7 years

 Seven years ago today at this time I awoke from Anesthesia in a tented room. The first thing I noticed was the plethora of wires and tubes sticking out of my neck and arm. A doctor soon entered the room, followed by a team of nurses. They took my vitals and the doctor then asked me a few questions to test my mental acuity

“Sir, do you know what day it is?”
“Tuesday I think, unless I slept longer than I think” I replied foggily.
“Correct. When did you work last?”
“Yesterday.”

“And your last dialysis treatment?”
“Never did it.”

“Sir, we have a number that we use to determine how due someone is for Dialysis. 10 is average. Do you know what yours was?”
I nodded my head. His snarky attitude was pissing me off.
“110. You made it, but you were foolish and took a big risk.” He then walked out of the room condescendingly shaking his head.

Of course I avoided Dialysis. I would have lost my job. Then I would have lost my house and my family. I fought it with everything in my being for the longest time. And it worked, my Angel eventually came along and I got the gift of a new Kidney. It was an amazing gesture from a remarkably down to earth, humble young woman.

She was a co-worker. The daughter of my Assistant. I knew her pretty well but not well enough to think that she would do such an amazing thing.But it turns out that it is just the way she was.

I was hospitalized one day with a kidney-related infection, My boss came to visit me. He dropped it on me that Deb was willing to be tested. I was floored. When I returned to work the next week I first gave her a giant hug and then carefully explained to her the process.I thought for sure she would flinch. She didn’t.

Within a month her testing was done. She was a perfect match. It was scheduled soon after for Dec 13th.

Word soon got out among our customer base about the situation. It was big news. A local CBS affiliate came to our office to interview us. We were on the 6 O’clock news. The interview was priceless. When Deb was asked on film why she was doing this she curtly replied “I have 2,he needs one. I don’t want him to be on dialysis and lose his job so here we are. Short and sweet. For weeks after wherever I went people came up to me and said, “Hey, you’re that transplant guy I saw on the news!”

December 13 th arrived and we met at Tufts Hospital at 6 AM. My mother and father took me in, Deb was already there with hers. Our families had never met, so they exchanged pleasantries. We were all nervous but I was the only one to show it. At 6:30 the doctors called for us. I gave Deb a hug and told her that I would see her on the other side.

As you know I made it to the other side. I had a quick recovery, 33 days from surgery to return to work. Beyond my physical recovery I was tasked with reconciling with the overwhelming gratitude I felt towards Deb.

We became great friends. We made jokes. People at work were afraid to mess with either of us for fear of retribution from the other. She was tough, her famous joke was “Take care of that kidney or I’lltake it back.”
I believed her.

It’s somewhat painful to reminisce on this, given that her gift has failed and I am back to square one. I had the hardest time telling her because I was so torn that her gift hadn’t lasted longer. As if I hadn’t done my best to make it last. When I did tell her, she didn’t flinch but instead said “I hope it gave you what you were looking for, no matter how long it lasted.” A more grounded person have I never met.

Despite the physical viability being gone, her gift changed me profoundly in so many ways. Beyond giving me a new lease on life, it also transformed my attitude towards everything. It helped me to exemplify the traits that I had always wanted to dominate my life…gratitude, empathy, charity and humility. I was given the ultimate gift, that of life. I owe such a debt to Deb, her selflessness and generosity will never be forgotten.

I may have been wrong to dread Dialysis as much as I did. It’s no fun but it’s not nearly as bad as I thought. And it beats the alternative. The gifted kidney may have failed but the lessons of the transplant remain intact and healthy. I am still grateful. I am stillhumble. I am still appreciative of all that I have. If attitude were currency I’d be a truly wealthy man.


Don’t let people tell you that people suck. There are some wonderful people in the world. I know because I am surrounded by them.

If you don’t know one… be one.

A blessing in disguise

A very dear friend, a fellow blogger with a chronic illness (you know who you are) once told me at length how her illness was a blessing.  She spoke of being grateful, of appreciating the small things in life and of not wasting precious time. I wholly agreed with her, but I stopped short of calling it a blessing. 

Now, I’m not so sure.

My illness has made me a better person, there is no doubt about it. I feel comfortable in my own skin for the first time in my life.

My blog has always been a labor of love. I started it as a means to tell my story and to vent my frustrations. I vowed to not dwell on the negatives, there were a ton, but to matter of factly talk about my life. Like my social media account, I made a real effort to be positive. No complaining, no placing blame for my situation and zero anger. Many have said that I have inspired them, that I am a good person. I suppose that I am a ok person now. But to be fair, I wasn’t always.

I would never go so far as to say that I was ever a bad person. Instead I would describe my former self as deeply flawed. I used to be closed off. I was angry. I often resorted to pettiness. I was jealous. I blamed others for my lack of success. I tried to be something I wasn’t and did a lot of things I am not proud of.

When I got married and started a family I genuinely wanted to curb some of my bad habits. I wanted to cut down on my drinking. Eat healthy. Be more loving and open. To lose my anger. But it wasn’t to be. Marital strife, financial issues and career challenges dominated any attempts to be a better man. My illness, particularly the hypertension that often bordered on out of control, combined with a drinking problem resulted in a horrible temper and some outbursts that I would give anything in the world to unwind them. I fought with my wife and said terrible things in front of my children. I would get mad at the kids if they took sides or interjected. My oldest daughter and I had horrible arguments. As tough as she was, I was failing her. I failed to recognize that I needed to be the adult. But my version of an adult was an angry, sick, disappointed and frustrated version of the man I wanted to be. Then one night I had a transformative moment.

After a particularly nasty argument with my oldest daughter I went to bed angry. I hated myself for the things that I said. It was truly unforgivable. Somehow, despite my raging blood pressure and self-loathing I somehow fell asleep. What happened next changed my life.

I dreamt that I was watching my daughter through a pane of one way glass. She was in jail, or a mental institution, I’m not sure. At the time of the argument my daughter was 12. But in my dream she was about 3. She was in a room, alone. I was watching her play with blocks. Her hair was pulled up in a tiny ponytail, she was wearing the cute stretch pants that I loved when she was little. She was intent on the puzzle, silent and sad. I somehow had the knowledge that she would be in that horrible, cold and loveless room forever. I pounded frantically on the unforgiving glass for her to hear me, to see me. For the opportunity to mouth the words, as late and fruitless as they were,
“I love you!”.
“I’m so sorry!”
“Please forgive me!”

She continued to listlessly play with her blocks.

I awoke in a cold sweat. I was crying. I did not fall back asleep that night.  I was haunted by it for weeks. It still bothers me. For weeks and months I hated myself. It was then that I took a long, hard and brutally honest look at myself. I acknowledged my illness and made a real commitment to address my shortcomings. I knew I had to curb my drinking, my anger and mend my relationship with my daughter. By reconciling with my mortality, true healing began. I felt urgency to work harder. Most important, I committed myself to positive change.addressing my shortcomings. 

I am happy to reveal that my commitment to repairing my tumultuous relationship with my daughter paid off. We get along wonderful now. Despite no apparent issues with my other 3, I know I formed a much better relationship with them that wouldn’t be possible if I hadn’t been honest with myself. It inspired me to fix the other areas of my life. 

The true catharsis occurred when I received a kidney from a co-worker. Her altruism changed my life. I received a humongous lesson in gratitude. Which resulted in a pay-it-forward attitude that I have yet to lose. I became charitable, if not with money I offered my time which is more valuable than any financial offering. By diving into charity, tapped into a well of empathy and caring I didn’t know I had. It made me a better husband, father, son, co-worker and friend to all. 

I think we all look at our lives and think that we have about 80 years on this planet, more if you are lucky. It allows us the luxury of putting off things until “later”. Chronic illness puts a serious damper on the notion of later. This realization changed how I did everything. Before my transplant failed I had one time frame on my mortality. After, I had a much different, and shorter one. Later may be too late. 

Chronic illness has caused me to be the man I always wanted to be. I owned up to the fact that it’s ok to walk away from a fight. To forgive those that wronged  me. To ask myself if I’m right before I shoot my mouth off. To be nice in place of rushing to judgement. To let things go. To be kind and open to the struggles of other. It led to my life-guiding mantra of knowing that there is no value in self pity. Someone always has it worse.

Today I walk upright, true to myself and others. I try to give as much as I can of myself to others. I think of my funeral, whenever it may be. How I will be remembered matters to me. I want to be remembered by those that matter to me as a good person. This is an attitude that is lost by many in their pursuit of wealth, power and prestige. I have lost all of those things and in the process gained a unique viewpoint.

If i were to live 100 years as the man I was, I would never achieve the clarity of mind and comfort in my own skin that I have now. I thank my illness for this. I know in my heart of hearts that my illness made me a better man. Not perfect, but better. 

That, my friends is indeed a blessing.

Happy Bird-Day

My family always had a bit of fun with me at the Thanksgiving table when it came my turn to say what I was thankful for. Maybe I waxed a bit too poetic about deployed soldiers, the homeless and the lonely. I just felt it needed to be said. Eye rolls and sarcastic cracks aside, I still do.
Recent events in my life, while debilitating in some aspects, have had a profound impact on my ability to be grateful. It is almost a superpower. I have so much for a guy with so little. The best part is that it lasts all year, not just the holiday season.
If you live with the knowledge that no matter your situation, someone always has it worse you will achieve a generous spirit that will survive more than one Thursday a year.
This time of year there is an abundance of people who show up at pantries and shelters to volunteer. Sometimes people are even turned away because too many show up. But in August they are begging for volunteers. The need doesn’t go away when the trees are taken down, neither should the spirit. Giving doesn’t have to be a grandiose gesture. A simple smile and a good word may be all someone needs to have their faith in humanity restored or energized.
No-one can do everything, but everyone can do something.
I am grateful for my family and my friends. I am thankful for all kindness and generosity, regardless of the scale. My goal is to spread that mentality like a bee spreads pollen.
Happy Thanksgiving to all. If you have a little extra spirit, I’m sure someone would love a slice.
Every day can be Thanksgiving with the right outlook.

A New Year’s Toast

A Toast

to the parents struggling to care for their family. May they provide sustenance and love for the children

to the first responder running towards danger when others run from it. May you always stay safe

to the soldier thousands of miles from those that love them. May your mission be righteous and your body unscathed

to the health care workers who give more to others more than they give to themselves. May their selflessness be recognized and appreciated

to the bullied child. May your struggles be recognized before it’s too late

to the bully. May you see the error of your ways

to the ill. May you experience recovery

to the grieving. May you experience closure and peace

to the hungry. May your plate always be full

to our leaders. May they do what is right, not what is profitable or electable

to the disenfranchised, the angry and the frustrated. May you find an outlet and peace in your heart

to the practitioners of hate and division. May you become part of the solution, not part of the problem

to those that chose the path of honesty and integrity. May you never second-guess that choice

to those who are glued to screens. May you look away and see the beauty all around you

to those fighting a hard battle. May the people you meet treat you with kindness and respect.

Here’s to a better you. A better us. A better world. It’s up to us to make it a good year.

Here’s to you.

 

Inventory

I was reminded today of one of my favorite expressions.

“Happiness is not having what you want. it’s wanting what you have.”

And in a very close second comes the Stones with

“You can’t always get what you want, but you get what you need.”

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2 years ago I would have measured my success as a man by how much stuff I had. It was the life I was living. I lived in a nice neighborhood with neat lawns and beautiful cars in driveways. I had the Jones’s on both sides of me and I was trying frantically to keep up with them. I couldn’t. My illness was increasing, my income was dropping and trying to keep up was literally, and I never use that word, killing me. When I lost my job the bottom fell out and we knew that moving and breaking up the family was imminent. I was livid, disgusted with myself, mad at the prospect of not seeing the kids every day and feeling like a complete failure. I was also relieved to be out from under the crushing weight of the lifestyle I was living.

Fast forward 2 years and what do I have? If measured in possessions…not much. I own as much stuff that would fit in a ’13 Honda Civic. If you were to measure my heart. I have everything.

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Once I realized my career was virtually over, my dreams of a beach house were gone, my marriage was beyond repair and my health was in serious trouble I had to assess what I did have. It took some serious soul searching but I found that I was a wealthy man in assets that money cannot buy.

I don’t have everything I want. By the old standards. But I really want what I now have.

I have become a totally honest person, in particular with myself. I know who and what I am and no longer have a job pushing the boundaries of my ethics on a daily basis. I am comfortable in my skin for the first time.

I have a wonderful relationship with my children. The distance has created the need for quality time, and conversations were had and growth was achieved. I found that they respect me and understand the situation. They just want what is best for me.

My mind is clear and sharp. I’m reading the books I’ve always wanted to, I’m writing on a daily basis, reading some great bloggers and thinking on a level previously unachieved. In addition, I feel inspired.

I have renewed my relationship with my mother. We were very close until my wife put a wedge between us. We are like best friends again. Not to mention how much she is helping me right now.

I have optimism for the future. There are still so many things that I want to do, and if I set reasonable expectations and listen to my body I may be able to do them.

By having some “me time”, forced or otherwise, I realize that for the first time I like myself. If it’s possible to not say that in a self-serving way that is.

 

This year-end I want to end on a high note, with momentum and heading in the right direction. Unlike many other years in which I was down, defeated and counting on a new calendar to give me a better life. It just doesn’t work that way, I have to make it happen.

 

 

Happier New Year

I am really looking forward to seeing 2017 limp out the door Sunday night at midnight. I hope that it was a wonderful year for anyone that sees this, but for me, it is one to be forgotten. I won’t dwell on the bad stuff if you are a reader of this blog, you already know what I have been dealing with. I am encouraged that, after self-evaluation, I am still able to look to the future as an opportunity for better things and new opportunities.

My son last night told me he is glad that I am optimistic after this last year. I explained to him that I had, in fact, lost it for a while but now have it back. I explained a boxing analogy to him.  A good fighter can take a good shot to the chin, shake it off and come back swinging. For years I was able to do that. This year, this fighter took a devastating series of blows that I couldn’t shake off. I fell to the mat and was down for the count. But I’m back now and I want a rematch. As I tear a page from my daily planner, underneath is a fresh day.

One thing I am very happy about in 2017 is this blog. I have always dabbled in writing but never had the time to commit to a blog. Now, for better or for worse, I have nothing but time. I have committed to working on this blog every day. It has done wonders in helping me to exorcise my demons, to express myself, and to unburden myself of the excessive emotional weight of the events of my life. And I am so happy to have readers.

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I have almost 40 followers. A paltry amount to many but a big deal to me. As an aspiring writer with a story to tell, you give me the motivation to continue to write, to explore my boundaries, to share my story and in the process, free my soul.

I follow so many of you, I enjoy your posts and admirable writing styles. You give me feedback, hope, and encouragement and you have become a part of my life.

I hope all of you have a wonderful New Years Eve and a fantastic 2018 full of pushing forward towards your dreams.

My car has a big windshield and a small rear-view mirror because what is behind me is not nearly as important as what is ahead.