“Starting Over Is Not A Failure”

Note to readers: I decided to do this blog post as a self Q&A to look back at the last six month after my kidney transplant, self-examination, and the future.   

Q: It’s been six months now since your kidney transplant. You look good. How do you feel? 

A: “Thanks. I feel good. Not 100%, but better than I was when I was on dialysis. I was a walking zombie after dialysis on most days. I was crashing on the couch and sleeping it off.”

Q: Do you feel healthy with the new kidney?

A: “Yes and no. I’m probably the healthiest I’ve been since high school. I’m not out of the woods as it relates to my health. There will be constant monitoring of my kidneys, appointments with doctors, and taking anti-rejection medications for the rest of my life.”

Q: You haven’t talked much about the surgery. How did you learn that you were getting a new kidney? 

A: “My uncle was approved to be a donor at the end of February.  He was the only person, family or friend, who went through the evaluation process to determine if he was a match. The caveat was that the transplant had to take place before April 1st, or he would have to start the donor process and test all over again.

When I received the news that the transplant was scheduled, I hesitated. When I initially met with the transplant team in 2015, they wanted me to lose at least 20 pounds and lower my A1c below 8%. I was internally beating myself up because I fell short of meeting those expectations. I was close, but not close enough in my view.”

We have a hard time accepting and practicing this term.

Q: Were the surgeons upset with you when you admitted that you fell short of the goals?

A: “The surgeons were not upset. They were convinced that I would have a successful transplant. They determined that due to my diligence to do follow doctor’s orders, my mental state, responding positively to setbacks, and a strong support system from my family and a small circle of close friends.

I almost called off the surgery. I irrationally concluded that I didn’t deserve to be transplanted. I fell short of the goals that were set for me. My mother and the post-transplant coordinator had to talk me down from the ledge.  They assured me that I was ready for the procedure. I prepared myself for three years to get to this point. I am a perfectionist. I wanted the situation to be perfect for the transplant to happen.

I took a few breaths, calmed down, looked at both of them and calmly replied “I’m ready.””

Q: Do you remember the day of the surgery?

A: “Yes. I arrived at UIHC (University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics) early Thursday morning, March 29th, with my mom. Thirty minutes later, the nurse escorted me into a waiting room, to be prepped. My uncle was next door (I think?) getting prepped as well. He was heading to the operating room first, then I was to follow 30 minutes later. Around 9:00 a.m., one of the surgeons walked in and said it was time. I kissed my mom and they wheeled me towards the operating room.

At 9:30 a.m., the nurses did a final check before putting me under anesthesia. “Is there any last questions before we put the mask on you?” I responded “Nope, Let’s do this.” The nurses place the anesthesia mask on my face.

Late in the afternoon, I awoke in the surgery holding area, where patients who has had surgery are recuperating before being discharged or moved to a hospital room. The first thing I recall is my breathing and hearing nurses talk. I managed to move my head side to side gently to see what was going on. I could feel the staples on my lower right abdomen, where the new kidney was put in.

Around 6:15 p.m., I was transported to my hospital room in the transplant wing.”

Later that evening, the surgeons briefed me on the procedure.  Once one of the doctors used laparoscopic surgery to remove my uncle’s kidney, another doctor cut me open and attached the kidney.  As soon as the tubes and veins were attached, the new kidney started functioning right away.

Mr Tony logo
Yes, Mr. Tony has a podcast…at a restaurant. He owns the restaurant (along with Maury Povich).

Q: Wow, that is amazing. Were you in any pain?

A: “Hell no. I’ve been used to excruciating pain in the past. The transplant was, to me, the easiest thing I endured. I’m insane for saying that, but here’s why. I’ve had two fistulas, had needles inserted in my arm for dialysis three times a week, and five central venous catheters placed in my chest when my fistulas didn’t work properly. If I could endure that many procedures to keep me on this planet, I could handle a transplant.

Those battle scars on my chest and arms are a part of me now. I’m not ashamed of those scars.”

Q: After you were discharged, did you go home right away?

A: “Not right away. I couldn’t go back to my apartment. Being a single unattached person, I did not have a companion or significant other to care for me. That role was designated to my mother and sister. I spent 6 weeks at my sister’s house recovering.”

“Designing Your Life” by Burnett and Evans.

Q: What did you do for those six weeks? Watch television? Download podcasts? 

A: “I read several books. Currently I’m reading “Deep Work” by Cal Newport and “Leadership BS” by Jeffrey Pfeffer. A book that stood out to me was “Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life” by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, professors in the design program at Stanford University. The book lays out the concept of “life design”, or designing your life and career by using a design thinking approach being done by design engineers.

As far as podcasts, I usually listen to shows like Tony Kornheiser , “This Is Why You’re Single”and “Introvert, Dear”.  I like smart, sometimes comical, sarcastic, amusing, and interesting podcasts.”

Q: What have you learned about yourself in the three years that you were battling kidney failure, from the start of dialysis to the transplant? 

A: “I discovered that I am a survivor. I don’t consider myself brave or courageous. I didn’t save someone’s life or did something that changed the world. I survived by being mentally strong. I have had a good deal of life events (parents’ divorce, health issues, unemployment) that would make many of us crumble and lash out at others for our failures and issues.

Lashing out doesn’t work for me, nor is getting emotional about my circumstances. I’m wired differently. I have to process information and analyze it before I make a decision, say something, or act.

I tackle setbacks with the mindset of “Okay, this happened. What do I need to do to resolve this?” Responding to adversity has become an ally. A month ago, I was hospitalized for a viral infection. I didn’t whine and feel sorry for myself.  I had to re-frame what I was thinking. “I have an infection. Let’s see what it causing it and how to get rid of it.”

Q: Do you have any regrets after what you have gone through? 

A: “I would say no, but that’s a lie. A big lie. There are regrets that I’m working on letting go. I left behind what I would call “unfinished business” in Des Moines that will never be completed. As I look back, it’s alright for it to never be finished.”

Q:  You go back to those things you left behind and restart them, if you wanted to, right? 

A: “The more time that passes, the less I want to go back and settle that stuff. I would have been miserable again. It was a culture of being stuck in neutral.

I was living a life that revolved around status and popularity. The culture of personality, branding, getting noticed for doing big things wasn’t my spiel. However, in order to stay relevant in Des Moines, I had to “act” the part of being extroverted and being “out there” to be noticed. Follow the crowd, or you get judged and discarded.

DSM skyline
Skyline of Des Moines, Iowa.

I couldn’t be my true self: an introvert who is interested about stories and finding a career and life that would bring value and enjoyment. In some respects, I think that introverts are viewed negatively by society. We’re not loud and brash, talkative and attention-seeking.”  Therefore, introverts are not noticed for their accomplishments. Being under the spotlight is overwhelming and exhausting.”

Q: Describe this “unfinished business” that you left behind?

A: “It was self-confidence. I couldn’t find my self-confidence in an environment where I should have succeeded in. I didn’t have much confidence in myself. I was always “flawed” in my own mind.

That mindset cause me to unconsciously seek affirmation and confirmation from individuals who did not have an interest in me. If I reached out to someone for advice or encouragement, my requests were ignored. Ironically, these were people in the business community that most had suggested that I should connect with.

Self-confidence is a slow, frustrating, and weary effort to build. I am confident when I can do a task, drive a car, volunteer, clean or cook. Those are stuff that I can do without hesitation. It’s what I know.  My hang-up was the personal issues: speaking up for myself at work, seeking relationships, and asking for help. It was a “keep your head down and don’t talk” philosophy. It suited me since I am a stutterer. But as time passed, I had difficulty evolving from a personal standpoint.

The lack of self-confidence cost me better opportunities, possible relationships, and a lot more living in Des Moines.  That was a painful lesson to accept after I left Des Moines.”

Man walking alone
Starting over in life is scary, but in life, it’s necessary to reset our compass.

Q: How do you plan on starting over?

A: “I’ slowly started over once I moved to the Quad Cities to begin dialysis. I have a great family, a supportive mental health counselor to help me sort out the personal “baggage” that accumulated for years. I joined an organ transplant support group and a stuttering support group. I spent a year receiving speech therapy to develop new tools to use when I struggle vocally.

I researched online to find a writer’s group to participate in. I found a local group that meets twice a month. Most of the members write fictional novels. I don’t write fiction and I don’t have the focus to write a book. Nevertheless, I attend the meetings to learn more about the process of writing in different styles, structure, and formats.

Now that it’s fall and I’m marking six months post-transplant, it’s time to search for local professional and business groups to network with, seeking opportunities, and compiling a list of realistic goals that I wasn’t audacious enough to pursue.

I want it to be on my terms: what I do want to explore, prototype, and try out? What are the steps to work for an industry or company that I’m interested in? How to effectively network (don’t ask for a job…ask the person about how they landed at their career or story)? Get over my fear of dating, go on vacation alone, and be financially sufficient for the first time in my life.”

Q: That is a lot to tackle, starting from scratch. Has anyone reached out to you? 

A: No. I haven’t reached out to ask for guidance. Before I left Des Moines, I asked one person if they had a connection in the Quad Cities I could meet.  I didn’t hear back at all. That’s fine. I’ll ask someone else, until I have a list of possible business connections.

I am used to “no”, but I still struggle mentally with it. It will always feel like a failure, but as Burnett and Evans wrote in their book, you develop “failure immunity”. You failed. You learn. You try it again or explore something new. Don’t be anchored to a problem where you think there’s only one solution to fix it.

Downtown Davenport.jpg
The Quad Cities (Davenport, Iowa pictured)

I want to start over here in the Quad Cities. I will consider going someplace else, but I want to see my nieces grow up. Living in the same city they live in offers me that chance.

I’m unsure what the next six months will look like. The plans and goals we sketch out doesn’t always pan out. We have to adapt and find other ways to get to where we want to be.

Starting over is not a failure. It’s a way to reset our compass and learn from the experiences that worked or didn’t work.

I’m comfortable and at peace with that.”