Happy Pens, Honorable Mention, 21st Annual Essay Contest

by Sandra Kisselback

Smorgasbord: A wide variety of something.

            Happy Pens: An oasis in the ever-changing smorgasbord

of medical opinions. I am more than my diagnosis.

Regarding my “condition,” and various degrees of health states, I’ve heard some phrases repeatedly:

“You’re one tough lady. How do you keep smiling with all you’ve experienced?”

“Well, I don’t have to tell you, after what you’ve been through.”


“Eight years of dialysis and two transplants? How do you keep going?”

Those are good questions, I say to myself. Wait. Did I just say that out loud?

Either way, there are people who are familiar with my story. There are some who think they know my story. And there are those who have no clue. Unless you’re in my skin to see my day-to-day, you can only guess the smorgasbord of offerings rolled out on the banquet table waiting to surprise me.

“Here you go. Why don’t you try some end stage renal disease? And, how about a side of high blood pressure, to boot?”

“Or maybe this one – hyper parathyroid disease. That should be a real treat. It’ll be so comforting to know your body is being tricked into leaching calcium from your bones and teeth. Plus … what the heck? Might as well pick up a piece of this osteopenia. Or is that osteoporosis? Kind of hard to tell.”

“I must say, this looks appetizing. Give this water pill a shot and a tab or two of metoprolol for your heart palpitations. Then you can have a bout or two of gout to round out an all ‘round, fun day.”

“Hold on. I know you’re getting a little full. You really must have a couple of these new items. You don’t want to miss out on anything. Try a taste of this transient ischemic attack. You know, like a mini-stroke. It will pair nicely with your atrial fibrillation. Interesting, right?”

“If you think that was interesting, let’s sign you up for hyponatremia. You’ll probably get yourself a nice ride to the hospital in an air-conditioned ambulance because your sodium levels are dangerously low. Won’t that be fun?”

“Yes. Fun indeed.”

After 30 plus years of dipping into the smorgasbord, the roller coaster ride continues to be a real blast full of twists and turns, hard falls, and soft knocks. Numbness, emotional upheaval, medicines that help, medicines that hurt. Ambulance rides, days of respite in the hospital and new doctors for each added diagnosis.

On the other hand, waiting for me on the other table are days loaded with laughter, adventure, a limitless thirst for knowledge and moments of quiet reflection as I strive to visit the available constants: sunrises, sunsets, clouds, blue skies, wildlife going about their day.

And what do you suppose is sitting there in a place of prominence? My Happy Pens. Constant and reliable companions bringing smiles and sunshine to my days. We have a long running history of collaboration. Homemade cards for family, friends, and strangers. Pages of drawing practice – guided by “You Can Draw” books checked out from the library. Creating mini collages and adding hidden messages using my Happy Pens. Sharing with my unsuspecting fan club, just because. Spilling my guts onto the page during stressful times and journaling my memories for safe keeping. Just knowing my Happy Pens are by my side increases my power to stay strong.

Personal choices are, as it indicates, personal. Happy Pens may not work for everyone to help navigate the “stuff.”  But it works for me. Just between the two of us, after a recent medical appointment, I picked up another set of Happy Pens. They are bright and colorful and glide easily on the page. I had to get them. They were practically shouting at me to bring them home. Plus, there was that sale tag of $3.00 off glaring away. Ahhh! More Happy Pens joining the ranks.

I am so much more than my diagnosis. With my Happy Pens remaining unfrazzled and true, whispers of self-doubt and angst are batted away. I love My Happy Pens. We make a good team and are currently planning another mischievous escapade together. You want to join me? Call me and we’ll talk.


Sandra Leigh. My birthday is October 1. Celebrating Birthdays is an important part of my world. Collecting family stories is equally important. Other fun activities I jump into are drawing, journaling, planning new adventures, hanging with my nieces & nephew’s, playing with wood and taking early morning walks. I also enjoy sharing (and eating) my homemade baked goods.






More Essay by Sandra Kisselback:

It’s Called ‘The Reframe’, Honorable Mention, 20th Annual Essay Contest

The Day My Life Got Interesting, 19th Annual Essay Contest

You Never Know Until You Try, Honorable Mention, 18th Annual Essay Contest

Cape of TRIUMPH – 2nd Place Winner, 17th Annual Essay Contest

Squirming Toward My New Normal – 2nd Place Winner (Tie) 15th annual essay contest

Temporarily Speaking – Honorable Mention Winner, 12th Annual Essay Contest

“The Case of the New Shoes” – 1st Place Winner, 10th Annual Essay Contest


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