The Yellow Brick Road

By Lori Hartwell


I have a confession: I have always been fascinated by tornadoes. The destruction they can bring drops people, families, and communities into the dangerous unknown. After tornadoes hit, survivors are commonly bewildered, often grateful that their lives were not taken. It’s terrifying, but in a way I can relate to.

A tornado is much like a chronic illness. I have had a chronic illness since the age of two. I have to rely on medication every day, regularly see doctors, and I will never be cured. I have had fifty plus surgeries as the result of this illness, and have been poked and prodded by every instrument known to man.

My life has been a series of tornadoes touching down. Just when I think everything is going smoothly, I hear the alerts go off.

“When you have an illness, if you do not want to become bitter, you have to find your heart. Feel compassion for those who suffer, be kind to others and especially yourself.”

One of my favorite movies of all time is The Wizard of Oz. I identify with Dorothy. She was minding her own business when a tornado sucked her and Toto right out of Kansas. She landed in the Land of Oz. All she wanted in that moment was to be back home, doing her chores.

Dorothy met up with some munchkins. These were quirky little men and women who told her she needed to find the Yellow Brick Road, follow it to the Emerald City, and find the Wizard who could help her get back home.

Dorothy began her journey down the Yellow Brick Road to find out who she was and how to get home. She first came upon a scarecrow. All the scarecrow wanted in life was a heart.
Then Dorothy ran into The Tin Man. He complained that all he wanted was a brain.When you have an illness, if you do not want to become bitter, you have to find your heart. Feel compassion for those who suffer, be kind to others and especially yourself. I volunteer and give as much of my time as possible to help people and animals who are in need.    

In today’s healthcare system we have limited time with healthcare professionals, and it is imperative we find our brain. We must learn all we can about our illness to ensure we get the care we need. I learn everything I can about my illness, so I can aid the doctor in making decisions to improve my well-being.

Next, Dorothy encountered the Cowardly Lion. All the Cowardly Lion wanted was courage. If you live with a chronic illness you must be courageous. I have had to make decisions often that affect my quality of life: experimental drugs, heavy diet restrictions, and the many unpleasant procedures/surgeries I have had to go through.

Dorothy also came upon Glinda, the good witch, who gave her a pair of Red Ruby Shoes and told her to believe in herself. Her quote is worth repeating: “We must believe in our dreams and ourselves.” What a profound statement to remind ourselves of when we feel overwhelmed with life’s challenges.

Dorothy finally reached the Emerald City and found the Wizard, although he was hiding behind a curtain and didn’t do anything but reassure her and give her hope. He told her she already had everything she needed: Her heart, wisdom and the courage to believe in herself. These tools helped Dorothy find her way home – a place that is accepting.

Life is difficult, and if you have your health you have a priceless gift. I did not receive that gift. But, I have received the understanding and appreciation of how wonderful life can be…in spite of a chronic illness.

I have observed the two types of people during a tornado/illness. There are those who take initiative and those who don’t. One type sits there and says, “Poor me! What did I ever do to deserve this?” They wait there for the effects of the disaster/illness to destroy them. The other type picks up the pieces, and does what is needed to make life better for themselves and others who have suffered.

Adversity introduces you to yourself. I like thinking of a chronic illness as a tornado. Some people with a chronic illness feel as if they are being punished.  I don’t believe that. I believe I was just caught in the wrong weather patterns.

My Yellow Brick Road has shown me many surprises in my life. I have found my heart, my brain, and my courage along this road. The Wicked Witch of the West has reared her head a few times, and I have survived. I need to remember to click my Red Ruby Shoes three times, and not give up on my dreams or myself!


Lori hartwell - Renal Support Network - PresidentLori Hartwell is the Founder & President of Renal Support Network (RSN) and the host of KidneyTalk™, a radio podcast show. Lori was diagnosed with kidney disease at the age of two. In 1993 she founded RSN to instill “health, happiness and hope” into the lives of those affected by chronic kidney disease. Lori is also the author of the inspirational book Chronically Happy: Joyful Living in Spite of Chronic Illness and is a four-time kidney transplant recipient.


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