Mind Games, 3rd Place Winning Essay, 21st Annual Essay Contest

by Bill Naifeh

I am a baker. I usually work out of the left side of my brain. I’m very methodical and list oriented. I do everything with precise weights, measures, and temperatures. Occasionally, however, the creative right side of my brain takes command. This is what happened when I found out that I was in kidney failure. I had to be creative to tackle what was in front of me.

In true “baker” fashion, I sat down and made myself a list:

1) I needed to cook with less salt.

2) I had a drinking problem.

3) I needed to exercise more.

I was using too much salt. The first thing I did was remove the saltshaker from my kitchen table. I figured if it wasn’t there, I wouldn’t be tempted to use it. I started using over-the-counter salt-free seasoning. I rediscovered fresh herbs and spices. I found that turmeric would kiss my food with an exotic flavor and a beautiful yellow tint. Fresh mint and basil would turn any dish into a cool summer evening with a bright whimsical flavor. I discovered that sage doesn’t have to be used just once a year at Thanksgiving. It tastes great in a fresh salad! I was really enjoying using the creative right side of my brain. It was like I was back in cooking school developing new recipes. However, I was really going to have to task my right brain if I was going to conquer my drinking problem.

You see, I was drinking over a gallon of water a day! I had a half gallon thermos sitting on my counter and I filled it up at least twice a day with ice water. The first thing I did was get rid of the thermos. I purchased packages of sugar-free drink mix that I could put in a 16-ounce water bottle and refrigerate. Whenever I was thirsty, I’d take a small drink from my bottle of flavored water. When it was empty, I was done for the day. I also purchased fresh fruit, such as strawberries, grapes, peaches, and pineapple. I cut the fruit into bite-size pieces and froze them on a sheet pan. When I was thirsty, I would get a small bowl of frozen fruit. Another trick I use is to have a dish of sugar-free hard candy on the table. I found that sucking on the candy would quench my thirst. The frozen fruit and sugar-free candy have an additional benefit – my grandchildren love them.

I have never really liked to exercise! I worked long hours in the bakery and when I got home, I was tired. There wasn’t much in me that wanted more physical exertion. I did know that the dietitian, nurses, and nephrologist thought exercising would help me with dialysis. That’s when I discovered I could create my own playlist from a streaming service. I put fast-paced songs that I like to listen to on my playlist, and when I cue it up I just start moving. I listen when I am out walking on the street or lifting weights in the gym or just riding my stationary bike. That playlist helps me achieve something I didn’t think was possible – looking forward to exercise!

When I first looked at that dialysis mountain, l didn’t think there was any way I could get over it. It wasn’t until I unleashed the right side of my brain and let it create new pathways for me to follow, that I was able to conquer it. By learning new ways of cooking with less salt, drinking less water, and exercising more, l am able to make my time in the dialysis chair much more pleasant and efficient.

In the fall, I will begin my tenth year of dialysis. This is something I am very proud of. Being a left-brained person, the process of dialysis was all very natural to me. But, I had to learn to rely on creative thinking to make the dialysis experience successful for me. I look forward to creatively meeting any further challenges that dialysis might bring my way.

Lea la versión en español de este ensayo aquí.

Listen to the audio version of Mind Games, read by the author Bill Naifeh:



My name is Bill Naifeh and I was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I attended Oklahoma State University and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Hotel and Restaurant Administration. I met and married the love of my life, Helen in 1976. We have two daughters and four grandchildren. In 1980, Helen and I opened a bakery/deli, Bill’s Bread Box, in Kingfisher, Oklahoma and operated it for 16 years. When we closed the bakery, I got a teaching certificate and taught Family and Consumer Science and Culinary Arts. I then switched to working in the healthcare industry as a chef and dietary manager. My journey with dialysis began in 2014.


More Essays by Bill Naifeh

When the Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Going, Honorable Mention, 20th Annual Essay Contest




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