay there. If everything dies I can get the guillotine out.

At least with plants, this is possible.