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What I learned When My Kidneys Failed-Part I

September 2, 2013

This will be a departure from my usual political rants. Eventually, I will get back to that—so those of you who are annoyed by me and especially those who enjoy taking shots at me will have to wait a while. Keep your rounds chambered-it won’t be long for the sport to resume.

But none of that seems important now. Those of you who have ever faced a life-threatening crisis will find this familiar territory. Those of you who have not-it is my sincere hope that you will never will.

Some things about me for the sake of context: I am a 61 year old male with Type I diabetes.

This is the type of diabetes that is not a result of lifestyle choices. Rather, it is a genetic misfire that caused my immune system to mistakenly react to the cells that produce insulin as foreign material and attack and kill those cells. I have been dealing with the effects of this disease for 50 years.

Well-managed diabetes is a remorseless disease that kills one slowly (diabetes not well-managed is another story altogether). The physical degradation can be slowed to the point that one can achieve a near-normal life. But it is always there: it never takes a day off, it never gets tired, it never loses focus and is relentlessly committed to killing me.

I have held this disease at bay for half a century. I have had a life filled with adventure, amazement, professional success and the love and support of my friends and family. If I died today, I would have the satisfaction of knowing that even though I was dealt a bad hand, I played it well.

But my grand prize for this astonishing longevity: renal failure.

The kidneys provide a vital function that sustains life. They are a natural organic filter that removes toxins and waste from the blood stream and provides a mechanism to remove that waste from the body. Most people are born with two kidneys—but a healthy life can be sustained with only one.

Outside of trauma or certain diseases, kidneys, when they fail, fail slowly. My kidneys started to lose efficiency in the late ‘90s. Certain therapies, drugs and lifestyle choices can slow the degradation of kidney function. During the long deterioration I told my doctors that our goal was to keep my kidneys alive long enough so that I could die of something else. They failed to see the humor.

During the Christmas holidays in 2010, I came down with a viral infection that among other things, accelerated the deterioration of my renal function. My kidneys, along with the rest of me, began to circle the drain.

I did not experience all of the symptoms of Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD), but the symptoms I experienced, I experienced in spades. 2011 was the year of dealing with those symptoms in an effort to stay healthy enough to keep working. This by far, was the most difficult thing I have ever done. And the most futile.

I developed Obstructive Sleep Apnea, Restless Leg Syndrome, terrifying and painful cramping in my legs and feet, persistent insomnia, involuntary muscular twitching, loss of appetite (especially in the evening), constant upset stomach and nausea, and the loss of energy or interest in the things that gave my life meaning (especially photography). I could no longer focus for more than a few minutes or even think clearly.

But the worst part, by far, was that my wife and the absolute love of my life, got to stand by helplessly and watch me die.

Next installment-Dialysis Days and Waiting for a Transplant.

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From → Health

One Comment
  1. This puts one’s own minor aches and pains into perspective.

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