Flip the Script, 4th Place Winning Essay, 21st Annual Essay Contest

by Teejay Riedl

Let’s flip the script: My kidney disease supports my creativity. We must begin with the simplest fact: In my life, I have people who love me, and I have people who might dislike me to a degree. But I am unaware of anyone who hates me, or would wish ill, or kidney disease, on me. Thus, when my nephrologist bid me to begin dialysis, I was not left standing dazed and confused, wondering “Why me, God?” Instead, I soberly assessed the scenario, and considered what I was going to do during the fifteen hours a week that I’d be in the chair. I’ve been in the chair for about a year now – when not here, I’m working diligently to remain on the transplant list. The clinic has a nice deployment of individual TVs, but I don’t watch them: My stance on TV would fill a separate essay.

I considered my blessings: I am, by nature, a fairly creative guy, and I enjoy my own company. One of my life’s ambitions is to get better at playing guitar. At the dialysis clinic, that wouldn’t be possible; my playing would disrupt or annoy my fellow patients. Worse, what if they hated “Free Bird”?! I investigated silent guitars and headphones, and then realized that the tubes snaking betwixt my stint and the Slurpee Machine would get in the way of my fretting hand. And even then, I reasoned that the plinking of silent strings would still annoy my dialysis brethren. So, my dialysis entertainment would need to be constrained to something that would not disrupt the clinic, and that could be supported while in the confinement of the chair.

But the answer came to me fairly quickly. I’ve always toyed with the idea of writing a Science Fiction book (and had actually started writing, pre-kidney disease), but had given up the idea when “real life” threw too many interruptions in my path. But now? Who was going to interrupt me while sitting in the chair? My work would require nothing but a laptop, and the occasional notebook close at hand. And, after I began dialysis, the effect was like night and day: my head simply “worked better” when all the toxins had been cleared from my blood. My thinking was faster and more acute.

I set-to with a jolly determination. To write a credible book would require (what turned out to be) some nontrivial research. I had almost limitless time to construct the details I’d need. The clinic’s Wi-Fi helped me a lot as I collected data and honed my plot. When I finally started drafting the manuscript, the heated chair became one of my preferred places to write, with my noise-cancelling headphones drowning out the beeping of the Slurpee Machines. A year later, I have a 120,000-word novel, which I am currently editing for publication. I began planning two sequels, plus I had an idea for a fourth book.

The above might make me seem like some creative fiend. Trust me, I’m not. For those who would attempt to do the same, let me offer some advice: Be kind to yourself. There have been days at dialysis when I’ve just plopped myself in the chair and slept, or trolled Facebook, or read a book. I’ve never assigned myself a fixed goal or target, like all the “how to write a novel” books demand. When I feel like writing, I write. Sometimes that has been my novel, sometimes song lyrics, and sometimes essays. I’m in the chair as I write this. In retrospect, my disease has afforded me the goal of realizing a life’s ambition, and the process of creation immeasurably helps my self-esteem and sense of worth. God dealt me a rough hand; I’m playing it to the best of my ability.

And don’t tell anyone, but I’ve dedicated the book to my nephrologist. If he hadn’t sent me to dialysis, my toxin-dulled brain would never have been able to write it.

Lea la versión en español de este ensayo aquí.

Listen to the audio version of Flip the Script, read by the author Teejay Riedl:



Teejay began life as a native of Washington DC, and moved to Chicagoland in 2014 after his Bride found her childhood home for sale on the Internet. The stress of a cross-country move, coupled with the demands of his day job as a Data Center engineer, undoubtedly contributed to the undiagnosed hypertension that resulted in the failure of his kidneys.

“Not to worry!” he exclaimed. “I live in a great country, with the resources to help me succeed in this!” He has been in Dialysis for over a year now, and is working with the Northwest Medicine Kidney Transplant Program, awaiting a donor kidney. His Dialysis center is the Fresenius Naperville North site, where the irrepressible professionalism and good mood of the staff is helping him to weather the demands of dialysis.

Beyond his Engineering day work, Teejay is a musician, aspiring author, and dog lover.  He’s a multi-instrumentalist, and has been recorded the equivalent of 17 “albums” in his home studio. His first book – on Home Studio sciences and techniques – is followed by his first fiction work, written largely during his Dialysis sessions. He is currently seeking a publisher, and working on his second novel (a sequel to the first). Teejay is the “provider pet” to two loving Street Mutt rescue dogs, and his supportive Bride, Juli (33 years in September, plus another 5 living in sin).  “That togetherness counts too, doesn’t it?!”


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