“When life hands you lemons, make lemonade!” How many times have we read that on greeting cards or heard that bit of advice? But what if you don’t like lemonade? And what if you’re on dialysis and every bit of liquid has to be measured between treatments? Perhaps the slogan doesn’t apply to what we drink at all. Maybe it has to do with the hand of cards we are dealt.
The Need to Keep Working
Sometimes, kidneys fail due to disease, accident, or as the result of another disabling disease such as diabetes. When this happens, our world often turns upside down as we become patients of nephrologists and adjust to the necessary treatments, dietary restrictions, and medications.
Life as we have known it changes. That is why it is so critical to retain as much as possible the things that have given us purpose, identity, and financial reward. We need to keep working… at something!
“The Challenge to Change”
Herein is where the challenge to change becomes as important for our mental health as do the medical changes we need to encompass into our lives to keep our bodies functioning. Physical health and mental health are equally important, and without the two working together we degenerate and deteriorate. I feel that the steps I took for my own mental health greatly influenced the outcome of two periods of time spent on dialysis, two kidney transplants, and two lung diseases.
After 30 years of full-time employment with the same marine company selling boats, I am now able to cut back my work hours because of personal desire instead of physical need. However, had I not pushed myself to adapt, persevere, and keep focused on my goals, I do believe I would never have made it to this point. We must first convince ourselves of the need to remain as “normal” as possible when our world caves in around us. The first step is to make a commitment to you!
Examining New Circumstances
After commitment comes self-examination. We need to take a hard look at our new circumstances to see where we can adapt. The truth is that we may not be able to do exactly what we had been doing in the past. Our employers or the job description may or may not lend themselves to adjustment, but I’ve seen so many cases where good employees are so highly valued that businesses often bend to their needs. Your value has not decreased, just your strength and capacity.
Most people are multi-talented in their chosen field, though they often specialize in just one thing. Tapping into those other talents, or finding a new way to incorporate your old tasks into a new time frame, can be challenging and rewarding for both you and your employer. This can even stretch over to volunteerism if your financial needs are being met. The point here is to have something outside yourself to focus on besides your life as a kidney patient, and to do so on a daily basis.
Lifestyle and Work Ethic
Retaining some of your previous lifestyle and work ethic brings continuity back into your world. It helps to maintain a routine. It also helps to try to avoid or lessen depression, increase your self-confidence, and inspire and give hope to others. And when your world seems filled with medical people and other patients, it’s important to keep contact and socialize with healthy individuals.
People admire winners who can rise above their circumstances. Other people you come into contact with probably have issues of their own, and just seeing how well you cope with your problems becomes a positive example in their lives. As a transplant recipient, I often volunteer to speak to the public, and I’ve found that most people know someone who is struggling with medical hardships. The general public needs the encouragement–just as you need the confidence–that the future will bring solutions to these issues. This promise for the future is termed “Hope!”
Positive Mind Games
I cannot emphasize enough how important our mental attitude is when dealing with a chronic disease. I played a mental game with myself all during those dialysis days. On days when I went for treatment, I was a “patient.” But on those days in between, I told myself I was normal and healthy like everyone else. (Actually, even my restricted diet wasn’t all that much different from the diet fads that my co-workers were on.) I also took up ballroom dancing and motorcycle riding, because I knew I could. Your mind is a powerful thing!
Yes, to do all of this you need to follow your dietary plan and doctor’s instructions to a “T.” But always remember that the medical staff and researchers have done their homework, and they’ve done it all for you! Guides and advice are readily available. But your adherence to the treatment plan is absolutely necessary.
The ultimate decision is yours. Well-meaning family and friends may see you as a continuous “patient” and think they are helping by relieving you of all your everyday chores and duties. On the contrary, I believe that having responsibility (such as caring for a pet), doing chores (such as the laundry), and engaging in other former duties (if you’re physically able to do so) will keep you strong and motivated to improve.
It’s not always easy. You must get used to it. But the rewards of feeling useful and confident–and knowing that part of your world remains “normal”–is worth it!
About the Author
Carol James is a former dialysis and two-time kidney transplant patient who lives in Folsom, CA. For the past 10 years, she has been a California Golden State Donor Services Vital Volunteer, educating the public about organ donation and transplantation.
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