To The Woman Who Was Donating Her Liver: Maybe You Shouldn't Do It

14/01/2016 8:31 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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It was just another lazy, hot and muggy afternoon. My five year old was playing with her friend in the house right across ours on the same floor of our building. It had been over 30 minutes and I decided to check on her. I went to their house and entered the room where she was playing "doll house" with her dear friend while their dog was lying peacefully next to them.

"The kids are alright," I thought and was about to return when my baby told me, "Mumma, Princess (the dog) pounced upon me today."

My heart sank and I checked her arm where she claimed the dog had bitten her. There was no blood but there were some scratches. The dog was well vaccinated and was a good pet, but I decided to take my pre-schooler to the emergency room of the nearest hospital.

I paused, stunned by how easily she shared something so momentous. I'm here for bariatric surgery so that I can donate my liver..."

That's where I saw her. She was sitting next to me in the waiting area.

"Are you the patient?" she asked me.

"No. She is. Why?" I said pointing towards my daughter.

"Oh Okay. I thought since she is a baby, it is not right for her to be here in this emergency ward," she explained.

I thanked her for her concern and explained the situation, that a dog may have bitten her.

She turned to my child and checked her arm, saying sweetly, "No, this is not a bite. It is just a scratch. You will be fine, don't worry."

That's when I noticed the band aid on her wrist. "What happened to you?" I asked.

"Nothing much, I am here for some blood tests," she replied with a faint smile.

"I hope it is not something serious."

'No. It isn't. It is just about bariatric surgery.'

"Oh! For weight loss. I understand. Sometimes even I get thoughts of getting some surgery done," I said, pointing towards the flab on my belly.

"Ha ha. Yeah! But I am undergoing it so that I can donate my liver."

I paused, stunned by how easily she shared something so momentous. I'm here so that I can donate my liver..."

Seeing my surprise, she placed her hand on my hand and said, "It's alright. It's just a liver after all."

We exchanged a look. That familiar look which conveyed that we could talk.

She further revealed, "I need to donate my liver to my husband. His liver is not functioning. It won't function ever again. So he needs a liver to survive. He is admitted here in this hospital. You know how difficult and strict the rules for liver donations are. Only a family member can donate a liver so I have volunteered."

'They believed that since I was obese, I was not keeping him interested enough in me which is why he sought solace in alcohol...," she said.

"This must be so hard for you," I said.

"It's alright. I am doing it for my kids.'

'How old are they?', I enquired.

"One is eight and the other is five."

Each thing she revealed about her life was like a little bomb for me.

"You have such young children. Must you do this surgery?"

"I need to lose 90 pounds to be able to donate the liver to him. I'm obese."

I was aghast.

"Are you the only possible donor? Your children are so young...."

"I am his wife so I am supposed to donate," she said with a wry smile.

"Well I hope the in-laws are acknowledging your efforts properly," I said. Do your in-laws or others acknowledge your efforts and the fact that you are volunteering to save your husband?'

"They acknowledge that I am doing my duty."

"They think it is your duty?"

"Yes. They do. They thought and said so when I warned them years ago that their son was becoming an alcoholic."

The situation, obviously, was even worse than I had first thought.

"My husband and I have not had any relations for the last four years. He started drinking very heavily five years ago, he refused to listen to reason. One night while we were returning from a party, I realised he was too drunk to drive so I asked if I could take over instead. He stopped the vehicle and asked me to get down. I thought he was giving me way to drive. As I got down, he sped away leaving me behind on the road. That late night, I managed to reach home with the little money I had in my bag. Since that day I stopped telling him anything whatsoever."

"What about his family? Didn't they ever try to stop him?" I wanted to know.

"I don't know whether they tried or not but I know that indirectly they held me responsible for his condition. They believed that since I was obese, I was not keeping him interested enough in me which is why he sought solace in alcohol. They now even go to the extent of blaming me for his condition," she said.

I was now losing the heart to listen to her story anymore. I felt like getting up and giving her in-laws a piece of my mind. But she hadn't finished talking.

Here lies the biggest trap. When the conditioning of "being a dutiful wife" doesn't work, we are taught to be endlessly kind, compassionate and giving.

"The thing is I'm not doing this for anyone but my kids. He is their father. I have tried walking out of the marriage several times but each time, I returned because of my kids. They need him. And had it been a friend who could use my liver, I would have donated it then too. Here, it is my husband. I can't see him dying. I learnt about his liver failure a day before I was packing my bags to finally leave him. I dropped the idea. How could I? The doctors here have been very supportive. They have asked me to re-consider my decision but I told them that I have to do it."

I put my baby down from my lap and hugged her. What an incredible woman!

This awesome woman is well educated. She works part time in a prestigious company and for a few days a week, she works with special kids in a nearby school. She is a woman of substance. A woman of morality and a woman of courage. The way she spoke about her family (her own parents included) in a neutral tone without sounding judgmental and without blaming them for her decision showed how much she believes in her own capacities and how much she can endure.

When I suggested that she should really reconsider her decision, she was firm. "This is how we've been conditioned! I am doing this more out of kindness and sympathy for a man I have shared my life with than as a duty of being his wife."

Here lies the biggest trap. When the conditioning of "being a dutiful wife" doesn't work, we are taught to be endlessly kind, compassionate and giving.

In the end, women must give.

I so badly wished I could help her in some way.

But how could I possibly help her? It is not only about her. It is about her entire family system, larger society. Her actions are a result of what she has been taught and what she hears every day. She thinks it is her imperative to sacrifice her own well-being out of "kindness".

To help her would mean to make her question these set-ups. It would mean asking the men to own up to their own disasters. True help to her, and many like her, would be to make all of humankind realise the worth of women's lives.

"I just want him to get alright. That is all. He should be able to live and my children should get a stable life. This is all I want."

I can't decide if I should be glad at the way Indians volunteer to give up an organ or if I should be ashamed of how it's mostly women...

It was time for us to part. We said goodbye with hugs and best wishes for each other. I could see her moving out of the emergency room while greeting all the nurses and attendants she met on her way to her husband's ward.

Later that night, I met a liver transplant surgeon who works at the same hospital. I mentioned the woman I'd met to him.

What he told me was very revealing.

"I have worked in the UK for more than 10 years and have been practicing in India for about four years now. I can tell you the pattern I noticed in these countries when it comes to donating a liver. Indians are quick to donate. We usually find that a family member falls ill and we have many who are willing to donate but eventually it is the wife, daughter or the sister who ends up doing it. In this whole process of getting medical fitness check-ups and liver health and blood tests, the families convince the women to make the sacrifice. In the UK there are very few volunteers even from the family. Now it's great that people volunteer in India but it is mostly women and it's very sad."

I can't decide if I should be glad at the way Indians volunteer to give up an organ for a loved one or if I should be ashamed of how it's mostly women who are tasked with making the sacrifice.

But I what I do know is that our world still has a long way to go. This story isn't only about a woman or an Indian or an organ donation. It is more about the inequality and masculine dominance that continues to prevail everywhere, albeit in varying degrees.

As a fellow woman, I want her to know that I deeply share her pain. I understand her trauma and I salute her for her indomitable spirit. I wish I could be of some help to her but more than that I wish she could be a little more selfish. I wish she could forget about giving for a while and think more about receiving in return.

This is an edited version of a post that first appeared on

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