He was awoken by the rain slapping the window. Reaching up to draw the shade, he felt her stir. He placed his hand on her naked shoulder and massaged it in hopes of her falling back to sleep. “mmmm…what time is it?”, she sleepily asked. “too early”, he said. “go back to sleep”. All he heard was an unintelligible grunt as she pulled the covers over her, taking half of his in the process. “Gimme”, he said with a laugh as he snatched the covers, reclaiming what was rightfully his. Before he knew it she was on top of him. “Fine”, she giggled. “I’ll share your side”. She reached between his legs and found him aroused. “Well Merry Christmas to me!”, she joked as she kissed him hungrily.
“Well, that was a good start to the day”, he said. “Yup”, she said. “We should do that again.” He looked over at the dog, his head resting on the edge of the bed. “Better let him get his piss break first. Mine too, now that I think of it…,” he sprang out of bed and headed to the bathroom. She threw on a robe and let the dog out. He could hear him bark from the bathroom. “It’s a good thing we don’t have any neighbors…”
He walked into the kitchen. She was at the sink, her shoulder length blonde hair disheveled. She was dancing to a song only she could hear, in a half-open robe that she cared not if the world could see. He could smell the coffee brewing…a dog barked outside…
He sat up and looked at his phone. 7:15. He rubbed the sleep out of his eyes. His body ached. As he sat at the edge of the bed he pondered the dream he had been woken from. Could today possibly be any different than that? The unpleasant knowledge that he was in the now, and had just experienced a glimpse washed over him. He had had a lot of “glimpses” lately and he hated them. Glimpses of the life he longed for vs the blah reality of the one he was living. He got out of bed and made his way downstairs to pour a cup of the waiting coffee.
Usually the glimpses came in dream form and were washed away with the morning coffee, often to be forgotten. But this one wasn’t going to go away as easy. He pondered it as the talking heads on the TV provided the forgettable background music as a backdrop. That one could happen… Yes, that is what was different. This time, it could happen. The glimpse could become reality! He has the girl… Not yet.
He sat and drank his coffee, the warmth of the mug took the edge off of the dampness of the room. He pondered his situation. Nothing had changed since yesterday. She is there with a man she doesn’t love. He was alone on his sofa. There’s nothing either of them can do about it. This is the way it will have to be for a while.
I have to remind myself that it is just Network Television. It is not reality TV. It has to capture the viewers attention in a funny way, if you take into consideration that the modern viewer has the attention span of a Gnat. If the subject matter is too serious you also lose them. I personally see the show as a better Drama. But hey, what do I know? It’s just my opinion, but the new sitcom B Positive misses the mark in a big way. Again, just my opinion.
The show is about a therapist who finds out he needs a Kidney Transplant. He is a single Dad working through a recent separation from his wife. As luck would have it, he bumps into an old High School acquaintance at a wedding and somehow the subject of Kidney failure/transplant comes up and the ditzy girl throws it out there, “Hey, I can donate to you!” By the end of the 2nd episode they have confirmed that she is willing, while showing more of what a mess her lifestyle really is but lo and behold, she is cleared to be a donor. The timetable escalates, as our hero “suddenly” starts dialysis.
I’ve tried to give it a chance. I really have. Multiple friends have asked me my thoughts on the show and I have tried to reserve judgment. I have to be nice knowing that most people really have no idea about the process, timetables and let’s face it, setbacks in the whole process.
To begin with, no-one “suddenly” finds that they need a transplant. Kidney disease is gradual and predictable. Any doctor can tell you after mapping the decrease in function that at a certain point you WILL need a transplant. It is not something that can sneak up on you. Renal failure is painful and it will affect every aspect of your life. The word I choose for it is Insidious. Over a long period of time you will experience an increasing level of complete garbage. You will feel washed out, which I liken to the day you start feeling flu symptoms and you know you are getting sick. But this feeling lasts for years. You can try to explain your symptoms to your friends, family, coworkers and your boss. They won’t understand. Nobody does. When your kids ask you to come play and all you can do is sit on the sofa with swollen legs and no energy it rips your heart out. This, and a million other normal functions in life that are compromised is where the Spectre of depression enters the picture. Approximately 87% of Renal patients suffer mild to serious depression. There is no medication other than hope for relief in the form of a transplant or a miracle. When you have End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) a transplant and a miracle are one and the same.
The Dialysis segment of the show really, despite my efforts to be fair, annoyed me. In the second episode our hero, as I said earlier, “suddenly” starts dialysis. I’m sorry, you don’t just start dialysis. It is a last resort, akin to the fat lady singing for many people, myself included. By the time I was ready to start it I was as sick as I have ever been and I hated the whole idea of it. I always did, even before my first transplant when I pushed my luck enormously and avoided it. My Dr. scolded me as reckless and dangerous. How could I tell him that the lifestyle of dialysis appealed to me as much as eating a bullet?
So, our hero is sitting in a clinic with the recliners and machines, which they got right. The spacing of the chairs was a bit close but it is, after all, Television. But the room itself could not possibly get it more wrong. The seats are all full. The patients are all sitting up and awake. They look healthy other than having needles stuck in their arms. Ugh, so many misconceptions here. I will take them step by step:
There are always empty chairs in a clinic and you notice them immediately. I’ll be blunt, fellow patients at some point are forced to wonder if the missing patient is sick or dead. You don’t and won’t know, they can’t tell you. All you can do is hope for the best for them. The chairs are almost always reclined. If you can’t get a nap during your session you are stuck with bad network TV or a book, which you can barely support with your left arm because of the 1 inch (yes, you read that correctly) needles in your arm that may, if you move, puncture your vein and you are done for the day if not the week. The vein is known as a fistula, a surgical vascular process that combines several veins in the arm to form a super port that enable the body to filter the blood in 4 hours. This surgery needs to be done 60 days before it is “mature” enough to use. It is very painful. If you start dialysis before they can do this surgery then you are given a port in your chest. This is the worst scenario. You can’t get it dirty so therefore you are not allowed baths or showers. The rest of your days with that port will be sponge bath only. Trust me, it sucks. Especially if it gets infected, despite your best efforts to keep it clean, and you end up with a staph infection. Mine caused Sepsis and I say this without exaggeration that I came millimeters from death 2 years ago because of it. The patients in a dialysis center, with few exceptions, do not look like the patients on the show. The people in the show look as if they are going to spring out of their chairs once done. Not so in real life. We look sick. We look tired. Because we are. With rare exceptions, people get out of their chairs slowly and walk out slowly. We know that we are going to feel ok for about a day, if we’re lucky, and then we are back in that fucking chair. The patients are all too cheery. Occasionally a comment gets tossed out that deals with the tribulations associated with a dialysis lifestyle to my satisfaction but not often. In general, people in dialysis centers are not very cheery. At age 55, I have a glimmer of hope of getting a transplant. Many patients do not and at a certain age are ruled out statistically. Their only hope would be a private donor. Many others have enough medical issues to disqualify them. These are the patients that know they will be on it until they die. Some take it into their own hands. Imagine being the nurse that hears a patient say “I can’t take the pain anymore”, to find the next morning that he ended his own life that night?
The donor. Ugh. As if the process was as simple as saying “Hey, you’re a match. It takes SO much longer to get approved as a donor and it is a complex process. While I will give them credit for including the segment about the potential donor being told to clean up her lifestyle. That is true. But there is tissue typing to do. MANY tests. Psychological examinations. They have to ensure that the donor isn’t being paid or coerced. Many do not pass all of them and it is a tremendous letdown as the patient. I say this with certainty, many people offer to be tested and many do NOT follow through. It is false hope at its finest and it is crushing the first time it happens, you begin to expect a letdown eventually.
This is dialysis. This is ESRD. To make a sitcom out of this subject is a grave mistake. This show could be an opportunity to raise awareness, and I hope it does. But I doubt it will. One thing a sitcom will never do is justice to such a depressing subject matter. Laugh tracks won’t make the pain go away and unreasonable depictions do the subject matter irreparable harm.
It was quite an eye opener for me, the first time someone told me to shut up and listen. I’ll never forget it. At first I was angry and defensive. Then I thought about it. I wasn’t really listening to him, I was clearly waiting for my turn to speak. That’s not listening. Listening is not waiting for your turn conversationally, it’s giving the person in front of you your full attention. And I wasn’t doing that. Fortunately, I’ve improved in that department.
Today my listening skills were really put to the test, I can’t help but feel that I did ok. Not that I’m being graded, of course. I’m just looking back and I feel that I helped a little. I wanted to do something, anything but as it turns out all she needed was an ear. So that’s what I offered. For 2 hours and 45 minutes.
She is so conflicted right now. Her marriage, her job, her friendships, her surprisingly unsupportive family, and of course her demons are all right there front and center fighting for her attention. She feels alone in a crowded room, that noone understands her and on top of everything else, she feels that she has wasted her best years being good to those who took her loyalty and trust for granted. I can’t imagine what it’s like to question everything in life that I once thought was solid.
Today, as she waited for her ride, she asked me to stay on the phone with her. It was hard for me because I really don’t enjoy talking on the phone. But it was the only way I could talk to her and once her ride showed up I would be without her for a week. At Alcohol detox, the first thing to go is the phone.
She needs it, the week at the clinic. She needs to take a hard look at everything, sort out her demons and start to work on them in a healthy way. She doesn’t really believe she is an alcoholic. Nor do I. But she knows that her recent use of alcohol to deal with the increasingly abusive and insensitive behavior from her husband is not the answer. The week of not being around him and even the conflicting influence that I provide will be good for her.
I’m ok with it. All of it. While part of me knows that the advice she gets from a trusted therapist might not go my way. I fear, yet am ready to accept it if it happens, that she may be told that I’m the variable that has to go. Maybe I’m the straw on her weighted back. She may emerge from this to tell me that I have to go. And while the thought rips the very heart from my chest, I have to be ok with it. Because I’m crazy about her and I will do anything for her to be happy. Up to and including letting her go if it is the right decision.
I don’t know what is going to happen at the end of the week. I just know that whatever she chooses to do is fine by me. It has to be. Part of loving someone is wanting what is best for them. She is my friend. My lover. My ray of sunshine on a mostly cloudy day. She has been so good for me, just knowing her has brightened my life. I see a future for us, one in which I finally have someone to really want to live for.
I hope it’s me, I really do. But more than anything I just want her to be happy.
I could go on forever about how amazing my children are. I suppose all parents could. But I do not gush, rave or swoon or bloviate. Instead, I do what my father did. I compare my upbringing with theirs and gauge their “success” based on the metrics that applied to me. Character? Check. Integrity? Check. Compassion, empathy, emotional intelligence? Check check check. Are you seeing a pattern here? Yes, based on the listed criteria I care more about the quality of the person(s) that they have become over traditional metrics of College degrees, professional status, what rank they placed in their graduation class. I suppose those things are important but I’m a bit simpler on that front. In short, I evaluate people on the Asshole Scale. I am proud to say that I raised ZERO assholes. In that light, they accomplished everything I had hoped for them already.
Once it became clear to me that my marriage and family life was a fucked-up mess and not “normal” at all, it occurred to me that the example that I needed to set was to be reactionary to my worst fears as a parent. I feared, correctly, that I would not have the ability to send them to Ivy League schools. I knew that we were setting a terrible example of what a relationship is and should be. I knew that if I didn’t work at it my children would may hit the road at 18 and I would never see them except on Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. I never cheated, despite how bad and sexless my marriage was, because I wanted to have the respect of my children. The spectre of my ex telling my children that their father was a dishonest man terrified me and she was certainly capable of playing that card.
Well, jumping forward to the present, I couldn’t be more proud of the results. 4 smart, motivated and happy adults who are in monogamous and long-term relationships, solid careers and are just wonderful people all around.
I struggled an awful lot as a parent. My personal demons, lack of maturity at times, financial and marital issues haunted me and I always worried that these would negatively influence my children. Yet I now realize that I have wonderful relationships with them and, while part of me sort of wonders why, I have to just roll with it. Maybe it’s something I did, maybe it isn’t.
But it doesn’t change the outcome, my offspring are great people and I am beaming with pride and purpose because of them.