How I balance a remote job with transporting donated human organs worldwide
Fortune Cookie taxi, Bologna, Italy: It is three o’clock in the morning. I leave my house. I recognise my favourite taxi driver, a taxi driver who by choice only works at night. “Because the people of the night, the addicts, the travellers, the prostitutes, the drunks, the fighting couples, are more real than the people of the day, made up of business people with starched shirts and a pole up their arse”, he says. The taxi driver who arrives at the airport at the end of my journey hands me a little box full of cards, makes me take one and read it out loud. The last one I picked up said: “Mistakes are a fact of life. It is the response to the error that counts”— Nikki Giovanni
The last book I read was The Diary of a Sentimental Killer, by Luis Sepulveda. It made me laugh that the first novel in which I recognise myself because the protagonist changes countries all the time and only has conversations with taxi drivers, flight attendants and hotel receptionists, describes the life of a killer. I have the same life, but in an attempt to save lives.
It is still a very lonely, exhausting life. Albeit a magical one.
The organ transporters that everyone immediately thinks of, the solid organ transporters, usually travel by car and get very close, because the timeframe for a transplant is very tight, the compatibility required for a solid organ transplant (heart etc) is relatively low and the waiting lists are unfortunately always very long. The organisation I volunteer for, the Italian Nucleo Operativo di Protezione Civile, founded 30 years ago and led by Massimo Pieraccini, for 23 years transported all kinds of organs for transplant, but now mainly transports bone marrow or stem cells for life-saving transplants from living voluntary unrelated donors. Unlike solid organs, the organs we carry require very long international transports, because for a leukaemia patient, there is a one in 100,000 chance of finding a compatible donor, and only thanks to an international database of national bone marrow donor registries, coordinated by the Bone Marrow World Association (WMDA), is it possible to find a nearly impossible match.
While the rest of the world lives amidst news of wars, pandemics and increasingly impassable borders, my fellow organ transporters and I cross wide-open borders. We learn stories of 18-year-olds who, instead of celebrating Christmas, undergo operations to save the life of a stranger who will never thank them. We admire the love on the faces of hundreds of people who probably missed connecting flights but are happy that the pilot decided to wait for us and our precious cargo.
In addition to my volunteer work transporting organs, I of course have to support myself and my family. My day job as a Client Success Manager is with an English global company, Mallcomm, the best technology platform for asset and property management, awarded Prop-tech innovator of the year in 2022.
While I watch my fellow citizens crawl through their Medieval working conditions, Mallcomm allows me to have a four-day workweek, and to work from anywhere in the world. All of the employees work from different parts of the world and rely on different collaborative platforms to perfectly coordinate for the success of each project: Google Workspace, Monday.com, Hubspot, Slack.
If I change continents, all I have to do is update my work schedule on the common calendar. Conversations with colleagues are always just a click away, and the collaboration is extraordinary, not least because of the type of people the company hires.
The four-day workweek allows me to make all my non-organ transporting journeys (on my way to pick up the organs or returning home after delivering) at night so that the ones in which I am carrying an organ can be carried out on that fifth non-working day when I can give it the full attention it requires. The wonderful HR manager of my company, Melissa, fought hard for me to be able to have a flexible 4-day workweek from Monday to Friday, with the possibility of taking the 5th day any day of the week. I once tried to say that if they wanted me to, I could stop doing transports, and the CEO replied ‘no, we value what you do so much’. The best way for an employer to attract the most serious and dedicated employees is by providing them with ample trust and freedom.
My beloved clients from all over the world always say to me “It’s so good to talk to you! You always look so happy, it makes me feel better immediately!” Well, dear regular business owners, it’s no wonder your employees aren’t radiating much happiness to their clients, having been cooped up in an office, day after day, only to be released from their cage once a year for a couple of weeks.
Taxi driver, London, UK: “There comes a time in life when you either take the courage to be yourself or you end up living the life someone else decided for you. Society will never accept you being yourself unless you make money from it. Apparently, money is the only thing everyone believes in. If and just if you make money being yourself, they will agree with you.”
Travelling with an organ is like travelling with a Tamagotchi. First of all, it must be with you at all times and you must carry it everywhere, even to the bathroom. Due to some universal connection I cannot explain, every time I effectuate a transport, I get my period. Even when I had an IUD for two years and didn’t get my period, I still bled during every transport. I call them ‘Blood Journeys’, in which I bleed and transport blood. My blood journeys are a blood link with humanity, with the universe, with rebirths, with second chances.
During the transports, I wear a rope tying my wrist to the fridge, which I do not take off even when I sleep on the plane. The temperature must be kept between 2 and 8 degrees centigrade, or the cells die. This means that you have to check the temperature and adjust it at least every hour or half an hour by placing diapers and ice inside the fridge. On a recent mission to Canada, it was so cold outside (-30 to -50 degrees) that for my precious cells not to die, I had to open the fridge and put my wool scarf between the organ and the ice. The temperature then remained fixed at 4.0. I fell asleep on the plane and dreamt that it was 40 degrees because of the scarf. Shocked, I almost screamed, woke up and checked. It was 4.0 with the dot in between.
Taxi driver, Angers, France “Of all the people in the world, I am the unluckiest in love. I treated the only woman who ever loved me badly. She really did not deserve it. One day she died suddenly in a car crash, I could never apologise to her. Years later I met another woman, probably sent by my ex from heaven for revenge. We were about to get married but she asked for more time at the last moment. And then she left me, and I found out she was cheating on me with another man.”
Once, before the mission, I dreamt that I arrived to deliver the organ to the patient’s hospital and the fridge was empty, and another time I dreamt that I opened the fridge and the clothes were soaked in blood because the bag had burst. On both occasions, I thought in the dream that I was responsible for the death of the patient and that I should kill myself. On both occasions, as announced by my premonitory dreams, the two missions were cancelled because the patients’ conditions had suddenly deteriorated and they were no longer fit to receive the transplant. There are invisible balances and intuitions so perfect and magical that reason could never comprehend them.
One night I got up before dawn to catch a taxi to London Heathrow airport. I had slept badly, waking up every hour to adjust the temperature of the marrow I was carrying for a little child. I was very tired and nervous about the mission and I confessed this to the man at reception before leaving. He replied: “When you do good, the whole world will magically conspire to help you succeed in your mission. Your mission will go well”. He was right.
Of course, cells decay quickly over time, so it is up to us to limit our carrying hours as much as possible.
When we carry the gift of life, we are constantly assisted by passing angels, who make sudden decisions and help us on our mission.
Once, the director of a national railway company went out of his way to send me a train ticket on a fully booked train. Another time, at midnight, the manager of the bus from the plane to the terminal made a sudden decision and started the bus with me and a few people on board, even though the other passengers were shouting and protesting. The taxi drivers always ignore the angry crowd waiting for them and let me get into the car first. The times I missed connecting flights, the flight staff found a way to give me replacement tickets within minutes. The flight attendants would often change seats and assist in getting me off first. Sometimes planes full of people waited for me so that I would not miss my connection. Anyone who sees me jumping the queue initially gets angry, but as soon as they realise that I am part of a long relay of solidarity, they open their hearts, say thank you and offer to help.
Taxi driver, Houston, Texas “Listen to me, honey, I am more experienced, I tell you, men are like horses. You have to have a full barn, you walk one, you trot one, you race one. You will never have a horse that is good for everything. Once in a while, you can go out with the stallion, but it’s so delicate… The important thing to do is to clean the stable from time to time. You send all the horses away, you clean, you take care of your stable in your loneliness, and then you buy new ones. And know that every single horse you’ve thrown out will always come back, damn it, after months, after ten years, after twenty years… It will always come back.
The most difficult job of all, while transporting organs, is to get through airport security without having the fridge x-rayed. I have to convince the policemen in so many different languages not to x-ray it which would kill the organ, of course, backed up by all the paperwork and ministerial permission documents needed for every country I cross. Once one policeman told me “I understand and I want to help you. But do you understand that you are asking me to do the opposite of everything I have been instructed to do all my life?”
In order to waste as little time as possible at the checkpoints, I have read countless books on persuasion and adopted every piece of advice I have ever read.
On a recent mission, I was in southern Turkey, where there are metal detectors everywhere, even at the entrances to hotels, and policemen are very strict, because of terrorism, bombs, and the PKK. At 4 am I get stopped by a stern policeman at passport control: “Hey. Where are you going with this?” Oh God, I think, now I’ll miss my plane. He adds ‘Are you ever coming back here? Are you married? Can I have your mobile number?” When all is said and done, humans are very simple creatures.
Taxi driver, Valencia, Spain, 3 a.m.: For several years my wife and I raised our two children. Life was quiet. After 12 years she got pregnant again by accident. We really didn’t expect it. Twins! Twin girls! One is very well-behaved, but the other is such a pest! They are now three years old. The little pest really cracks me up! She is terrible! I write down everything she says and does. She is so funny! I didn’t expect anything more from life before my wife’s third pregnancy. I love all my children equally, but I really didn’t think my life could be so beautiful and full of love, fun, and joy!
Travelling at night and working during the day both kills me, and fills me with life. My life-saving counter-intuitive trick is to never drink coffee on missions so that I can sleep on command for half-hour stretches. On long plane trips, at hotels and restaurants, my only companions are my work and my books. This allows me to focus all my energy on them and not on a vapid social life, gossip and everyday problems.
I sometimes get a fever because my body can no longer cope. My friends call it “the Evelyn Flu”. After delivery, the adrenalin abandons my body and I feel exhausted and burnt out. I often cry. After the mission sometimes I look at myself in the mirror of the hotel and tell myself ‘I am proud of you’.
I often tell our wonderful coordinators, Mirko, Patrizia, Sabrina and Kristian, that I can’t take it any more, to stop giving me missions. And then I come crawling back asking them to give me new missions, to give me back a role on the side of magical humanity that bleeds, that loves and gives a second opportunity to strangers with unknown faces.
Yesterday I made a delivery in Salerno, Italy. The doctor was on the verge of tears when she told me, “I sometimes think about donors and I can’t explain it. With all the tragedies happening in the world, with all the evil and misery that we human beings are capable of inflicting, there are people in the world like this donor, who underwent a voluntary operation to save an unknown life on the other side of the world, without anyone knowing. There is another side to humanity. Human beings can be selfless, and extraordinary.”
There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.― Albert Einstein
If you want to be part of this, register as a donor today in your national registry: https://lnkd.in/dWzArY4