“Starting Over Is Not A Failure”

“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.”

PatienceToday
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.”

DYL
“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.”

 

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All It Took Was A Smile

All It Took Was A Smile

All it took was a friendly smile.

I had nothing else to do on a spring Saturday in May roughly about 7 years ago. I decided to walk and visit the shops and places in Des Moines’ East Village neighborhood. The State Historical Building and the Olympic Flame restaurant were the only two places I knew and went to. When I interned at the Iowa drug czar’s office in college, I was introduced to The Olympic Flame. That was my only remembrance of East Village until I moved to Des Moines a year later in 1998.

After a few stops, I was in front of a store that was on the corner of E. Grand and E. 5th.  The store looked small. It was filled with lotions, soaps, and other items that I was ashamed to admit that it smelled so good. The store was laced with the scent of lavender, citrus, parfum, different types of exotic oils, perfume and cologne.

Rather than keep walking, I was curious enough to foolishly walk in. After about three minutes of standing in front of a table of fragrant soap, the owner notices me and asked if there was anything she could help me with. Being a mild stutterer, I was caught off guard and I stammered out “No thank you. I was looking.” I quickly left and went about my way.

Not long after that, the store moved to its current place on East 6th. The place was a little bigger and brighter. White and light tones dominated the inside of the store. The signage outside was hard not to ignore.

eden

Simplistic and yet it had a charm and an identity that would have a hand in the evolution of East Village.

I walked inside, once again curious as hell as I meandered past the tables and shelves of shampoo, soap, candles, and children books. The owner, as she did the last time, asked if I needed any help. I didn’t quite remember her, only because I kept my head down in embarrassment. I don’t recall what I said, but it had something to do with soap or shaving cream.

What I remember about that exchange was that she smiled.

Jennifer Hansen had a smile that made you feel welcomed, whether you were going to buy something or wandering around like I did.

After that, I became a fan and a supporter of eden. I learned how she was inspired to open eden: her grandmother visited Paris and told stories about Paris. Years later, Jennifer would visit Paris. Paris was the inspiration for her to open her own store. Holiday parties, special events, and First Friday were “must-go” for friends and acquaintances to stop by. First Fridays in the summer was on my calendar, not to shop, but to sit in the back with the men, as her husband John grilled hot dogs or steaks. In the front of the store, the shop girls and Jen would provide homemade cocktails.

eden 2
Courtesy: Historic East Village of Des Moines (eastvillagedesmoines.com)

A large poster of Audrey Hepburn and a red scooter (Vespa, I think?) were the first things to greet customers when they walked through the doors of eden.

Three visits stood out to me as memorable. The first was when I was looking for a birthday gift for my youngest niece. I walked out of there with a stuffed brown dog with ears that flapped all over the place. The next purchase was a gift basket for my mother for Christmas. Jen helped me put together the basket. The third one, and this is important to me, was when I got up the courage to ask Jen and a friend who also had a shop in East Village, if it was possible for my non-profit to have our walk through East Village.

That ask came before I was diagnosed with advanced stage retinopathy. I struggled to see anything in focus. On the day of the walk, I didn’t get the chance to see the walkers walk through and experience East Village for the first time.

I wasn’t allowed to drive or bike. I had to call a cab if I needed to go somewhere. After the walk was over, I walked the nearly 7 blocks through downtown, across the bridge over the Des Moines River, to thank Jen and Alyssa for their help. The walk event wasn’t a huge success, but the confidence to ask for support and ideas were pretty special.

Jen was a Sherman Hill apologist through and through. John and her also loved camping. In fact, she gave their camper a name. The camper was part of her family along with the cats who lived in their Sherman Hill home.

Before I met her, there was one unwelcome guest that never seemed to leave: cancer. Yeah, that guest. When I learned I had retinopathy and later kidney failure, I privately thought of Jen and how she kept a smile on her face despite chemotherapy, days of physical drain, and when she had to rest at home, while the shop girls ran the store.

In essence, showing kindness through adversity. Adversity is a box that contains stuff that we do not want, but rather than sit and stew about it, we find ways to understand, accept, and eventually part ways with that box.

The last visit I made to eden was a year ago, in October 2016. I was in town for an event, and it was First Friday. I stopped by, quietly, as Jen, the shop girls, and the customers were mingling.

Why ruin something that is, well, just perfect? Everyone was in good spirits. There was no time to talk about illnesses.

Until Monday morning. The unwelcome visitor, cancer, left for good.

And took Jennifer along.

Cancer sucks, but no one here on this planet is going to put their boxing gloves down for anything. Cancer, kidney failure, Alzheimer’s, and other unwelcome guests.

As I remember Jennifer Hansen, the large poster of Audrey Hepburn and the scooter in the window front doesn’t make me mourn. I can see in my own mind Jen riding on that red scooter…with Audrey hanging on as they ride down Locust Street in East Village.

With a smile on their faces.

Fear Merchants

Fear Merchants

Fear.

A paralyzing and debilitating sense that creeps into our human souls, infiltrating our physical and mental psyche until it consumes us. What we fear in our own minds, in fact, can become true in our own minds by emotion and feelings, not by scientific fact.

Over the past few months, I have been addressing a certain fear that has paralyzed me mentally for nearly 20 years. I’m seeing a therapist to address it. It’s not a major deal for many, but it is a big deal for me.

The “fear” that I am dealing with, over the years, had developed into a “narrative”, or a story that is fictional.  It was a creation of my mind. I believed it was true, when it’s not.

Fear shadow

Oddly enough, the perception of fear goes hand-in-hand with recent events, notably the political atmosphere (what else is new?)

As I scour through my social media networks, television, and newspapers (yes, they still exist, folks), we have continued this long-running episode of a fear mentality that are not entirely real.

Are these fears that people believe in really true, or are they just what they are, “fictional stories”?

I do not have a rooting interest in regards to the candidates for President of the United States, but it is clear that the fear of unknown is driving people batty…including smart people, who has thrown rational and pragmatism out the door.

Our society has become “fear merchants” in order to sway people from what is true and what isn’t, by using fear. 

Here is one example. Follow me here: how plausible is it that Donald Trump is going to build a wall?  Not hardly, if you walk through each step that he has to take for that to happen.

The Great Wall of China. It took 20 years for China to build it. Don't expect a wall of this magnitude to be erected in America.
The Great Wall of China. It took 20 years for China to build it.
Don’t expect a wall of this magnitude to be erected in America.
First, he has to get Congress to introduce a bill on the floor, go through committee, be debated, and then to be voted on by both the House and the Senate. Is it possible someone will introduce a bill to build a wall? Yes. How feasible is it for anyone in their right minds, regardless of party lines, to pass such a bill?

Zero percent.

Congress has to appropriate funding for a wall, hire contractors and employees to build it, and how long will this “pork barrel project” take to be completed?

Finally, the courts have to determine if it’s legal to construct such a thing, adding the liability, engineering, and other things to consider.

President Richard Nixon is shown after he addressed the nation on TV regarding a cease-fire in Indochina, October 8, 1970. (AP Photo)
President Richard Nixon is shown after he addressed the nation on TV regarding a cease-fire in Indochina, October 8, 1970. (AP Photo)
That is why we have “checks and balances” between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. It’s designed to keep all three branches of government in check. For anyone who attempts to defy the checks and balances should look at the guy on the left as a cautionary tale.

This “wall”  talk is a fallacy…concocted by fear.

Yet, a large number of people keep touting of fears of this level because they “believe” it…and they expect you to believe it, even if you don’t.

All of this hubbub is similar when President Obama introduced the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (I refuse to call it by its nickname. Personally I think it’s a stupid nickname for it)? People started talking about “death panels” and the like, fearing about what the plan will do (in their own minds), without taking the time to fully read it and ask salient questions.

Fear.

It’s disturbing that very smart people become “fear merchants” about anything that trips their trigger. Whether it’s about someone building a “wall” (that’ll never happen), free college education (college profs and faculty are not working for free), and fearing that not-so bright people are mounting an anti-intellectual war against them.

Smart people need to take a chill pill…and stop pumping fear, because they are the ones who are listening to the very thing that they are fighting against:  fear.

Our fears are based by what we hear, and we adopt it as fact…when most of it isn’t true.

It’s a story that we create mentally to satisfy our irrational and lurid imaginations of what we are afraid of.

We spend more time imagining the most vivid or outrageous things, and we ignore the subtler and slower ones that are brimming underneath .

What is a more likely scenario?  A wall being built around the United States, or possible disruption and  infighting for delegates between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton at the Democratic convention in Philadelphia?

We know as a fact that Sanders has yet to give up his campaign run, and after the debacle in Iowa and Nevada, it’s clear that it is possible that Philly could be a mess. It could be prevented…if Sanders should decide to end his campaign and endorse Clinton. We will see.

In her 2013 TED talk, novelist Karen Thompson Walker said that “…we can’t possibly prepare for all of the fears that our imaginations can concoct.”  Walker detailed the events that took place after the whaleship Essex was struck by a sperm whale in 1819.

Late last week, I took the first steps in getting over my particular fear. I had conjured up so many scenarios in my mind that may never come true. Having a cluttered mind isn’t always good, especially for those who observe and soak up information like me.

I have to take a pragmatic approach to fear: stop fearing of what “might” happen, based on hearsay. I don’t know what is going to happen. No one knows. That’s why I have decided to stop worrying about things that may not happen.

Fear is an imaginative illusion.

Especially those that make no sense at all.

The Inability to Mourn

The Inability to Mourn
I don't see dialysis as a hindrance. It's a normal part of life these days.
I don’t see dialysis as a hindrance. It’s a normal part of life these days.

The nurse took 4 alcohol pads and swabbed the catheter that was sticking out from my chest. She screwed in two long narrow plastic tubes into the catheter plugs, walked over to the machine and flipped it on.

I felt the blood draining out of my body, pumping through the dialyzer, and returning the blood back into me.

It was a surreal feeling to see your blood being cleaned of toxins and water. That was possible because my body was unable to do it anymore.

That was my introduction to living on dialysis.

May 7, 2016, marked the one year anniversary that I began kidney dialysis.

Normally, we don’t usually remember the exact day that we remember certain small moments, outside of major events.

I’m different. Dates are important to me. They are recorded history.

I haven’t ruminate about what has occurred over the past 12 months, and yet, it’s in the back of my mind every time when I ask myself, “Will I ever be normal again?” (Short answer: an emphatic “no.”)

Dialysis is a normal routine in my daily life now. But, those 7 days in the hospital going from worrying about a nagging flu to a life-threatening condition has become another part of my psyche:…

…survive.

All I have ever done is survive.

I survived my parents’ divorce, subsequent remarriages and divorces to other people. I also survived and live with diabetes, the threat of being blind, unemployment, and depression.

Living life, to me, is a bonus. Getting to that place requires a lot of trudging through mud.

Over the last 12 months, I have survived cramps so debilitating, I couldn’t walk, a fistula that didn’t work, and battling cognitive and speech troubles.

Beyonce once sung about being a “survivor”, but even she would have a hard time understanding how the term “survivor” is not to be taken lightly.

Those factors would cripple someone who has never endured such a predicament. Honestly, I never spent any time dwelling on any of it.

I was too busy adapting to what ever I had to deal with.

What I have not done is “mourn.” Mourning is part of the grief process. Shocked, denial, bargaining, mourning, and acceptance. I skipped the first four and took acceptance.  The other four never applied to me. I can’t be too shocked about something I’m not in denial of or try to bargain with.

The acceptance came on the morning of May 6, 2015. My nephrologist walked into my hospital room and announced that I will need to start kidney dialysis. She was bracing herself for my reaction.

I showed no emotion.

“Okay, what are the steps I need to take and when do we get started?”

She was shocked on how calmly I said it, sans emotion. Two hours later, I was in the operating room, having an incision on my right jugular and a small hole on the left side of my chest for the catheter to be fitted in. The catheter, 18 inches long, easily slid inside my chest like spelunkers searching for diamonds in a cave.

I hastily wrote a post on the night before starting dialysis. I should have put more thought into it, but it was my way in letting everyone know what was going on…and privately hoping that no one would worry too much about me.

The reality was…I was alone and scared. I didn’t want to leave this world without someone by my side.

On May 7th, one year ago, as I was lying in bed getting dialysis, I spent most of that afternoon comforting everyone who visited me,  and not allowing anyone to comfort me.

I didn’t want to make it about me. I wanted people to learn and understand what those like me were facing. There are 100,791 people waiting for a lifesaving kidney transplant. The median wait on a kidney transplant list is 3.6 years (facts courtesy of the National Kidney Foundation). Every 14 minutes, someone is added to the list, while 13 people die waiting for a kidney.

Numbers don’t lie.

Mississippi River, facing north.
Most of the time, I walk along the river to “mourn” and to mentally refocus on my “new” life.

I am struggling with mourning the loss of the “old” me. I haven’t mourn the losses that I have had personally.

I am mourning the loss of not being able to work, to be away from the things I was involved in, and being successful.

Most of my friends, over the past year, ended up with new or better jobs, went on great vacations, engaged or gotten married, or got to experience something. I celebrate those successes. I also empathize and mourn the losses my friends have had.

“Starting over” is a hell of task to take on, especially when you feel like you have been starting over from scratch several times in your life.

Starting a “new” life and burying the “old” one is what we hate to do…unless we are forced to. It is tough for me to be acclimated in a new city, finding people to interact with, and immerse yourself in a community.

But, this is what I face. It’s being adaptable in situations where you may not have control of…even if that means controlling your body.

I am going to try to “mourn”, whatever that entails. I’m not sure if I should cry, or let sadness cover me until it goes away. A good friend of mine once said about having bad days “embrace those bad days, it helps us appreciate and take advantage of our better days.”

39…Going on 40

Tired blog

I am tired.

Physically and at times mentally.

That is what dialysis will do…even to someone who’s not even 40 years old.

Dialysis takes a toll on your body and how you feel, regardless if you try to carry on with your life. Walking is difficult, doing small or big things can wear you out, and you just don’t feel like doing anything else but sleep.

And for this writer, being unable to do the things I was able to do is pure hell…and depressing.

For the last seven months, I have been absent from this blog. I don’t have it in me to regularly write when I want to do so.

The good thing is that I have accepted that I do not have to blog when something pops up because it’s not necessary to have an opinion about everything that goes on in this world…unless you are George Takei (Mr. Sulu), Andy Borowitz, Tyrese Gibson, or D.L. Hughley.

I needed to write this entry on the last day of 2015, not as a clichéd expression of the year that was, but as an avenue for me to express my gratitude to the people who sent “get well” cards to me, and to talk about the aspect of turning 40 on New Year’s Day.

It should be a milestone, but it doesn’t feel like it, given what I have endured since May: kidney failure, moving, adapting to changes.

There are far too many individuals who have sent me well wishes in September and October. I feel bad that I couldn’t write back to them in a timely manner, because my handwriting is sloppy and it takes time to have a thought and say something that is meaningful to them in an individual way. Being tired after being hooked to a machine and not having the strength to focus is rough.

To that, I say thank you. Thank you so much. Those notes mean a great deal because it made me stop deflecting what I needed to hear: people caring about others. We live in a crazy, wild, sad, angry, goofy, and amazing world. We tend to take our frustrations out on others, whether it was a bad day, something we heard ticked us off, or anything else that trips our trigger.

I have been hesitant to offer opinion on issues and topics that has been talked about in 2015. There is no need for me to talk or voice my opinion about everything. It’s too damn tiring to regurgitate.

Some things are not worth it, and if someone tells you otherwise, respect the advice, but don’t always take it to heart. If they want to talk about it, that’s their prerogative.

The point is that if someone cares enough to say “Hey, I am (we are) thinking about you”, it goes a long way.

At midnight tonight, I will reach a milestone. I’ll turn 40 on New Year’s Day. Honestly, I haven’t thought about being 40 since spring. Any ideas of having a 40th birthday party…out the window. Volunteering at an NYE event…forget it. Sitting at a restaurant watching bowl games and having brunch…not this year.

40th cake

In fact, I have dialysis on my birthday.  A 4:30 am wake up call. It would be best for me to stay up and soak in the early hours of the new year.

I haven’t openly talked about life on dialysis. It’s only because, as a guy, most males do not talk about things we are dealing with. It’s a natural response. We do not feel comfortable being vulnerable about what we feel, how we feel, and what we are scared of.

With that in mind, I have to talk about being 40 and what I have went through.

It was like my identity was taken away when my kidneys failed. I couldn’t live by myself anymore…so I had to move closer to family. Moving around and doing things in town became challenging and exhausting. I had to turn down many opportunities and select a few events to go, as a way to save energy.

My horoscope today, for what it’s worth, was spot on with this:

“Over the last year, you may have developed a thicker skin. You may have become more accustomed to criticism. You may have gotten used to disappointment. You may have learned to adapt to changes you weren’t quite thrilled with. This probably happened so gradually that you didn’t even realize you were developing a darker outlook on life.”

I may appear to be optimistic on the outside, but internally, I do have a darker outlook on my life. The opportunities and the chances I put aside in order to either get ahead or to get back in the workforce. The “what ifs”: marriage, family, career advancement, vacations, et cetera. I was always scuffling to stay above water. My head is still water…barely.

For me, being 40 does bring closure to a decade that was not the best.  My 30’s was the worst period in my life, outside of my parents’ divorce when I was in high school.

In your 30’s, you learn a lot about yourself. Are you marriage material? Can you excel at work? Can you handle a diaper? You slow down with the party animal phase, though you have enough energy to pull off a few more if the opportunity presents itself.

Burns and Benny
Jack Benny was “39” years old for 41 more years after turning 39. George Burns thought the punch line was funny.

None of those things happened for me. I was unemployed for most of the decade (7 of those years), so I was spending most of my time in “survival mode” to get by. As a result, I “didn’t have time” to go on a cool vacation, go on a couple of dates, and excel in a career that was a good fit for me.

Yeah…I’m bitter about my 30’s. I am not ashamed to say it.

“Living your life” was foreign to me.  Now, I have to live my life the best way I know how: with careful consideration.

There was a second part to the horoscope that is worth noting:

“In the weeks ahead though, you should discovered a new sense of longing for a happier outlook, and if you follow that path, you will have many reasons to be more optimistic.” 

I won’t say that I hope that is it would be better. I hope that I can make it a happier in the new year and a better start as I began my 4th decade on this planet. There will be plenty of unforeseen events (bad and good), life and people evolve, and you have to make of it the best way you can.

There are some things that I shouldn’t be hung up on (social media mobs and faux outrage), and stuff that I should be hung up about a lot more (two goofy and loud nieces, signing up for dating sites online).

It was a bad decade for me. I can’t sugar coat it because I’ve denied it for so long. (My counselor gets an assist for pointing that out.) I hope that in my 40’s I will get better, get on the kidney recipient list, find a career or job that I want for myself, and hopefully go on an overseas trip with a partner.

To my 30’s, you have taught me to learn how to survive and be resilient.

To my 40’s, I hope those lessons pay off, and be positive.

Happy New Year to all of you and may 2016 be a bountiful one.

 

Five Things I’ve Learned So Far in Dialysis

Five Things I’ve Learned So Far in Dialysis

I am approaching two months of dialysis very shortly and I want to write about what I have experienced so far.

Several things I have learned about myself in this “new normal”:

  • New co-working space (sort of): Outside of a coffeehouse and a library, I have found that a dialysis clinic is a good place to zone out and be with your own thoughts. After all, you’re not doing much for 3.5 hours, three times a week, but watch television, read a book, or have your nose in your phone. I’ve started to watch The Food Network a lot recently. Not that I’m hungry, but I’m interested to see how you cook food better and be creative.
  • Pass on the water: Drinking water or liquids is good. Too much of it can result in cramping during treatment. Your kidneys can only flush so much out of your system. The same goes with a dialysis machine.
  • Appetite: I don’t have much of an appetite anymore. I have also started to dislike certain foods that I ate regularly before. I get violently sick after nibbling on a Reese’s peanut butter cup or a Sunbelt granola bar.
  • Physical challenges: my balance is a little off, since I’m not carrying so much edema in my legs. It’s weird as hell seeing your legs go from the size of cannons to “normal”. Getting around takes a little more time. My vision has changed slightly. I’m so not ready to get new glasses. I just got new prescription sunglasses in February.
  • Speech and Brain: This is where I have the most trouble with. I didn’t know what septic shock was, until my physician mentioned it after I was released from the hospital in May. Since starting dialysis, I have been unable to form complete sentences, and stuttering and slurring certain words. As I read about the affects of septic shock, I can only conclude why I was stuttering: septic shock effects the entire body: major organs, brain, and limbs.

According to the Sepsis Alliance, nearly 1.4 million people survive sepsis, but they face life-long challenging changes. Sepsis have a high death rate, particularly with the elderly, young, or patients with weakened immune systems. Since I live with diabetes, I fall into the latter category.

In a 2010 article, Medpage Today reported that 59.3% of patients hospitalized with severe sepsis saw worse cognitive or physical function or both by their first post-sepsis assessment.

I knew my kidneys have failed, but no one was able to figure out why I am unable to talk smoothly. Septic shock leaves a mark, permanent or temporary, on your motor and cognitive skills. You feel like you are trying to get out of mud.

The brain, by nature, process what you see or hear, and then sends a message to the mouth to relay what we hear and see. As a life long mild stutter, it has become increasingly difficult to say what I am thinking or want to say.

It is frustrating to run into friends and people I know, and not know their names right away and recognize them, as well as carry a normal conversation without stammering constantly.

The inability to have a conversation with people have become a rather embarrassing predicament.

The cognitive and motor skills are the nerve centers to how we process and dispense information. When those skills are affected, or taken away, by a stroke for example, patients feel trapped inside their own bodies. We take talking as a simple task for which we blindly take for granted.

I will need intense speech therapy/rehab in order to relearn how to talk. I love to write, but not everyone wants to read your thoughts…they want to hear it.

My body is going through changes that, to be honest, frightens me. Have I been sick for so long that I didn’t realize that it was silently killing me?

Going through kidney dialysis, and the goal to get on the transplant list in the fall might be the easiest tasks to do.

It’s my mental and vocal capacities that I worry about. I need those in order to communicate.

Talent Is Not A Number

Talent Is Not A Number
When the sun comes out, it always shine on Wartburg's Old Main.
When the sun comes out, it always shine on Wartburg’s Old Main.

One of the things I always look forward to is heading back to my alma mater, Wartburg College, to take part in Scholarship Day. The campus holds three of these days between November and February. High school seniors and juniors come to Wartburg to participate in several events and do interviews. The interviews are based on several factors such as activities in and outside of school, leadership, faith, and service, among others.

Lately, there have been criticism about the new generation of young adults (no, I’m not talking about you, Millennials, you’re safe for now) and how they behave, talk, and if they have any drive to be successful.

I interviewed eight students on Sunday that were diverse and different. A faculty/staff member, a current student, and an alumni made up the interview teams, and each interview was held in classrooms throughout the campus.

Hopefully this post will help erase some doubts about the newer generation that are walking into the halls of high school and college.

One student from Colorado described how she, at age 10, and her mother created a foundation to host birthday parties for kids who never had a birthday party. A student from southeast Iowa went to the Iowa State Capitol and advocated to the governor to consider moving the start of the school year to after Labor Day, because students who are in 4-H are involved in farm programs and shows at the Iowa State Fair and it’s an educational opportunity for those students who are considering going into the agriculture industry.

If you don't think that the Iowa State Fair is going to be huge issue when it comes to the start of the school year this legislative session, then you've eaten way too many corn dogs. (Iowa Public Radio)
If you don’t think that the Iowa State Fair is going to be huge issue when it comes to the start of the school year this legislative session, then you’ve eaten way too many corn dogs. (Iowa Public Radio)

A student from eastern Iowa explained how he missed a field goal that would have won the game for his team, but redeemed himself by kicking the game winning field goal in overtime. Rather than celebrate the win, he went back to his school, and kicked field goals until 1:00 am…after a game.

The interview that stood out to me was a senior from the south side of Chicago, who created a high school group to work towards ending gun violence in their neighborhood schools by doing peace movements. The group wanted to film their efforts and show it to other schools. The group went to Kickstarter to start their fund-raising campaign. Over $35,000 later, they made the movie.

The common themes that kept running through my head were: initiative, accountability, self-starter, motivation, creativity, and maturity.

“Why do you want to come to Wartburg?” my interview team asked each student.

“It’s the right fit…”

“It’s a community here, and I already feel at home…”

“You’re not a number, you’re a person here…”

“I want to go to a school where I can be challenged, not just show up for class…”

This post isn’t about Wartburg, though the loyal alum in me would wax poetically about it.

Many of us have been a number, be it at work or school. Several of us have lived or worked at places where we felt isolated and held back from growing in our careers. Some have gone through the sense that they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. We’ve also have been told that our skills and talents do not fit in places where you can’t flourish. It’s a tragedy when a company or someone who says they want creative and talented people to work for them, only to hire them and do the opposite: dismiss creativity, drive, passion, and cut off their talents at the door.

Andy Stitzer is a late bloomer. It takes time to finally find that place where you can find success in life.
Andy Stitzer is a late bloomer. It takes time to finally find that place where you can find success in life.

I’m raise my hand and say that I’ve experienced those circumstances.  Late-bloomers like me have a longer road to travel to get to that place in our lives where we can be creative, flourish and have passion. The talents that we have are taken for granted because we don’t realize we use them every day.

Sunday afternoon reaffirmed that all is not lost with these kids who are finding their way towards their aspirations and dreams. We (adults) need to let them find their “voices” and use them, not constrain them to where they do become disaffected, disillusioned, and stop believing that they are creative, and their talents and skills are useless.