Good days, Bad days

Adjusting to life on dialysis has been a challenge to say the very least. At the beginning, when I begrudgingly began treatment, I found the schedule harrowing and highly inconvenient. Commute time, prep time, getting on the needles and setting up the machine, 4 hours in the chair (which is surprisingly long and uncomfortable to stay still for that amount of time), coming off the needles with the accompanying pain and bleeding and then being evaluated as fit to leave…it’s at least 5 hours per day. It’s almost a part time job when you add it up and a big chunk of my day 3 days a week. But I got used to it. The problem I found was that I, not unlike every other patient, was washed out and tired rendering me essentially useless for the rest of those days.

It’s been a year and a half now and not much has changed. There has been some progress on some fronts. I have a potential donor, which I normally don’t get excited about because every person to date that has offered didn’t take the next step when asked. The next step is calling my team and inquiring about the process. Nobody to date has done it but him.

He was told to lose 30 lbs when he called and I found that to be unacceptable. What if I was dying? Would they put me on life support until he lost the weight? At that point I wrote him off, only to have him text me that he was down 12 with 18 to go. That is a glimmer of hope and I will leave it at that.

I’m officially on the transplant list. Finally. I received a Pager in the mail on Friday that I am to wear in the event that a matching kidney becomes available. The wait time is 3-5 years with a credit for time on dialysis so I’m basically halfway to it, the only obstacle is that I have a bunch of antibodies that I picked up in a transfusion when I almost bought the dirt farm last year. This series of good events has inspired me to step up my fitness. Although I am in decent shape, according to my dialysis nurses I’m a fine specimen by their standards, I really want to go into this in the best shape possible. So despite my frequent walks, calisthenics and overall attention to my diet, I have begun an actual workout routine. To solidify my commitment I joined a fitness center.

In my area of NH there are no Planet Fitness or Work out Worlds. I would have joined one a long time ago. I discovered this place quite by accident. My mother started doing Physical Therapy for a leg injury and she told me about the place. As it turns out, a place that I have been driving by for years is not just for PT but is an actual fully equipped Gym complete with every machine you need, free weights and a crossfit room with my favorite accessory…the heavy bag.

I joined immediately.

The challenge is how many times a week I can go. I’ve gone on a few dialysis days and I always go on the off days. Essentially, I go when I feel up to it. I have been really working hard and it seems to be paying off. In addition to feeling stronger, many people have told me that my physique has changed a bit. That my chest is prominent, my shoulders pop through my shirt, my gut is smaller, my arms look bigger. All that is fine and good but the bigger picture is that I am doing something that seemed unrealistic and unattainable.

But I’m doing it. All of the people that have told me what my limitations are or should be are eating their words. They can’t define what I can and can’t do. They are simply not me and they need to understand that.

I have good days and I have bad days. Lately the bad days have been more frequent and I find myself at home feeling like a giant shit burger and I get mad at myself. I then remind myself of what my real limitations are, that I am doing the best I can, that I am not just accepting my lot but instead fighting it. But the realities are there, the other voice tells me that it’s ok to not feel great all the time. It happens. Still, I continue to feel that I am not the typical dialysis patient and that I need to push myself. On those occasions I get down on the floor and do pushups or I go to the club and I move as much weight as my body, on that allotted day, will allow.

3 years ago when my kidney failed I thought that it was something that I could work through and I foolishly joined a gym. With bloated legs (water retention was brutal), a very overweight and out of shape body and very little stamina I worked out to the best of my ability 4 times. The results were not good. I was weak, washed out, bloated, sicker than I wanted to acknowledge. On my last exercise of my 4th workout I was on the weight bench. On the bar I had a weight that I used to warm up with. Not much at all. I got pinned under it. I actually had to have a good Samaritan pick it up off my chest. Embarrassed, I immediately left and never went back. That feeling stuck with me.

Today, I tried the same weight on the bench press that buried me. To my amazement, I benched it 10 times.

Today was a good day.

Life happens fast and we are all dealt a hand that we must either fold or play. I’m playing mine. It’s the results accomplished on a good day that are going to carry me through those days when I’m mad at myself for not being able to climb a set of stairs without needing to sit down. Those are the bad days.

We all set goals. I have adjusted mine to simply work my ass off to ensure that, until my miracle happens, I have more good days than bad.

Life’s a Garden baby. Dig it.

A Dog's Purpose

The other night, while strolling through the 179 channels of nothing that we pay too much for, I came across the movie A Dogs Purpose. I’d heard of it, in particular, that it was sad. I’ve wanted to watch it but I learned my lesson with Marley and Me after I barely recovered from the ending of Old Yeller some 45 years ago.

An aside, I can watch the worst horror movie jam packed with gratuitous sex, entrails hanging from the rafters and enough blood to fill a swimming pool and I will sit, unflinching as I munch popcorn. There is no limit to the depravity I can view and call it entertainment. But I lose my mind if an animal is harmed, especially a dog.

Curiosity prevailed and I selected it and sat back in my recliner. An hour and a half later I sat transfixed as the credits rolled. It was worth the watch, in fact it was wonderful. There were a few scenes that made me tear up, including the ending but it was a joyful brand of tear-jerker.

If you’ve seen it please indulge me, this is not a movie review but instead a homage to the lead character, the beloved dog.

In short, the movie is about a dog who experiences reincarnation. It is narrated from the dog’s POV and the story takes us through about 30 years, starting with a young Golden Retriever that belongs to a young boy in the 70’s. Most of the movie occurs with this character as he loyally stays by the side of the boy as he grows into a young man. It is an extraordinary relationship and the scene when the Dog (Bailey) gets put down is indeed a tear-jerker. It didn’t help that I stood in such a Dr.’s office less than a year ago as we watched our beloved Brandon draw his last breath. The movie unfortunately nailed the pain and grief of the moment and I was impressed but sad. By sad I mean bawling like an idiot. But the movie brings the viewer back to smiling as we see Bailey emerge as a new puppy, one possessed by the knowledge that he was “back” and had the presence of ,mind to remember his past life. We are walked through several incarnations of Bailey; a German Shepherd Police dog that gets killed in the line of duty, a Corgi that dies of old age under the love of a married woman that he had been with since she was in college, and finally a Mutt that has a miserable life at the hand of an abusive owner. But the owner sets him free (cruelly, by just pulling the truck over and kicking the dog out) but our hero turns it into a blessing when he reconnects with (by the power of the wet nose) a woman from his first life. This woman was the girlfriend of his first owner and they had broken up as teenagers. Amazingly, he reunites the two, who fall in love again and get married thanks to their 4 legged matchmaker. The movie ends as Bailey miraculously manages to convince his former owner that he is indeed his old dog in a new body. It is a beautiful, tender moment and a wonderful ending to a movie.

Thus confirming what I have known since I buried my first dog as a young teenager.

A Dog’s Purpose is to form a completely unique and unbreakable bond with us, make life unimaginable without them and then leave us too soon with a enormous, smoking hole in our very souls. If we value friendship, and most people do, we are left feeling as if we have lost our best friend.

I don’t know how the chain was determined, how it was decided which animals are chosen to be beasts of burden, which are food and which become domesticated companions. The line is further blurred as we see species never before regarded as a pet; reptiles, goats, pigs, miniature horses, cows and even “wild” animals such as big cats and bears showing up on cute FB videos as “pets”. As refreshing as these friendships are none are as special and, let’s face it, as natural as the relationship between the dog and man.

I’ve experienced a lot of loss in my life. In fact, I have often felt that I have experienced more than my share. I’ve been to a staggering amount of funerals. Dear friends in HS at the hands of tragic accidents. Family members. The loss of my father to name a few. Sadly, I think I am more “over” all of them then I am my first dog. Am I saying that a mere dog meant more to me than my father, family and friends?

Of course not.
It’s just not the same. The hole left to fill is as big as a Black Hole. Friskie, my first dog, was my earliest memory. He was a pure breed Brittany Springer Spaniel, gun shied at a young age and rendered useless as a hunting dog. We found him at a shelter when I was about 5. He became my constant companion, my shadow, my best friend. As a child with few friends, we were especially close. He even saved my life. Twice.

We lived on the bottom of a hill that was the main route to get to the Middle school. One day, I was playing by the street and my football got away from me. I followed it into the street and suddenly found myself being tackled. It was Friskie, who ran across the street from the other side. A school bus nearly missed him as he knocked me to the ground. We were both nearly killed. As he sat on my chest, he looked into my eyes and I swear at that moment that I was staring into the eyes of a kindly, wise old man. He was never “just a dog” to me.

I was a teenager when he died. Despite him being an older dog that lived a full, wonderful life I was crushed.

For years I missed him. We got another dog, which I loved. Mom and Dad had a few after I went out on my own and I loved to visit them. Their household always had a dog, my parents were in agreement with me that despite how crushed you are, no matter how big the hole they leave, another dog is the key to recovery. Not that you ever get over that particular dog, you simply need to fill the hole in your life.

When I moved in with my mother 3 years ago her dog, which she shared with my father before he passed, was healthy and thriving despite his advanced age. A year later that changed. I hated to go through it again, I wasn’t ready. But I put on a good face and I tried to love him through the concerned looks and worry. I believe that it is imperative to love a senior dog as much as you did the puppy and be there when they are in pain and to always be there when it is their time to shut their eyes forever. We owe it to them and that is just what we did. It was terribly painful but I have no regrets. Other than our four legged friends not living forever that is.

We got another dog. We had to. Ours is a dog home and we are dog people. Our dog is not a guest, he is welcome on our furniture and people who don’t like him or his fur are welcome to stay outside. Our new dog, a beautiful Cocker Spaniel pup named Sammy (Samuel L. Spaniel, his favorite human word is Motherf@#ker lol) is a pure destructive delight that brightens our house in ways that I can’t even count. He sleeps on my feet. He follows me when I leave the room. He is happy to see me in the morning and sorry to go to bed at night. He doesn’t judge me and is perfectly satisfied to have his big ears scratched. He’s like our other Spaniels in many ways and in others he is completely different.

And that’s ok.

Sometimes, when I look into his eyes, I have to wonder. Beyond what is he thinking and what his particular need is at the time, and wonder if it is possible that we have met before. That behind his young eyes is the wisdom of an old dog. One that has met me before and is as glad to be reunited with him as I. Then I remind myself that reincarnation is not real, that it is impossible. That what I am feeling is just unconditional, pure and unfiltered love.

For to love me more than it loves itself; to only think of and need me alone when I sit preoccupied with the events of my day; to devote its entire life to being there for me…THAT is a Dogs Purpose.