Every time I go to transplant clinic, I am reminded that I am a miracle.
For the last 28 years, I have been alive because of other people’s kidneys and a daily fistful of pills: For 23 years, my Mum’s, and for the last 5 years, my husband, Kevin’s. For me, science fiction is not a novel set in The Future, but daily life, and I often walk into transplant clinic filled with a sense of pride. Yesterday morning, I was filled with pain.
For the last year and a half I have been suffering with a generally identified, periodic and painful skin condition. Said sci-fi pills—immunosuppressives to be clear—suppress my immune system so I can keep my kidney, but render my body incapable of expelling whatever—Infection? Virus? Condition?—has seized hold of my quality of life. It sucks. It’s mean. It want It dead.
As I walked into the lab, I called out, “Hello! Good morning!” For this night owl, this action is known as: Fake It ‘Til You Make It.
“You look wonderful.”
“I do?” my eyes narrowed, suspect.
“You do. You are glowing.”
Surely you jest Blood Technician Man. Was he blind? (Not the best quality for a person who sticks needles into people’s arms for a living. Just sayin’.) I had inspected my morning visage. Taken note of my puffy eyes (Thanks, lack of sleep.) and cold sore (Thanks, Kevin.) Clearly he saw something I didn’t.
He began prepping me for a blood draw for Dr. Jordan, one of my four transplant physicians and immunologist. Dr. Jordan pioneered IVIG, a treatment that safely boosts the antibody-deficient immune systems of transplant patients. I could be a candidate for this treatment. If they can find something to treat.
As I pulled off my jean jacket, it chafed like sandpaper. I could feel It moving underneath my skin, mostly in my arms, swirling hot, prickling. Fuck. Off. Then I said a little prayer. “Please, god, please. Help them find something they can treat.”
As I left the building, I declared out loud, “Now I want to cry.” And so I did. Bulbous tears dropped off my chin as I drove the all-too-familiar trek home from Cedars.
A few hours later, I was unpacking sweaty gym gear when Armageddon of the Uterus took me down like a comet hitting earth. I curled on the floor, screaming. I couldn’t stand up. Within what seemed like half a minute, I had FaceTimed with Kevin in Scotland, and my GF was on her way. My pain was a 10 on the pain scale. As an active drug addict, I had almost always said “10”, but in that moment, it really was. Pain karma is a bitch.
Over 3 years ago, I was admitted to the ER with similar symptoms and sent home with a big bottle of Percocet. It sent me on a narcotic run that, by its end, found me rattling the gates of insanity: Nodding off as I wound down the mountain from Big Bear. Moaning to my sponsor that, “I can’t find god. I can’t find god.” That day, I couldn’t.
The groovy thing about being a transplant patient is that you kinda get a Fast Pass. Front-of-the-line access in terms of attention and automatic respect. The not-so-groovy thing about being a transplant patient, well, I don’t have time to make that list.
Soon enough, I had a point person, a Nurse Practitioner named Nicole. Blood and urine. Check. Ultrasound ordered. Check. IV inserted. Check. Then Nicole asked,
“How bad is your pain?”
“It’s pretty bad.”
“Do you want something for pain?”
Did I want something for pain? Did. I. Want. Something. For. Pain? Sigh. Please. Does a bird have wings? Is the sun hot? Nothing turns the crank of this pharmaceutical whore the way those words do. I heard a whisper, not untrue. You are in pain. You are justified.
“I’m OK,” I said.
“Well, let me know if you change you mind.” Yup. I know where the call button is, honey.
The WiFi service was weak, so I hobbled over to the bathroom and texted my globetrotting husband. Then I opened Facebook. Hmmm. A hospital “Check-In.” How lame would that be? How self-serving. How millennial of me.
As I sat on the toilet, I typed, “In the ER with abdominal pain. Having an ultrasound to make sure “The Kid” is safe and sound.” Then #sobergirl. I paused. My finger hovered over the “Send” icon. I bit my lip. There’s just no coming back from cyber space. I pressed down, and with a whoosh, it was posted. The truth was out there. A truth I wanted to live. Sober Girl.
Nicole asked again. I declined again. As I lay in the hospital bed, comforting in its surreal and familiar cocoon, that voice whispered again.
You could just ask them for, like, 5 pills. For tonight and tomorrow. That’d be OK. All bets are off in the ER. It’s a pharmaceutical DMZ. Drugs don’t count in here.
But a louder voice overrode.
This too shall pass.
The fist-shaking, head-scratching, life-and-death-affirming, undeniable truth.
One moment you’re a newlywed, the next you’re celebrating 21 years of marriage.
One moment you’re on dialysis, the next you’ve hit the 5-year transplant mark.
One moment you’re in rehab, next, you’re an award-winning writer.
Everything passes. Even pain.
Turns out the pain was something called “Mid-cycle pain” or “Mittelschmerz” caused by ovulation. Who knew? This fabulous word should become a new hashtag and go viral. “He’s so mittelschmerz and he doesn’t even know it.” You’re welcome. But I digress.
What more profoundly blew my mind was my creatinine (kidney function): 0.89, which is the lowest it’s ever been, even immediately after transplant. This means nothing to you, but everything, everything, to me. As I lay in bed, cupping its awkward-shaped protrusion from my tummy, it was impossible for me not to think about the myriad ways addiction had nearly killed me, and that somehow, somehow, by mere seconds and inches, my kidney, marriage or life had not been destroyed.
When I turned down pain medication for the 3rd time, my sober friend got up to kiss me on the forehead, as I whispered, “I turned down pain meds.” For the second time that day, tears streamed down my face, humbled, knowing I did not do it, any of this alone.
Without help, it is too much for me, but not We. Never alone.
Before I was discharged, I swallowed 2 Tylenol. The man on my left got Ativan, the woman on my right got Morphine, but I got much, much more.
My sobriety. My health. My god.
Which brings me back to Blood Technician Man. That morning, he saw something inside me, “a glow”, something I was clearly not feeling, but something that existed all the same. Is it, dare I say, god?
Yesterday was a day of miracles for me. From Beverly Hills to Burbank.
Today, there are two things I know for sure:
It’s a miracle every time this drug addict turns down a drug.
And thank you, God, I don’t ever have to do it alone.