Self care

*this post is a continuation of a story. It will stand alone in many ways but for missing context please go back a few…*

I spent the remainder of September and the better part of October focusing on my recovery. I was under a regimen of twice-weekly appointments with my transplant team, which was a 2-hour drive each way. It was exhausting because sitting up for that long was excruciating. The pain this time around was so much worse than my first transplant. You may or may not know this, but new kidneys are implanted in the abdomen. The human body is such an intricate, well let’s call it what it is, a miraculous design. Therefore, the abdomen contains everything it is supposed to with no room to spare. I now had not one but two foreign organs stuffed in there. They had to make room, for lack of a better way to put it. It’s quite an image to think of opening up an abdomen and shoving this and that aside to make room. And the kidneys aren’t small. I saw mine before they put me under. It was the size of a large boneless chicken breast. And now I had two in there. It pushed on the incision terribly and the pain was constant. Standing was difficult for the first week. Lifting was out of the question, regardless of the weight. And God forbid I should get constipated, which is common post-surgery, then the pressure on my abdomen (which was held together by 27 staples) was intense.

In addition to my visits, I was on a strict diet and fluid intake program. I was required to monitor everything that went in and out, log it and relay it to the team, when they called every damn morning at 10 AM. And they were not playing around. If I were to slack off in any way my coordinator would give me hell. I liked that, to be honest. It kept me focused. After all, they wanted the same thing I did, for the kidney to take and last as long as possible. So at the time, it seemed like an eternal pain in the ass, but I’m grateful for it in hindsight. This went on for six weeks, by the end of which I was well on my way to my own self. I was doing light weight conditioning and walking between 1 and 2 miles per day. They were thrilled with the walking, not so much about the weights. A typical patient rarely did either with any regularity. But as I was always quick to point out, and they had to reluctantly agree, I was not a typical patient.

The last week of October I drove by, on the way to the Hospital, the store where Vinny had asked me to come work for him. He had told me that when I felt better that we should talk. His truck was out front and the door was open. Work had already begun and he was wasting no time. So I went in and said hello. We discussed my health for a bit and then he showed me his progress on the store and told me his plans. They were impressive. He had some great ideas and I was convinced that he was going to do really well with this venture. As I went to leave he asked if I wanted to make a deal.
Here we go, I thought to myself, decision time.
“Talk to me”, I said. He made me a salary offer and gave a job description. It was a good one. I thought for a few minutes, and based on how I was feeling at the time I said yes. I was feeling strong, hopeful for my future, and ambitious. At the time it felt good. It felt right. On paper, it all looked good. And for a while it would be.

Driving myself

*this post is a continuation of a story. It will stand alone in many ways but for missing context please go back a few…*

I was home 4 days after my transplant surgery. Everything went well and the efforts that I made to keep my weight down and stay in shape paid dividends in my recovery. I have always bounced back fast from the myriad of health obstacles that I have encountered but this time I was in a lot of pain. Being released on the condition that I come back for bi-weekly appointments, I was disappointed that on my first visit I was unable to walk from the door to the transplant wing. I actually needed a wheelchair. The pain would continue to be severe for several weeks but my recovery was nothing less than stellar.

For the first week, I wasn’t permitted to drive myself. I was so relieved to not have to burden family with the long ride to the hospital twice a week so I took the long way to get to the highway. The first place I passed was the rundown convenience store that Vinny had bought. As luck would have it Vinny was outside surveying the property. I stopped, rolled the window down and said hi. He seemed very happy to see me.

We talked for a while as I brought him up to speed on all of the amazing events that led up to my surgery. I thanked him for reaching out to me. He told me that he was so happy for me, what a great story it was and how it affirmed his belief in God. It wasn’t long before he asked me if I thought that I would recover well enough and in time to come to work for him when he opened. I asked him what his time frame was for opening. He estimated 6-8 months, putting us at between March and May. I told him no promises, but I should be. He wasn’t holding me to anything, he said. He wanted me to take care of myself and we’d see where it went. He made a tentative offer of employment. No discussion of pay, hours, etc., he just wanted to gauge my interest level. I told him we’d talk soon. That was good enough for both of us. I drove off, I was on the verge of being late.

6-8 months, I thought, just the motivation I needed to make a (another) kick-ass recovery. As they say, it was on.

Prospects

Two days after discussing the possibility of working at a new business with a guy I recently met, I got the call that would change my life. There was a kidney for me. Finally. In the interest of not being redundant, instead of retelling this event, you can read the original post here. This post is about the opportunity presented and the multiple events that would form one of the most up and down periods I’ve endured in a long time.

I had my Transplant on a Sunday. Monday morning I awoke in the recovery room with tubes coming out of everywhere. I was in excruciating pain but I was exuberant. Gone was the Brain Fog, the malaise, the unexplainable but very real feeling of toxic waste running through my veins. My head was clear. I felt good and I felt hopeful. When I shook off the cobwebs and assessed my situation, it occurred to me that I needed to let my family and friends (the ones that knew I had gone in for the surgery) that I was OK. I asked the Nurse for my phone so that I could make some calls. I called family first and then opened FB to post my little miracle. The first thing I noticed was a Messenger notification. It was from Vinny of all people.
“Heard the great news. Hope you are better than ever. We need to talk when you feel up to it.”
Apparently I had made a friend as well as a prospective employer. I told him that when I got home from the hospital and was feeling up to it that we would talk. I was excited on many levels, beyond the euphoria of my new gift of life. I suddenly, for the first time in many years, felt like I had a future and some actual prospects. Obviously, I had to focus on my recovery. But I could see the light at the end of the tunnel and it wasn’t a train. Excitement about things to come; good health of course was at the top of the list. But I also missed the formerly active lifestyle that I enjoyed before my first Transplant failed. I wanted to get back out there and live. To exercise. To love. And believe it or not, to work again.

That’s where Vinny came in.

Let’s start at the beginning

I was born in July 1965, I weighed 8 lbs 2 oz…ok yeah maybe not that far back. Let’s go as far back as August of last year instead. It was a hot summer and, despite being increasingly sick on dialysis, I was making my best effort to maintain my side business of detailing cars. I was doing really well, making good money and, despite being weak and really struggling to keep up, doing a car a day if the weather allowed. It was a good gig, people in town like me and are happy to give me their business. It doesn’t hurt that I do a really good job I suppose. It’s not a brag, I really do professional quality work for a very reasonable rate. I have as much work as I want.

One of my customers was a gentleman that I had never met until he called me on a referral. He was an ideal customer, he gave me 3 vehicles to detail and he was a big tipper. He was also fun to talk to and that mattered to me because he was my age, friends my age are hard to come by in this podunk little town. I immediately liked him. The day I returned the 3rd vehicle he mentioned to me in passing that he had just bought the local eyesore, a vacant convenience store. Everyone in town had hoped for someone to build something there and finally someone had. He told me all about his plans. In addition to having a full convenience store, he had plans to build a pizza, sandwich, and deli section as well. His plan was to serve New Haven, CT style “Apizza” (pronounced ahpeetz), a style of pizza that no restaurant in NH, never mind our local area, was serving. Thin crust, light cheese with a charred bottom. My favorite type of pie next to Boston North End style. It was exciting to hear him talk about it. I knew right away that he would be providing a unique product that people were going to love and travel for. His history of successfully flipping properties in town spoke for itself. This guy didn’t know how to fail.
He asked me if I knew anyone with food service experience. Impulsively, and in hindsight, regrettably, I told him that I did.

He told me that we needed to talk. I was looking forward to that conversation. But as fate would have it, the next day I got the call that saved my life. I was called to the hospital to receive a Kidney Transplant.

It’s been how long?

When I was in High School I had an awesome car. Not awesome in the vernacular of the day; I didn’t have anything expensive, exotic, or muscular but instead vintage and uncommon. My Great Uncle, who I had only met a few times, willed me his 1965 Ford Falcon when he passed in 1981. It was a fun car and I wish I still had it. Me and the Falcon, which my father’s “folksy racist” best friend referred to as “The ‘Coon” (my apologies) could be seen bombing around town on any given day. It was a joy to drive because it was a standard transmission with the shifter on the column, commonly referred to as a “three on the tree”. I’ll always be thankful that I was able to experience that, it was an unusual setup to have in the 80’s. The only drawback was that I couldn’t take advantage of the bench seats by wrapping my arm around my girlfriend because I needed it to shift. Like a dumbass, I got rid of the car to remedy this unfortunate situation. We soon broke up. I was left without the car and the girl. It was a unique situation that would never replicate itself.

Or so I thought. Should you tune in tomorrow you can join me as I tell you what I have been up to since I last posted. In April. Holy crap how did I get away from blogging for so long?

The big prize

Bill Marshall stood at the tee on the 18th Hole. Not only had he had a decent day of business that should yield a boost in sales, he had also played the round of his life for 17 holes. There is a Cardinal rule in sales regarding Golf with clients. Always let them win. Fuck that was Bill’s answer to that. Despite his recent brushes with mediocrity, Bill was a winner at heart and firmly believed that there is no honor in laying down. He was ahead by 2 strokes and if his clients wanted to win then they were going to have to earn it. He knew people and he believed that his clients were not the types to respect laying down for the cause. They were also winners, by virtue of the success of their respective businesses. He lined up his shot and swung. He sliced it into the trees. That settles that, he thought. I didn’t fake losing, I legitimately fucked up this hole. He could live with that.
As they completed the 18th, they picked up their balls and headed to the bar. He had lost by one stroke. The Universe had settled that dilemma for him. No dishonor in that.

The cocktail lounge was full of chattering golfers. They had teed off late so it was no surprise to find cocktail hour in full swing. Bill ordered a round of drinks for the group. It was only his second drink of the day. His companions were several rounds ahead of him. Bill always imbibed carefully on company outings, there was no room for gaffes and embarrassing behavior while at work.
The day had really gone well. His three guests had enjoyed themselves and the hope of many hours of uninterrupted relationship building had come to fruition. One of his guests, Drew, was a regular customer who had been invited as a reward for his loyalty. The other two, Steve and John, were prospective clients with a lot of potential business. They seemed to like Bill and he was hopeful that their liking would convert to dollars and cents. Bill Marshall was a businessman first and foremost but in his heart of hearts he genuinely liked people. In sales, they buy you as well as your product and he believed that Steve and John were buying into him. As they sipped their drinks and made small talk with the other guests a young woman selling 50/50 tickets came around. Bill called her over and asked for 100 dollars in tickets.
“Big spender”, Drew chided.
“Hey, it’s company money, right?” His owner had given him 200 in petty cash for drinks and raffle tickets, he planned to use it.
“What will you do if you win?”, Steve inquired.
“Give it to the cause, of course”, Bill replied.
“I think I speak for all of us when I say Bullshit, Bill.”
“OK, it’s not like I’m going to win anyway.” Bill knew that he would donate it. He wasn’t on his dime for starters. And the tournament was being sponsored by one of his best customers. A local dealership owner whose passion was the Boys and Girls club of Holyoke. The owner only gave Bill some of his business, there was a lot more to be had, but he wasn’t there for that. He was there to support his client and his cause.

Dinnertime arrived and the 150 or so golfers filed into the dining room. As they ate, the host, Bill’s client grabbed the microphone and made his thank you’s and announcements. The event had been very successful and he expressed his gratitude. He then announced that he would do the drawing for the 50/50. The total take was 3000 dollars and the lucky winner would take 1500. He proceeded to announce the winning ticket, which happened to be in the hand of Bill Marshall. He was floored. He stood up and went to the podium to claim his prize. His client greeted him and announced Bill’s name and his company and acknowledged that they did business together. He then handed Bill the envelope of cash, to much applause and fanfare, and started to move on to other business. But Bill Marshall was still standing there. The host asked if there was something wrong.
“Yes”, Bill replied. “I’m here on the company dime to support a charity. So why am I leaving with an envelope of cash?” With that he handed the envelope back to the host. The room erupted. He glanced over at his table and his guests were smiling at him. He walked back to his table and sat down.
“You son of a bitch, you actually followed through,” Drew said. His other guests nodded in agreement.

Bill Marshall just smiled. Doing the right thing is easy, and it doesn’t matter who is watching.

The Tournament

It was a 3 hour drive from the house to the location of the golf tournament. Bill Marshall was in a decent mood this morning. Relatively speaking, he was at peace. Things had been quiet at home overall. The kids were doing well and the wife has been fairly calm. He knew that the next shitstorm was close by but he still welcomed the reprieve. He had decided months ago that his marriage was a lost cause and that he was there for the kids. He suspected that she would make access to his children difficult should he try to leave and he wasn’t having any of it. His kids meant everything to him and if that meant sacrificing his own happiness then so be it. Bill was raised by an old-fashioned man. He was taught that when you have family, your happiness is secondary to the welfare of those that depend on you. In that vein, it was a no-brainer. Thus, a few quiet, albeit tense evenings of silence at home was worth the quality time with the kids. As he ran those thoughts through his head, he recognized and accepted that he already knew that he was going to leave her. The only question was when. Alone in the car, with the radio volume down, he absorbed that revelation and let out an audible “holy shit”.

Traffic was heavy but moving. He turned the radio volume down and focused on the day ahead. He was excited about the tournament. It wasn’t lost on him what a luxury it was to play Golf on the company dime. He had played Golf many times under the umbrella of work, it was an excellent and effective sales tool. It was very difficult to conduct business when visiting clients at their place of work. They are constantly interrupted by coworkers, the phone or one of many crises that always come up. On the Golf course, your only real enemy to productive business talk is the cell phone. Most of his clients have the manners and common courtesy to put the phone away. If they didn’t? Well, Bill would just have to deal with it. A bad day of golf still beats a good day at work, he mused.

Bill pulled into the Country Club parking lot at 9 AM sharp. He had 30 minutes to gather up his clients/guests and check in. He walked into the clubhouse and through the doorway he could see two of his guests at the bar, Bloody Mary’s in front of them. Bill considered himself a respectable functional alcoholic but he wasn’t ready to go down that road this early. He needed to be sharp. He waved to them as he checked in and dialed his 3rd guest. He was in the parking lot. So far so good. He walked into the cleverly named lounge “The 19th hole” and greeted his clients. They were cheerful and eager to play. It felt right, he felt on top of his game. He paid for their drinks and went out to meet his other guest.
He glanced to the sky, the morning haze was burning off. It was going to be a great day all around. Little did he know how right he was.

The epileptic Carp

As they entered the Hospital Foyer, Bill made one last attempt to get his manager to leave him. He was having none of it.

The check-in process was fairly quick. It was early afternoon, the ER wasn’t busy. Being in an affluent community didn’t hurt as well. Bill’s home hospital was often flooded with drunks and victims of violent crimes. There wasn’t a lot of that in this sleepy Massachusetts town, he mused. Within 15 minutes Bill was seen by the ER physician. He was asked a bunch of questions about his health history. They did a run-up of blood work. The ER doctor was clueless regarding the episode. Bill was not surprised, no one else had ever figured out why he had these attacks either. The Doctor scribbled on his board, muttered something to his attending Nurse and went on to another patient. Bill was left to make small talk with his GM until someone came back.

To his encouragement, his manager didn’t talk about the events of the previous hours. He instead shifted gears to talking about some of the business matters that he wanted to review in the now cancelled meeting. It was a relaxed conversation and they actually accomplished something. Before long the ER Doctor poked his head in.
“Are you aware…” time stopped for Bill, he knew exactly what was coming…3,2,1 BOOM
“that you have serious kidney failure?” Bill high-fived himself mentally, just as he had called it.
“Yes, I am aware” he replied as he looked over at the furrowed brow of his boss.
“Are you being actively treated for it”? the doctor asked.
“Not as actively as I should, perhaps” Bill replied. “But here’s the thing, is it related to why I’m here?”
“Not that I know of” he replied. “I can’t identify the source of your episode.”
“Then we’re done here unless you have some suggestions.”
“See your Nephrologist. If you give me his contact information I’ll have your labs forwarded.”
He gave him what he asked for and they left.

It was a quiet car ride back to the office. Bill decided to just get it over with.
“I have Kidney Disease” he offered. “Now you know.”
“Well something has to be wrong with you, you were flopping around on the conference room floor like an epileptic Carp.”
They shared a laugh. Then Bill asked, “Does it change anything?”
“Like what, you mean your employment status?”
“No.” Bill rephrased his question. “Is this something that I should have told you when you hired me?”
His manager didn’t flinch. “That’s why we have health insurance, you dumbass. How long have you had it?”
“Since I was a teenager. It’s unpredictable in its progression. I think it’s getting worse.”
“Do you think you should have told me on the interview?”
Bill stroked his goatee, stalling.
“Yes and no. It really hasn’t affected my work that I know of. I don’t have a crystal ball so I don’t think about the what-if’s. When I met you, I wanted you to see the man for the job, not some sick guy. Does that make sense?”
His manager nodded. “So now we know,” he said. They drove the rest of the way in relative silence. They passed through the security gate and as a courtesy he was dropped off at the door. It was 4:30. Bill was thankful and he got out with the intention of going in, grabbing his bag and calling it a day. As he nodded a thank you for the ride his manager asked,
“Where does stress fit into all of this, you know, with the kidneys?”
“I don’t think it helps, I know that much. Why?”
“Because you’re wrapped tighter than a convenience store sandwich. You try to do too much. You’re the first one in, last one out. I’m not asking for that. Take it easy on yourself. You’re getting the job done.”
“Thanks, but you might as well tell water not to be wet. It’s how I’m wired.”
“No, that’s how Superman is wired. Your name is Bill, not Clark. Smarten up.” With that, he put the car in gear and drove to his reserved spot.

the End of the facade

Bill Marshall had just collapsed on the conference room floor in front of the entire management team. His co-workers swarmed around him anxiously barking questions. Are you alright? Where does it hurtCan I get you anythingCan you talk? Bill wanted to answer all of them but the pain in his side was excruciating and he couldn’t get the words out. The muscles below his rib cage seized, failed to relinquish their grip. He couldn’t breathe. He clenched his teeth and tried to draw breath. His GM reached down and sat him in an upright position against the wall and handed him a bottle of water. Bill leaned forward, grabbing his ankles, trying to stretch the spasm away. Finally, the pain subsided. He sat against the wall, sipped the water and tried to regain his composure. He looked up, the entire room was staring at him.
“It’s all over,” Bill said. “Let’s continue.”
“Are you nuts?” his GM said. “You’re going to the hospital.”
Someone in the background offered to call an Ambulance. Bill resisted, insisting that it was over and he was fine.
“Have you had that happen before?” the controller asked.
“Not like that.” He lied. The truth was that he had. Not as bad but similar. He had mentioned them to his Doctor and they could find no explanation. Just one more thing to deal with.

“Well, we’re driving you to the hospital then. I’m not giving you a choice.”
Bill dropped his shoulders in defeat as he was pulled upright. He allowed his coworkers to take his arms as they ascended the stairs, walked outside, and got him into a waiting van.

By the time they had reached the local hospital, Bill felt fine. He didn’t want to go in. He had been the local hospital route before. It was always the same thing, they would run some tests and send them to his own doctor. Nothing would be accomplished except the waste of a lot of time. A doctor would come out and ask if he knew that he had Kidney issues. He was aware.

There was a bigger picture here shaping up. Bill’s GM was going in with him. When he hears the words “Kidney Disease” from the Doctor, it will be the first time his company learns that he is sick. Two hours ago, he was bulletproof. That façade was about to crumble. It was his biggest fear, that his coworkers will now see him as the sick guy. Bill had done an admirable job of denying, faking and downplaying his illness to his family, friends and employers for a hell of a long time. Now his Achilles Heel is exposed.

The downward spiral

“What can I get you, Bill?” the bartender asked. She had startled him. Despite the fact that a drink was all that he had wanted for the last 2 hours, he had been distracted by the Sox game on the corner TV.“Good evening, Liz. What are the beer specials this evening?” God, how he hated to ask that question. The Crown Royal bottle on the top shelf was waving and calling his name but he was on a copper budget. His gold tastes would have to deal with it.
“Coors Light and Bud Light draft are $2.50 each.” She seemed to be on edge tonight, not as friendly as usual. He would know, he was as regular as Norm from Cheers.
“Bud Light, please.”
“You got it”

Within seconds, a tall mug of cold, GMO-infused, foamy piss water was in front of him accompanied by a basket of tortilla chips with Salsa. For anyone else, that’s another $2.50 but Liz always took care of him. He took a long sip of his beer and scanned the bar. He wasn’t looking for anything in particular. Maybe a new face or something to indulge in his favorite past-time, people-watching. His scan was nearly complete as he turned his gaze back to the Sox game.

As he did so he inadvertently caught the gaze of the guy sitting beneath the TV. He was careful to not stare back but instead focused on the TV. He occasionally found himself darting his glance at the man and each time his gaze was met. This annoyed him. Why does every dickwad sitting under the TV think I’m looking at them? Where the fuck else am I supposed to look?  He glanced over again and the fellow looked particularly hostile. Bill was not in the mood for a confrontation, it was the very last thing he wanted after today. So, he chose to look straight ahead at the mirror behind the bottle rack. As cranky and depressed as he was when he came in, it was now worse. He was disgusted by the round face and bloodshot eyes that stared back at him. 
Relax, Bill. The mirror adds 15 pounds.
Yeah, but how many mirrors am I in right now?

He decided that he had to do what he hated most, play with his phone like “one of those” people. Bill Marshall was opinionated and old-fashioned and the phone thing conflicted him. He needed it and hated it at the same time. He saw the cell phone as an Orwellian nightmare, he refused to be glued to it and he had open disdain for those who were. But in this case, drinking alone at 3:45 on a Tuesday afternoon really was no time to stand on principle. As he pulled the phone from his pocket he saw that he had missed 3 calls. 1 from his boss and 2 from home. He made a mental note to call his boss back. He chugged the remainder of his beer and motioned to Liz for another. She was there with a fresh one immediately.

“Nice hat.” Bill had forgotten that he was wearing his Red Sox Scally cap. He loved the hat and got a lot of feedback whenever he wore it.
“Thanks Liz. I like it a lot.”
“Get it at Fenway?” she asked.
“Yup, thieving bastards got me good on it.” He had, on a whim gone into the gift shop at Fenway Park, home of his beloved Red Sox while on business in Boston looking for that very hat and paid stupid money for it.
“It looks good on you. It’s a keeper.” She smiled at him, there was a sadness behind it. As she walked away she said, “My brother would love it.”

The comment seemed odd to Bill, almost forced. Less conversational and with intention. Whatever. Remembering that he had to return his boss’s call he pushed his stool back and stepped outside. He walked to the end of the concrete walkway to escape any noise from the patrons entering and leaving. Bill knew from experience that this was the best spot to call his boss and lie to him about his whereabouts and productivity that day. The nature of the call would dictate how big the lie will be. He hated this part, and it was of no comfort that he had done it a lot lately.

He was in a rut at work. His customers weren’t busy, so consequently, his portfolio was suffering. His competition was killing him and Bill was worn down by the constant “No’s” from his customers by about noon each day. Deep down he knew that he was a great salesman. But he had lost faith in his product, his managers, and most importantly, in himself. He hated going to work as much as he hated going home lately. Whenever he could knock off early he did. Without permission, of course, which is why he was dreading making the call. If asked where he was, what would he say?  He wasn’t where he was supposed to be so whatever he said it will be a  lie, a lousy fucking lie that he thought he was above. He took a deep breath and dialed his boss.