If you had told me only a dozen or so years ago that I would need a kidney transplant or dialysis to survive, I wouldn’t have known what you were talking about. Literally. I had never given a first, let alone a second, thought to my kidneys before May of 1995.
When I was told I had kidney failure, I was living on my own for the first time and immediately came home to tell my Mom. I was devastated. If it hadn’t been for my mom, Genevieve, and my brother, David, I have no idea how I could have accomplished the monumental task that lay ahead, both surviving with kidney disease and going through all the treatments necessary to stay alive. In fact, I very well might not be here to write this at all if it hadn’t been for both of them.
In a flash, my life as a relatively carefree 23-year old was over. I could no longer afford to waste energy, be it on rotten boyfriends, flaky friends, or whatever appeal nightclubbing held for me back then. I needed reinforcements.
I needed my family.
The night of Sunday, January 31, 1999, I was wheeled to the operating room to get my new kidney, my mom and brother walking beside me. My mom knew I was scared. She leaned in close to my ear and gently said: “You’ll be alright. We are survivors!”
By 1:30 a.m., my two-year, three-month wait on peritoneal dialysis was over. My pre-owned kidney was pumping urine out as efficiently as if it had been my very own native healthy kidney.
I came to very shortly in that recovery room and, when I did, I felt like I was a cotton ball, warm and fuzzy. Sounds were muted, and I remember someone asking if I was in pain. Pain? It was only a faint, far away sensation, and I drifted back into my cocoon before I could answer the nurse.
My family was there in the dawn hours as I came to in my hospital room. Mom and David said I was smiling a lot and doing something I have never really done before in my life. I was doped up and giving the thumbs-up sign. To this day, I am eternally grateful a video camera was nowhere in sight.
I called my mom from Stanford two-days post-kidney transplant. I was weeping and felt emotionally naked, like all my defenses had been stripped off, leaving my psyche raw.
“Mom, I don’t feel like I deserve this transplant,” I said, even though I had been on the waiting list for over two years.
“Of course you do! Don’t think like that. You’ve been given a wonderful chance.”
My emotions were paying for having 100 milligrams of prednisone coursing through my veins at 100 mph. My mom stayed on the phone with me for over two hours until I calmed down and fell back asleep.
Kidney disease taught me that time is finite and to keep only the most important things close to your heart. Don’t clog your life up with meaningless concerns, the ones that creep into your life and shift your priorities and perspectives so that you no longer take that time with the people you cherish most. Looking back now at the sacrifices, support, love, and caring my family gave to me willingly and unconditionally, I know now the real miracle of family that had existed long before my battle with kidney disease began.
As I write this now, life as I knew it has been transformed again. After having themselves battled chronic illness that became terminal, my brother passed away in January of 2002, and, seven months later, my Mom joined her son in heaven.
Although I grieve profoundly and will grieve their passing for the rest of my life, I know I have been truly blessed, and my life is all the better for having had them in it. Blessed with good health, I was able to be caretaker to my Mom and brother, as they had been to me. I now possess an empathy that comes only with the first-hand knowledge of living with a chronic disease. I know now I am truly a survivor, just as my Mother had told me.
I can never repay them for all they did for me, but I will honor their lives by making the most of the life I have now. One prednisone-filled day at a time.
About the Author
Ninette Haro resides in San Jose, CA. She is the First Place Winner in the iKidney.com Second Annual Essay Contest entitled, “Kidney Disease–Redefining What is Important in Life.” The contest was made possible by support from Watson Pharma.
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