I was standing with my back toward the wall at Starbucks in the Sacramento International Airport, waiting for my tall, iced, green tea unsweetened with two Splenda Sweeteners. I was wearing a mask to protect myself from germs, and a sweatshirt I had created when I rode on the Donate Life Float in 2011. It has a picture of my organ donor on the front and the words, ‘I love my living donor,’ ‘END PKD’ down one sleeve, ‘Donate Life’ down the other sleeve and the 2011 Donate Life logo on the back with the words, ‘Transplantation Works, Kidney Recipient.’ I noticed the woman to my right was looking at me. Wearing a mask attracts attention so I didn’t think anything of it. She asked, “Did you receive a kidney transplant?” I said, “Yes, I did. Thank you for asking.” We chatted for a few minutes and discovered that a friend of hers has PKD and received a transplant, too.
I was in my early 20s when I first met my husband, Noah. We saw each other two nights in a row at different locations. The friends we were both with knew each other. The second night we saw each other, we were listening to a band and Noah said, “Can I buy you a drink?” I said, “No thanks, I had a kidney transplant.” Now that I look back, I could have been a little more subtle on sharing that information, but I’d rather be upfront. Noah’s beaming and full-of-life smile led me to giving him my number.
Upon becoming a kidney transplant recipient, we must take lifelong medicine that suppresses our immune system to help prevent our body from rejecting the donated organ. At this same time, germs take on a whole new meaning in our lives. Hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes are within arm’s reach. Masks are worn while traveling, such as when a passenger on an airplane. Our loved ones open doors for us to prevent us from touching possible infected surfaces. Our elbows and hips are used more often than our hands to protect ourselves from coming in contact with germs. If we know someone is ill, we try our best to stay far away. As soon as we enter our home, the first thing we do is wash our hands.
During the silent moment prior to blowing out my birthday candles, I always think of the reality that I was not expected to see my 19th birthday. Also, that it is a true miracle I have turned 32 years old today. Thirty-two! Wow! It is hard to process all I have endured and how lucky I am for the second chance at life I’ve been given.
It is easy to become creatures of habit. Some parts of our daily routine are mundane while others we look forward to. Noah and I used to have a steady routine of taking evening walks and hiking adventures on the weekend. We would drive down into the canyon behind our home and walk along the trails by the American River. Our evening hikes would range between two to four miles. Some trails ran parallel to the river, while others ascended up the canyon giving us a bird’s-eye view of the beauty that surrounded us. This was a delightful way to spend our evening together, holding hands, talking about our day and how we love where we live. This was my favorite part of my day that I greatly miss.
I stood up from my workstation and looked around to take in my surroundings. Try to envision “Santa’s Workshop” and that is what my eyes saw and what filled my heart on Dec. 27, 2014. Lots of people working diligently with smiles on their faces, love in their hearts and all with a strong connection to inspire the world to Donate Life. I was in a large warehouse in Pasadena, California, which housed several floats that would later ride in the 2015 Tournament of Roses Parade. My husband, Noah, and I had the honor of helping to decorate the Donate Life Float.
In order to enter my eye doctor’s office, I must walk past the entrance of the Davita dialysis facility. This triggers memories of my dialyzing days and fills every cell of my being with gratitude that I am no longer a dialysis patient. I clearly remember the beeping noises the dialysis machines made. The large chair I would occupy for hours as my blood was filtered through the machine. The ice chips and ginger ale the nurses would give me during my treatments. How I was always the youngest patient in the room. The awful cramps I would get in my legs and feet during my sessions. How Benadryl got me through many of my appointments. Most importantly, how it did the job of my two kidneys that were removed and kept me alive until I received the gift of life.
“Consider the momentous event in architecture when the wall parted and the column became.” – Louis Kahn
I discovered the above quote the evening of December 30, 2014. Ironically the same day I was released from physical therapy after being a patient for 22 months. It instantly spoke to me. Architecture is the structure of anything. I compared it to the construction of the past two years of my life, where I am the column.
I was lying stomach down on a massage table with my face surrounded by the circle headrest. It was the third appointment I had with Michelle, a therapeutic massage therapist. She and I connected at my first appointment. She was in awe by all that my body has endured and is very interested in helping my body heal and deal with its constant stressors. At the beginning of the session, Michelle warmed up my muscles with hot rocks. She asked if I would mind if she prayed. I welcomed her kind act of giving. She said she usually prays silently but was inclined to be vocal at that moment. Michelle proceeded to say a prayer that was full of beautiful and heartfelt sentiments about my life, my body and my future. I was so touched that my eyes welled up with tears. I felt at peace and very fortunate at that moment in time.
“If I have the belief that I can do it, I shall surely acquire the capacity to do it even if I may not have it at the beginning.” – Gandhi
Our bodies and minds continue to evolve and change. At times we may try to fight the inevitable that we never stay the same. As we age, our knowledge expands and our bodies progress. We progress to different phases. During these phases we may be forced to unwanted periods of time. This has happened to me since February 1, 2013. I have been a physical therapy patient since the first quarter of 2013 for my disk herniation and recovery from my back surgeries. My spine is complicated. Due to scoliosis, I have two Harrington rods that run parallel to my disks of T3 to L2. The several disks below the rods are either herniated or bulged. The most repetitive question I have asked my physical therapist is, “Will I get back to the me I used to be?