where are the flowers?

There they sat. Ken and Keith. Two big guys sitting on two small chairs in my dimly lit hospital room. Despite my pleas otherwise, they had come to visit me. Dear friends and Masonic brothers. We call each other brother to denote how devoted we are to each other, especially when one of us is in distress. I had just finished telling them about how I had given a vase of Sunflowers to the Nurses. They were sent by one of my customers and a masonic brother from Maine. A very thoughtful gift.  Ken challenged me on giving them away. They’re just flowers I told him. Not a big deal to me, a big smile for the Nurses.

“What about you though”  he asked. “They were for you. You know your happiness is important also. At some point you need to make you a priority”. What about me? I thought to myself. I was bloated, miserable, tied to an IV bag and sick of being in a goddamn bed. Other than the now donated flowers the only pretty thing in the room was the occasional twenty something nurse that would trickle in and out. Every time they came through they stopped and admired the flowers. They enjoyed them. I felt that they would be better served at the Nurses station so that they could all enjoy them. I thought it might make their tough day a little more pleasant. And by all accounts it did. But Ken was right also, I didn’t put my own happiness first. I’m not sure I even know what happiness is.

It’s July 2016 and I am in the hospital for the 3rd time that year. I had become so affected by edema (excessive swelling in the face, torso and legs) that I had to be admitted. I was being administered massive doses of diuretics to rid me of the excess fluid and bring my BP down to safe levels. If I could have summed up my mood in one 3 word sentence it would have been fuck my life. That morning I had been informed by my Nephrologist that my kidney function was in decline, that my 5 year old transplant was indeed failing. My dream of having a 15 (or longer) year stretch of good health was now gone. Apparently the disease that ruined my original kidneys was now working on round 2. I was angry. Why wasn’t I told that this could happen?

Conversation shifted from the flowers to other things. I was on day three and my days had been a blur of naps, being woken for blood work, different doctors traipsing in, a restricted diet and being up all night. Then I remembered a particularly interesting encounter from the day before.

I relayed to my brothers how my Nephrologist had come into my room, sat down and asked for a favor. He had medical students with him that day and he was having them interview select patients. Dr. G was concerned with the lack of “bedside manner” in today’s interns. There is more to “doctoring” than pills and charts he explained. He said “Bill you have a great story, will you meet my students and let them pull that story out of you?” Where was I going? I agreed.

The students had come in. I made it hard for them. They had to ask me the questions, dig into my history. They didn’t know what they were getting into. As they refined their questions they heard about personal and professional failures due to health. They heard about family issues, kids who wanted Dad to play ball but Dad couldn’t get off the sofa. They heard about losing a house and filing bankruptcy. They heard about the battle between a mind that visualizes a level of performance that the body simply cannot deliver. I got emotional at points, and they did as well. Dr. G would later thank me and tell me that my story had profoundly affected his interns.

When I was done telling Ken and Keith about this I caught Ken’s direct gaze. He excitedly said “you should write about all of this!” We talked about it some more. Maybe it would be cathartic to write about my experiences. Maybe someone would want to read it and possibly benefit from it. Most importantly, it would help me define my situation before the situation defined me.

The next morning I got a visit from my brother in Maine. After we exchanged pleasantries I saw him looking around the room cautiously. I said “let me guess…you want to know where are the flowers? Funny story…”