Chapter Eleven: Rejected
“Mary, what have you done?”
The question continued to play over and over in my head like a bad song that I wanted to yank out from my head as our forest green Ford car chugged up the windy and narrow paved road to the school. My stomach hurt and ached. I had the greatest urge to puke and then whisper to my Father: “You know, you were right. Parents are always right. I should not have come out to see everyone again. Bring me back to my safe domain with tall and plastic medicine bottles, the blood pressure cuff, soap opera stars and TV shows, and my endless schedules. I’m not ready.”
But, I did not say any of that.
I just continued to breathe steadily and rhythmically through my nose and absorb everything around me in slow motion. The car was getting closer. The running and screaming classmates and brick school building were getting bigger and bigger along with the butterflies, nerves, and nauseous sickness that I was completely unfamiliar with. There was also a strange tingling and soreness around my transplanted kidney area that I never experienced before. I chalked it up to nerves, the cotton taste in my mouth, the hammering in my chest, and the blazing sun that streamed through the car window and on to my pale face.
I twisted and untwisted my hands as the thoughts reverberated in my head: “This is what you wanted, Mary…to be out and about and among people your age, instead of your dear aunties. You have nothing to be scared about. If you could overcome major surgery, then this is a piece of cake. What are you scared of? Are you scared that your kidneys really are going to be endanger with all your classmates again or are you scared of just you and what people will think of you or how people will see you?” I knew the answer, but I refused to say it aloud that my teenage self-consciousness was kicking my ass full throttle.
My eyes narrowed over to my Father with his clenched jaw and hands gripped on to the steering wheel. I could not read his expression, but I think he was just as nervous as me. The car was slowing down and the last thing I thought of before the car door was opened and my Father rushed to get the wheelchair was: “The endless transplant literature tells you logistically how to prepare for your life pre and post transplant, but not one piece of pamphlet, booklet, or person tells you about life after transplant and the monumental strength it takes to adjust back to whatever the word and definition of normal is.”
Before I could find my Dad to get into the wheelchair, I was surrounded and enveloped into a cluster of arms. I caught my breath to see whose arms were around me. There was **Claudia. She was more beautiful than I ever could remember. Her hair was lighter from the shining sun down on her brown hair and her milky midnight blue eyes were practically glowing with excitement. There was my school nurse and teachers with sparkling smiles and bright, incredulous eyes that I was actually there to join them on probably what was the most festive and happiest day to everyone at the school.
“Mare!!” Claudia nearly screamed in my ear, shaking me out from my reverie that my second kidney transplant was allowing me to start my new life, “How are you?? You LOOK GREAT!!”
My Father clunked down and unfolded my wheelchair. My face reddened as I sat down tentatively in the wheelchair with a slight embarrassment that I still had to use it. My face flushed even more with a combination of happiness and horror at the shower of attention that hit me when my Father wheeled me over to the emerald green field full of my color-coded classmates fully involved with such Field Day activities as Tug-of-War and Potato Sack Races. All of a sudden, I heard my name from different voices all around me. People who I did not even talk to before my second kidney transplant greeted me with big smiles, a comforting hand on my shoulder, a gentle slap on my back, and overly loud words of: “Mary!! You look great!! How are you??” A few of my schoolmates shot concerned and curious gazes of what to actually say to me, and would cower away back to their activities. It was much too weird and uncomfortable that my classmates and especially classmates who had once taunted and ridiculed me for my limping to treat me as though I was a celebrity. It made me question who people were and how I appeared to others and if all it took to gain popularity was major surgery. Their drastic behavior changes towards me ranging from pity to fake friendliness made me feel self-conscious and somewhat rejected from realness. I wanted people to treat me as a human being and not a disease or specimen.
Before I could think or analyze anymore as I usually did, a plastic plate consisting of a hot dog drenched in ketchup and a bag of potato chips was shoved into my hands. The nerves that were jumping around and doing a dance of their own began to simmer down. My heart stopped pounding in my ears and the dryness in my throat subsided with a sip of soda. I was wordless as I nibbled and picked on my food and absorbed the swirl of images, people, nature, and colors around me. It was unreal to see my friends’ faces with puffed up cheeks and a shine in their eyes as they waved their hands in gestures and recapped stories of these past several weeks and the horrors and tortures of teachers, homework assignments, and endless exams. I listened and tried to memorize all of their words, stories, and faces in my mind. However, the dumbfounded in disbelief feeling at the “normalness” of being in the company of my friends and teachers would often cut in to me trying to focus on all my friends. I saw glimpses of my Father smiling and watching me. Perhaps he was thinking the same as me: “Everything is okay and this is what normal is like—and normal feels good.”
The screams of competition and my color clothed coordinated classmates droned on in sports while I sat with my friends in the shade of a willow tree. I could not have chosen a more perfect day to reunite with the outside world and taste normalness, or as normal as normal could be. There was a cool and calm breeze that floated like a ghost around my ankles and bare arms. The scent of sweat, freshly cut grass, and the sweetness of the flowers teased at my nose. The chips that I eventually devoured were extra crispy and traces of the juice from that hot dog remained in my mouth. All of my senses were on alert and I spent most of that afternoon staring around me, thunderstruck and awed at all around me. I could not remember when I had last experienced that kind of freedom and happiness.
At times, I would drift off to my life before my transplant to now, and my friends would read the confusion and discomfort on my face. They asked: “What’s wrong?” They assumed my silence as anger or pain, but the truth was that all my senses and I were getting slammed to the extreme and I did not know how to respond or socialize. For the kidney transplant recovery, I had been in the accompaniment of adults who talked to one another about me, instead of to me. I was accustomed to loneliness and alone-ness with my company extending to tutors, therapists, nurses, and my relatives. Abruptly, being asked for my thoughts and opinions from my friends left me numb, wordless and voiceless. All I could do was smile weakly an just tell them that I was taking in everything and loving every moment of all this and their company and these moments would become apart of me and stowed away in a glittering and jeweled memory box of mine. To maintain the normalness, I did not openly speak about my second kidney transplant experience, my confined home life, and all it took out of me and had taken out of me to recuperate with therapies and medications. In fact, I would avoid questions when asked. I mentioned in a careless and carefree attitude about the soap operas, the tutors, and how great I was doing and feeling to my friends who were there for me and asked me briefly how I was feeling, but that was the extent of it. In that moment of time at school again, I wanted my time with my friends to be about the frivolous and fun teenager in me rather than the sick and kidney transplanted patient in me. I wanted people to see me as the real me rather than just me as the girl with health challenges.
It was only when the sun began to lose its heat and the shouts and screams of excitement died down that I was catapulted back into reality that a foreign, searing, burning pain in my transplanted kidney area was slowly taking over. I refused to take this unknown pain seriously. I was all about focusing on the here and now with my friends. But, as the screams died down and the field began to clear of my classmates, I knew it was time for my fun and freedom to also come to an end. I said I would see my friends again in a couple of months when the school year restarted. I hugged and held them close, never wanting the day to end and imprinting them all in my mind.
My Father and I were euphoric and beaming all the way back home. My Dad boomed: “Great Day, huh?”
I nodded enthusiastically, but suddenly winced as the pain began to throb even more around my transplant kidney area. I continued to ignore it and just continued to smile brightly, remembering how the day went and how silly I was to be scared of absolutely nothing at all. The pain I was experiencing was nothing, I convinced myself. Just too much excitement. I just needed to get some rest is all and I would be fine tomorrow.
When I returned home, I was emotionally, mentally, and physically drained and practically collapsed on to the couch. As the stars and darkness replaced the sun and blue skies, I began to feel very sick, tired, and dizzy and my kidney transplanted area felt like it was on fire. I kept saying to myself that I was okay and it was just the excitement of the day that had affected me too intensely. I just needed sleep.
But, for the first time in a long time, I had trouble sleeping because the pain around my kidneys was so frightfully intense. I tossed and turned as I recalled and replayed Field Day in my mind. Cold sweat broke out from the pores of my skin. I felt terrible and so sick. I fell into snippets of discomforting sleep and dreams of my classmates. They haunted me that night that they were really laughing behind my back or saying how sorry they felt for me or how pitiful I was in my wheelchair.
I woke up every now and then to a tenderness that I had not felt before in the left side of my belly. Now my transplanted area was an odd combination of burning, numbness, and tenderness. On my last wake up from a restless and horrible sleep, darkness was disappearing into a royal blue color with hazy reds and oranges. It was almost morning. I went to get a glass of water, but decided to go to the bathroom instead. I stumbled in the hallway and finally resorted to leaning against the walls because I was sure that I was going to collapse. My forehead and upper lip were clammy and perspiring, but I was burning up within my body. I practically tumbled into the bathroom, heaved over and sick, but managed to crawl to the toilet bowl where I spit up. The clear toilet bowl was slowly replaced with a faded crimson color. I blinked a couple of times and rubbed my eyes to make sure that what I saw was right. It was blood.
I feebly called to my Father who was snoring away. My aunts were upstairs sound asleep. I mustered up my body to make it to where he was.
“Come on, Mary, you can do it,” I whispered hoarsely and weakly to myself. I could do it. I had to.
I half walked and crawled to where he lay snoring away like a happy little baby. I lightly shook him. He woke up right away with his orchestral snores caught in his throat. Immediately he knew that something was wrong when he saw me. I was running a fever and felt a weakness bordering on death grabbing greedily on to me. My mouth was dry and my breaths came out raspy and quick.
I continued to think: “What is going on? Breathe, Mary, breathe.”
The tenderness where my kidneys were transplanted now felt as though it was going to sink in and a red swelling was quickly ravaging. The area was on fire.
What happened next was caught somewhere between dream and reality. All I could recall was dawn breaking by the time I ended up in the emergency room. When my surgeon felt the transplanted area and poked as gently as he could with his deft fingers, I whimpered pathetically and moaned and groaned at the fiery and knife-like pain that shot into and all around me from his touch. Everything around me was so far away, except for the bright hospital lights glaring upon me. I tried to fight against the pain and fiery flamed feeling taking over my body because I was scared that I was somehow dying. A loud voice shouted at me to fight and that it was not my time to die just yet, but sleep was so comforting so I could not feel all the pain that was swallowing me up alive.
I could hear voices and see images of the Field Day events turning and turning all around in my mind, but they were all mixed in together. I slipped in and out of consciousness. I continued to weakly call for my Dad through a dry mouth: “Dad, what’s going on?? What’s happening? Am I dying?”
My Dad grabbed and gripped on to my hands so tightly that I thought my fingers would break. He whispered gently: “It is a kidney rejection.”
I stared at him with wide and fearful eyes. “What does that mean?”
He paused and chose his words carefully and said something like this: “You know what, Mary? Your body is really, really strong. Your immune system that is in charge of fighting against illnesses thinks that your transplant kidneys are not yours and so they are trying to get rid of them. This was something that we were afraid that was going to happen. But, everything is going to be okay. You are just going to be in the hospital and they are going to give you a really strong medication and your kidneys will be saved. Everything is going to be okay.”
I was sure that my Father was saying that more for and to himself rather than to me. I squeezed his hand and whispered: “You promise that everything will be okay? My kidneys will be okay, right? Right? Dad?”
My Dad could not answer. He looked and was called away and the madness started up again that I had to be hospitalized right away. As sick as I was, I was more than aware that my life was suddenly not in my control again with what was going to happen to my kidneys and my life. Fear coiled around me that I may lose this second chance at life and these precious kidneys that I had desperately waited for.
My upbeat spirits from that morning fell to pieces. I thought: “How could today have been so happy and end with such sadness?” and, the worst of the worst thought shot through me like a missile:
“Oh, God, am I going to die?”