Six and a half years ago I came out of anesthesia to find myself in a room draped in plastic, many beeping machines, looking up at a Doctor wearing enough protection to make me think that I had been exposed to Miley Cyrus. Through a mask, he asked me when the last time I had worked.
I clumsily and foggily replied, “what day is it?”
“It is Tuesday evening” he informed me.
“Monday.” It was coming back to me. I had worked until noon on Monday, my donor and I received a huge sendoff (we worked together) and we were at Tufts Medical Center at 6:30 AM the next morning. Deb and I had sat with our families, who made nervous small talk until we were called in for prep. Soon we would be counting down from 10 and hoping to open my eyes again in about 6-8 hours.
“Admirable”, he said with an obnoxious sarcasm, “Have you ever been on dialysis?”
“No, thank God.”
“Sir, we have guidelines for dialysis. A number, if you will, that determines how due, or overdue in cases such as yours, a patient is for dialysis. A typical number would be approximately 10. For conversation’s sake would you care to learn what your number was?
“Sure, indulge me.” His snarky attitude was pissing me off.
“110.” He paused for effect. “I’m glad to see you doing so well sir but your behavior was nothing short of reckless. Please be more careful in the future.” He then patted me on the shoulder with his gloved hand and left the room.
Other people may have been concerned, maybe even felt bad. But what I heard was a chorus of soccer hooligans yelling “YEAH, you pulled it off you wanka! Good job mate!” I had avoided dialysis. Reckless or not, I didn’t give a shit. I did it. His dire warning wasn’t even the first for me. Approximately one month before my surgery I received an email from my doctor. Most doctor’s don’t send personal emails.
Your lab work suggests you may be in danger of a heart attack. Please, Bill if you feel chest pain, shortness of breath or light-headed admit yourself immediately.
I read it and dismissed it. I assured myself that I will make it. Repeat after me, I told myself, Death before dialysis. I was kicking the can down the road and I didn’t care.
I have had Kidney disease since I was a teenager. I have met every single challenge with enough denial and/or bravery to move on to the next obstacle. I always knew that a transplant may be in my future and I even prepared myself for the possibility of death. One thing I refused to entertain was dialysis. The snarky doctor, despite his attempts to minimize my accomplishment, had actually validated it. I had vanquished my enemy.
After yesterday’s appointment, my Doctor’s best estimate is that I am 3-6 months from dialysis. My transplant has finally reached the unpleasant milestone of failed. The moment that I have fought, nay, railed against since my diagnosis is upon me. I can’t wrap my head around it.
I am an exceedingly logical person. I believe that when you do the work you reap the benefits. I believe that if an expert says A + B = C then I will do my best to add them properly. In this case, A and B were to strictly follow my Doctor’s orders regarding nutrition, sodium intake, alcohol and caffeine and exercise. C would be the result, C would be extending the life of my transplanted kidney another 3 years (we had this conversation 6 months ago. I did it, all of it, and it accomplished fucking nothing and now I have to finally accept that my life is only going to be as long as the extension cord in my dialysis center.
A man and his wife are discussing end of life matters. The husband loudly declares
“when it’s my time, I refuse to be glued to some machine living off of a bottle!”
The wife unplugged the TV, threw his beer in the trash and left the room.
I used to love that joke. It’s dark and twisted and completely inappropriate just like me. It also played into, or to be more clear downplayed, my crippling fear of dialysis
I don’t fear a lot. I always look to the bright side. I haven’t dwelt on the number of years and instead have focused on quality of life. Dialysis represents to me the end of quality of life. It is forcing me to (finally) accept my limitations and to admit that I am finally sick and, to touch on a familiar theme, I’m going to look it.
It represents a complete lack of freedom and independence. I may not have plans to spontaneously pack my shit and just go somewhere but in 3 to 6 months the fantasy is just that. I will need to plan everything based on that extension cord.
I can look forward to infections, setbacks and more hospital stays because dialysis patients always get sick from treatments.
I view it as death’s waiting room. Sit, listen to the machine whirring, wonder where you are on the transplant list (if I’m even eligible), read a book about how it’s not so bad and wait for the next shoe to drop.
I’m not ready for that shoe to drop. Despite how wrong I may be wrong about a lot of what I just said, I can’t change my mind about it. I hate it and I’m scared.
I know that I’ll pull through this as I have everything else. But I’m not there yet. Right now, I’m mad and scared. I know myself enough to know that I have to get this out of my system, regardless of whether my blog has read like a Sylvia Plath poem lately. If I don’t get my anger out of my system I will be unable to move on to fucking dealing with it and moving on with my life. See, I know that overly dwelling on the future only cheats me out of the present but at the moment I don’t see the future in a bright light. I need to finish this blog, go outside and scream with clenched fists some FUCK YOU’s to the universe for kicking me in the ball again and then, and only then, move on to what I’m going to do next.
If you have made it this far, this is not a post fishing for sympathy. I don’t need anyone to offer uplifting sentiment. I just need to get this off of me because I want to move on, get back to a position of strength, loosen up and find Superman again. Before the Kryptonite of Dialysis defeats me.
Thanks for listening…