Living with one kidney isn’t much different than living with two. Well, at least I figure that much anyways. I don’t know what it’s like to have two kidneys, although, during my last nuclear medicine appointment, the tech did say that my kidney was as large and healthy as two regular kidneys. Boy howdy, did I ever dine out on that compliment for a long time.
“Did you hear? I have a kidney as big and beautiful as two,” I’d say to random strangers on the street.
. . .
One of my earliest memories is a grim one. I am lying on a cold and sterile hospital examination table. A large machine is hanging above me, and an x-ray tech on a speaker is telling me to hold still, please.
I have to pee something awful (a side effect of the procedure), and it feels as though my bladder may burst into smithereens. I am five years old.
All I really remember is the tears falling down my cheeks and wishing that my mom was with me, holding my hand.
. . .
There had been a blockage in the renal artery leading into my kidney, causing issues with its function. Soon after the procedure, I was taken to the OR to have surgery to remove the blockage.
Spoiler: I survived the operation!
Now, as a mother myself, I think about how difficult it must have been for my parents to watch as I was rolled into that operating room at five years old. Although my parents are made of much stronger stuff than I am, I can tell you that much.
A few years back, my son Lars stuck a bead so far into his ear canal that we had to have him sedated and brought in for day surgery to have it removed. It took everything in me not to break down bawling when I watched Lars’ hospital bed disappear behind those heavy metal swinging doors — and he was just having a bead removed from his ear.
I suppose my mom showed her worries about my health in other ways, though. Draconian rules that, to this day, remain a mystery to me. I wasn’t allowed to eat fast food until I was a teenager. During my toddler years, our urologist told Mom that salt was tough on the kidney, and that was about the time I never was allowed anything salty again.
From that day on, the sodium levels of my food were monitored obsessively, and I was taught to tell people, if my mom wasn’t around, that I could not eat additional salt on any of my food. I’d have a meltdown if I saw people adding table salt to their cooking, as I assumed this act would kill me and my lone ranger kidney.
What the doctor neglected to explain was how equally terrible sugar was for the kidney. And by the time I hit my teenage years, I was drinking my weight in alcohol.
It’s as if living such a tough life in my childhood concerning food intake had made me into a rebelling monster by the time I hit 13 years old. So I went hard with drinking and smoking cigarettes and had fun doing it.
That is the beauty of being young and relatively healthy. Of course, I’d still go to my two-year checkups with the urologist, but Mom and I were told that I was in tip-top shape on each trip. From the ages of 12 to 20, I sort of forgot that I only had one kidney. It never occurred to me to worry about it.
. . .
Then when I was 25, I became pregnant with my second child, Sophie, and that’s when the Lone Ranger was all like, “Nope, I’m done with you, girl. You’ve put me through too much.” By the time I was seven months pregnant, I had a kidney so full of kidney stones that I could not pee without a catheter.
Imagine, if you will, seven months large with child, waking up in the middle of the night bladder nearly bursting as it happens when a babe is sitting directly atop it and then being unable to let flow.
I thought I was dying.
After two hours of trying everything I could think of to make myself pee, I finally relented and admitted that it was an issue with my kidney. My husband drove me to the ER, where I would spend the next week of my pregnant life.
As I lay uncomfortable in the emergency room hospital bed, I told the doctors to please save my unborn baby’s life. I was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice if only they could preserve the existence of the baby girl growing inside my now faltering body. I told my husband never to let our children forget me.
One foot was securely planted in my grave.
“Oh,” replied the doctor chuckling at my dramatic nature, “this isn’t a life-threatening thing. You’re going to be fine.” Of course, the news made me happy, but I sort of wondered what the point of having one kidney was, if not to use it as a means to make people feel sorry for me.
Because I only had one kidney, the doctors thought it too risky to “blast” the stones as they do with most out-of-control kidney stone infections. So instead, they inserted a shunt into my ureter tube, allowing me to pee without too much pain for the remainder of my pregnancy.
After giving birth to a very healthy little girl, go figure, I still had a laundry list of issues with my stone-filled organ. So for the first several months of Sophie’s life, she and I lived in hospital rooms. Not because of any problem with her, but because I wanted to breastfeed, and I had no choice but to live in the hospital while the docs tried to figure out how to rid me of these stones and the constant kidney infections they were causing.
They ended up essentially going in with a camera and a very long pair of tweezers. Of course, this is an absurdly rudimentary description, but I was too busy raising a baby in a hospital to note what the doctors were doing to fix me. I just wanted to be fixed.
Many of the stones are still there to this day, but the ones causing me so much trouble were removed. However, I suffer from UTIs more than a lady who doesn’t know how essential it is to pee after sex.
I try to drink water more than the average person because I know that this helps my kidney pal. However, I’m still conscious of my salt and sugar intake and can always feel it hard in my kidney after a night of drinking.
I’m only 35 years old, so who knows what the future holds for the Lone Ranger and me, but I’m at the age where looking after my health, and the health of one of the organs that are keeping me alive is definitely on the top of my priority list. I just wish I would have had that notion back when I was young.
I used to think that Mom was hard on me. I used to stomp my feet and scream, “Ugh! I hate you!” When she’d tell me I couldn’t play tackle football with the cute boys in high school or probably ever travel to the moon because it would be too hard on my kidney.
I thought that I was so hard done by because I happened to be born with only one of these organs that “normal” people had two of.
My mom would smile and tell me, in her matter-of-fact way, that I’d understand one day. That my health should remain my priority. When I was 13, 14, 15 years old, this seemed like the dumbest advice ever. My kidney was fine! The doctors said so.
. . .
Recently, Mom has been hounding me relentlessly to get my Covid vaccine. There I’ll be, making dinner, and she will send me a text, “have you booked your vaccine appointment yet?”
Gardening in the backyard, my brother will call telling me that he was told to pass on the message that I need to get the vaccine. Mom had put him up to it.
While getting frisky with my husband, my phone will ring, and I’ll later find a voicemail saying, “Hey sweetie, just wondering when you booked your vaccine for?”
My life has been consumed by Mom, calling and texting me throughout the day, asking the same question. Have you got your Covid vaccine yet?
She’s not doing this because she cares about the health and wellness of the world in general. Although she is a very health-conscious person, her focus is solely on the Lone Ranger and me. She read that Covid can have aftermath effects on the kidneys and now is obsessing over this information.
Once I would have been annoyed with her and this badgering. “I’ll get it, I’ll get it,” I might have said while rolling my eyes.
Now though, after a lifetime of her looking after my kidney, I realize that she’s mostly always right.
So as I reach for my phone to figure out how to book such an appointment, I see she has texted me again, inquiring about the vaccine. I smile, text her back and tell her, “I’m on it, Mom.”
This post was previously published on Age of Empathy.
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