I had my monthly appointment at the Transplant clinic yesterday. I am now at 5 months tomorrow since my surgery. Just last month I was deemed fit to be seen just once a month. Given my commute time (2 hours each way) it was awful tough when I began my recovery to go there twice a week. I did that for a month. Driving 4 hours in excruciating pain was not fun. The second month I went down to once a week and then twice a month. I was pleased last month when they reduced it to monthly and I made it a point to thank my Doctor. He said, “Don’t thank me, you’re the one who is making it easy on yourself.”
“How’s that?”, I inquired.
“Because”, he said, “you are doing great, top 2% of all post-transplant patients at this stage.”
I told him that at 4 months I should think so. At that point I was back in the gym, detailing cars and working part time at another gig. Apparently, I am the exception according to my doctor who told me that, at 16 weeks most are still at the “bitching and moaning phase”, still in a lot of pain and struggling to follow instructions, and still quite in need of frequent check-ups. As imcomrehensible as that was to me, it gave me some relief to know that I was crushing it.
I looked around the waiting room as I waited to be called. I studied the patient’s in the room, optimistically looking for someone who looks like they’re doing well despite the battle they are fighting, the one I know all too well. It’s a true mixed bag of patients, both pre and post-transplant. On any given clinic day there are as many as 12 patients at a time being seen. It’s impossible to deny my people-watching inclinations and I take a lot of mental notes. What I noticed is that, with rare exceptions, the pre-transplant patients look a heluva lot rougher than I did before the surgery and the post-transplant patients, some having received their gifts many months or years before me, just don’t look very healthy. The lobby is cluttered with wheelchairs and walkers and these people look so very sick. It breaks my heart.
I can attribute my expedient return to thriving existence to a few advantages I suppose. I am a bit on the young end to have had 2 Kidney Transplants. Youth, even at 56 I am considered young, is always perceived as a benefit with regards to illness.
Another advantage is my ability to conceal my illness. Having been diagnosed at 17 I have had a lifetime to learn how to deal with this disease. If you have ever read me before, you will have no trouble understanding that “dealing with this” means that I have mastered how to not “look sick”. As soon as we had children, I became a Jedi master at hiding my symptoms. For better or for worse, it worked for me.
The last, and perhaps most important advantage is that I always prioritized my physical conditioning. Even at my sickest, during dialysis, I managed to exercise and keep my weight within range. By Range I mean the parameters set by my transplant team. If I was 40 pounds overweight when I got “the call” I would have been passed over. When I learned that, I knew that I always had to be ready to go. With both transplants, I entered the operating room at an ideal weight and in decent physical condition. Not only did I not look sick, and I was, but I also looked fit. To illustrate this point, when being prepped by the anesthesiologist, he remarked that he wasn’t expecting a guy that “looked like he could kick my ass” to be on the table. We had a good laugh. His was the last face I saw before I went under. I know I was smiling when the silly juice kicked in.
I’m on the other side now and I’m still smiling.
I wish more than anything that the other patients are able to push themselves to be the very best patient they can be. Some of them are very advanced and it is unlikely that they would be able to embark on the regimen I did. But there are also many who are just morbidly overweight and past the point that they can fix it now. Even if they know that they will likely be passed over if they didn’t. All I can point to is that I was able to do it and I’m not special. I just think ahead, and I naturally think of the worst-case scenario and I then over-think it. In this case all I thought about was being called and not being ready. That made me worry just enough to do something about it.
It gives me no joy to be at the top of the chart in recovery. That was just a plan coming together successfully. I wish that the other patients find the strength to get themselves ready when they get the call and enjoy the same gift of life that I have. I further hope that my fellow post-transplant patients have a plan to get well, to get strong and get back to living. From where I stand, and I have been there, until you commit to doing everything you are required to do with every ounce of strength in your body and mind, the thing called “good health” will continue to elude you.
At that point you are merely existing, not living.