Chapter Four: The Secret

It began with a jacket that was used for the material purpose of fashion rather than the practical purpose of warmth.

The jacket was reversible. On one side was a dizzy spin of patterns from checkerboard to wavy lines. The other side was filled with vibrant and brilliant deep red, orange, and gold colors of blooming flowers. It belonged to my sister. Out of all her trendy and fashionable clothes, I wanted that jacket. I craved and dreamt about fitting into that jacket. However, I reasoned that it was impossible for me to fit into that jacket or into any of her clothes or to any other clothes that were suitable for a typical 10 or 11-years-old.

After all, I was not your typical 10 or 11-year-old.

Here I am at age 10/11

By the time I was age 10, I was no longer plainly and cheek-pinching pudgy. I was bluntly fat from the multitude of immunosuppressant medications that kept my first kidney transplant functioning at its optimal performance, but also had the adverse effect of me stuffing my face and then packing on the pounds. In addition to the layers of lard on my once sickly thin body, I gained a pair of large gold-framed round glasses that accentuated my round and plump features. Elastic also became my best friend. I could not fit in jeans and had to wear stretchable and solid-colored pants. My shirts were baggy, loose, and unbecoming. Needless to stay, my awkward stage had officially begun when I was 10/11-years-old. Yes, it really was that young.

My sister knew how much I loved that jacket. I remember me vaguely staring at her with a twinge of envy when she easily slipped it on and twirled in front of the mirror to show off that stylish jacket. Her hands massaged the soft fabric and a playful smile took over her face. Looking at her, I knew that jacket had some kind of power to transform those who felt low about themselves to skyrocketing confidence. I suppose that is what I loved most about the jacket.

I will never remember how the jacket landed in my hands. Perhaps my sister gave it to me. Perhaps I fulfilled my bratty little sister task of temporarily stealing it from my sister. All I remember was the shock and glee that this jacket somehow fit me like a glove. All I knew was that I had to show it off to my fellow classmates and, most of all, I had to experience that high feeling of suave and chilled confidence. In my mind, I could already glimpse the pretty girls eyeballing this jacket with hungry eyes and see their fingers shaking and absolutely itching to caress the soft, cotton material. The jacket was a sharp contrast from my solid-colored and plain Jane and loose shirts. I grinned with delight as I paraded back in forth in that jacket. I was finally going to be cool and fashionable kid in school. “Look out world!” I thought triumphantly to myself. I planned it that I would wear this jacket with white stretchable pants and a black turtle neck. Surely, no one could or would pay attention to my fashion disastrous pants or my fat face because they would be too focused on this ultra cool jacket. Excitement could not begin to describe how I felt.

So, there I was in class with my oh-so-cool jacket that either my big sister generously gave to me or that I sneakily stole/borrowed. I continued picking invisible lint off the smooth fabric and patting myself that it was still on me. I already saw some of my fellow girl classmates in their perfectly matched outfits and groomed hairdos darting glances my at this new bewildering piece of clothing that I had never worn before. I was so proud and bordered on arrogance that I failed to pay attention to a slight rumble in my stomach and a pressing sensation on my pea-sized bladder. It took just one second and not even a blink of an eye for all of the pride and conceit to come to an abrupt end when a sharp, sudden pain hit my stomach and something wet went sliding down my leg. That is when I smelled it—the sour scent of urine and the slight stench of excrement. My stark white pants quickly became a combined color of faded light brown and yellow. In public and at school, with too many of my familiar-faced peers, I had managed to fully urinate and slightly defecate all over myself. And, that beautiful, gorgeous, awesome, and oh-so-cool jacket that had made my self-esteem skyrocket to the top was now completely destroyed along with my spirits. My eyes filled with tears and they slid quietly down, but I refused to become hysterical. I would not give anyone the satisfaction to show how I truly felt: Beyond humiliated and mortified.

I cannot even remember what exactly happened next. It all happened in confused snapshots of children whispering and giggling to the greatest desire and need for a great big hole to open up in the ground and swallow me in entirety. In a dreamy daze, I was brought to the nurse’s office who called my Dad. My Dad immediately rushed to the school with fresh set of mismatched clothing. There were those clothes again. My familiar loose and dreary clothes and elastic pants. I hated them. As I tore off my ruined white pants and that beautiful jacket and changed in my comfort zone clothes in a stunned and silent rage, I vowed then and there that my classmates seeing my secret of wetting myself could never, ever happen again.

However, no matter the promises and vows that day, the damage was already done. There was no remote control to rewind time or delete that horrific moment in time permanently. I had worked hard to hide my nighttime secret from the daytime world of school and my classmates, but it was just not meant to be. Only my Dad, my sister, and I knew my hidden and shameful secret—I had little to no control over my bladder and would either unexpectedly wet my pants and/or my bed. The fact was that my chronic kidney failure had caused multiple urinary infections throughout my childhood, resulting in an extremely weakened and uncontrolled bladder. My bladder should have supposedly strengthened post-first kidney transplant, but it simply did not. In actuality and for as long as I could remember, I wet the bed every single sleeping night. I could not wake up on my own in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. My body was as dormant and nearly dead to the world as I was when I was snuggled underneath my comforter and surrounded by the comfort and warmth of my stuffed animals and fluffy white marshmallow-soft pillows. Underneath the girly exterior lied a secret: My very own and special waterbed. It was not the kind of waterbed that had me curled up into a ball to cradle me into a boat-ride rocking sleep, but it was the kind of waterbed that became soaked with the strong and sour odor of my very own urine.

When the bedwetting episodes first occurred, my Dad covered the smiling Ariel and her friends Flounder and Sebastian from Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” mattress cover with marine-colored absorbable chucks. This did not work because the urine seeped through in powerful and nauseating waves. My Dad was then forced to wash my bed sheets so roughly nearly every day that the images and colors of Disney cartoon characters faded. My Dad then marched out and purchased thick, machine washable and completely unbreakable fabric to cover the chucks. Now, there was the double layer of chucks AND this indestructible fabric. The nightly ritual continued on without fail with me wetting the bed and then waking up in the morning with wet bed sheets, the rancid scent of urine, a stickiness that covered my body, and frustration and shame written all over on my face. How was I ever going to grow up if I continued to wet the bed? When was I going to grow up and overcome this bedwetting obstacle?

With frustration and finally resignation, my Dad finally decided on diapers as the solution. At first, I absolutely refused them. After all, I was not a crying baby in my crib anymore. These diapers could not be the final solution. I could not wear diapers every single night of my life and for the rest of my life. This could not be happening, but it was—and I gave up and gave in after an exhausting struggle. My Dad and I soon fell into a forced nightly custom of him helping to place the diapers on my plump body by smacking down the sticky tapes with resolve. My frustration and embarrassment manifested into full humiliation, but I would always a muster a half and shaky smile to my Dad. We both knew my bedwetting was a problem that was worsening by each and every day and night, but speaking the truth aloud would only make all the shameful feelings ten times worse. Sometimes, it was easier to face the truth when it was not spoken aloud. When my Dad finished helping me with the diapers and saw my half fake and trembling smile, he always gave me a crooked smile right back, patted my bottom, and tucked me into bed. I was still just his little girl, but I knew in my heart that I was growing up, yet not growing up at the same time. I was in that in-between and purgatory phase of wanting so desperately to grow up, but not being able to because of my health circumstances.

The diapers worked. They saved my bed sheets from continued wetness and my Dad having to scrub them down, but the layers of chucks and fabric still remained as an additional safety net. I would fall into a restless sleep where every movement I made resulted in itchy plastic from the diapers rubbing against me or the chucks and thick fabric moving around beneath me. Sleep became a discomfort and my bed was no longer a sanctuary. Sleep and my bed had turned into a troublesome and forced necessity with all these accessories. I woke to a dry bed in the mornings, but break outs of red splotches were indented in my white and sensitive skin when I removed the diapers. The diaper material was incredibly itchy and almost unbearable. The absolute worst part about my bedwetting and completely uncontrollable bladder was that nothing could be done about it. There was no magic pill or remedy. These diapers were a part of my life from elementary school until junior high school. During that entire time, I never told anyone about my bedwetting and I never said or answered any questions or puzzled expressions from my classmates who had witnessed when I wet my pants and ruined that jacket. I was stoic. I was silent. I was trapped. I wished I knew what it felt like just to sleep in a regular bed with one simple mattress cover and the simple cotton fabric underwear on me rather than uncomfortably irritating diapers. I wished I knew what a girly sleepover was like. I had purposefully rejected sleepovers in fear of any newfound friends finding out about my diapers and them putting a damper on the sleepover spirit of endless chatter and laughter about boys, kissing, growing pains, and growing up. Although I could not control my bladder and the multitude of urinary infections, my shred of control was hiding my nighttime bedwetting secret. The first and last time I wet my pants in public and at school was on that fateful day with that jacket. Never again did I wet my pants again in school. I made sure of that.

As time went by after the public bathroom incident, another secret was revealed to me at the same time as my secret was revealed to my classmates. The biggest revealed secret of all was that what happened was never, ever about that beautiful jacket and never even about the humiliation I felt. I had let that beautiful jacket make me feel so special when, in the very end, I had to feel special and good about myself. I could not let other people and material items justify how I felt about myself and appeared to others. Life was about getting back up again to face everyone and to somehow try to smile at the worst and most horrifying of events, and maybe to even to chuckle or laugh at myself as though it was just another ordinary day and everything was normal and okay. It is funny how life is in that the moment that seems the most awful is somehow looked back on with a slight smile and an overload of understanding and acceptance. And, yet, the harsh reality remained that I still had no control over these certain unexpected and unpredictable urinary tract infections and my weakened bladder, resulting in either private or public wet incidents from my ongoing kidney problems. However, I made a controlled decision from then on to react to the not-so-pleasant life experiences the only way I knew how to—with a positive and upbeat attitude and the brightest smile I could muster.

I continued to keep my bedwetting a secret. I started to live by this newfound revealed secret by facing everyone and the world with a bright, pearly smile and a positive belief and attitude that somehow and someday all of my kidney and bedwetting problems would work themselves out on their own, or maybe even disappear as I often dreamed them to do.


Catherine said...

My lovely Mary
I don't know what to say except that I admire you for writing and sharing with us such a hard secret. As you said it was very challenging to write this chapter and I found that you did a very great job!
Keep smiling my friend!

Malte said...

It's very impressive to read about your experiences. I think some readers will be shocked, but in the end the reader becomes a good impression how you felt. As a reader I can really imagine how it was like for you.

Jim G said...

I can certainly see why this was such a challenging chapter, but as challenging as that was, I found it to be so uniquely revealing as to what life was like with such a condition and the insightful inner view can be very helpful to other families going through similar life experiences. Three cheers for you for being so openly honest in that chapter.

Eva B said...

It must have been really hard for you to share this with your readers, but I am really glad that you did - after all, it is all part of your story, and is important since these difficult incidents helped you to learn about what is really important. Thank you for having the courage to share this with us.

Yogesh Raj said...

Very useful contents written by you on Kidney Transplant.