Chapter Twenty-Four: The Turning Point
Approximately twelve to thirteen years ago was the last time I was in the hospital for a kidney rejection that was about to steal my second chance at life even after I dutifully followed **Dr. Winthrope’s nephrology orders of ingesting all my medications by the mouthful and bubbled my immune-compromised self in the house with my family to ward away the germs in school with my friends and teachers. After overcoming the depression and nearly catatonic state that I was in from the kidney rejection and thanks to modern and all-mighty powerful anti-rejection OKT3 medication that gave me the privilege to keep and hold on to my precious second kidney transplant, I believed that I was still alive to make a difference and that I would do whatever I had to do to keep this gift alive and well and never return to that painful past of unpredictable health episodes again.
Now, twelve to thirteen years later, I was the cause and catalyst of returning to the emergency room and hospital all over again. There I sat in a stiff wheelchair with this throbbing and vibrantly violent pulsating pain in my right side in this unfamiliar hospital and emergency room meant for adults and militant Dr. Friedman rather than in the pediatric-friendly hospital with Dr. Winthrope and his fuzzy moustache and wide hand gestures that made me internally giggle when I was a girl. I was the one that jeopardized my own health this time around and these kidneys that did not originally even belong to me, but to a 4-year-old girl who was probably looking down at me with combined disgust and sadness that I could do this to both of us. I was the one that caused my Dad’s stoic expression on his face as he nervously bit his skin and stiffly stood in the corner of the tiny nurses’ station and my sister’s fingers flying to text message nervously while sitting in the waiting area. I was to blame. The guilt and shame showered me with hot coldness. I was fearful of what was to come next in this scary and strange hospital and Dr. Friedman scolding me for never even checking with him if I could drink alcohol when the working and partying New York City girl in me emerged. My right side responded with increased and knifing pains to this fear that was nearly paralyzing and preventing me to ensue in a decent conversation with this nurse who was trying to find out what was causing the pain.
“Good news. Blood pressure normal. No fever,” the nurse reported more to herself.
My Dad and I wordlessly stared at her.
“So, what was the last thing that happened before the pain?” the nurse asked.
I was still groggy from falling asleep in the car and then practically being thrown into the wheelchair by the nurse who saw my sister and I struggling to walk inside the emergency area of the hospital. I propped my left cheek on my left hand and leaned my elbow on to the left arm of the wheelchair as I tried to remember what happened last night. Everything was still a blur with the pumping and loud music, the dancing, and the screaming battled conversations with my co-workers. I remembered the apple martini I drank and then a gulp of Russian Vodka with Jesse, who I still did not know if he had flirted with me. Everything else after my encounter with Jesse was a blank. I told the nurse just that.
As foggy as I was, I caught the look exchanged between my Dad and the nurse. That “adult look” was the silent: “Tsk, tsk, tsk…” or “Shame, shame, shame…”
I hung my head down guiltily.
“Mary, you don’t remember anything else that you drank?”
I shook my head sadly.
The silence was deafening in the tiny room. If only a big black hole could just swallow me right now. I could not believe that my craving of “normal” and “fun” had made this happen, and that I was actually here in the hospital and emergency room all over again. The last time I was merely in the emergency room was when I suffered from a sporadic muscle spasm, but that was different because the emergency room was familiar and predictable with Dr. Winthrope. Now, it was surreal and sickening being in this new emergency room and hospital. Out of the corner of my eye, I tried to catch my Dad’s gaze. With every emergency room visit and hospital stay, I was always able to catch my Dad’s gaze that was an agreement that we were in this together, but my Dad continued to just stare at the ground. That was the most awful feeling in the world that my Dad could not even meet my eyes because it seemed to say that I was truly all alone in this mess I made. That is when it became abundantly clear to me that I was all alone. Tears sprang to my eyes, but I quickly wiped them away. No tears. I was no longer a little girl or crying baby. I had caused this, so I had to fix this. I had to be strong, even when it meant that I had to handle this all alone. I tried to focus on the nurse, but her voice was like a bad song playing on the radio with her droning on with facts that I was going to be sent to one of the back rooms to wait for Dr. Friedman to order the necessary tests to measure my kidney function and the pain in my right side before he saw me.
The doors opened. My Dad motioned for my sister to follow us. My sister breathlessly ran over to us as though she had run a mile and then stuttered: “What-what happened? What’s going on? You’re good, right? We’re going home soon, huh?”
The only sounds that echoed and pierced my ears were my sister’s voice and her loud and pointy shoes clickety-clacking to the back room. I was told that I had to get up now to put on the hospital gown and that my Dad and sister could help me, but I refused for them to help me and told them to wait outside as the striped pastel curtain was closed with finality. Every movement caused another pinched pain to pulse inside me. When I stood and struggled to take off my clothes, the pain zigzagged from my right side to further lower and then crossing over into my lumbar spine. I winced and inhaled with every painful prod and exhaustedly managed to put on the hospital gown and get into the familiar scratchy and itchy-sheeted hospital bed. It was the first time since I was brought here to the emergency room that I was physically alone. Flashbacks of my time at the hospital over ten years ago started to flood over me like beating and crashing waves. I was watching a mental movie of being rushed to the emergency room with the pulsating pain in my nearly sunken and softened left side of my abdomen where the two kidneys were transplanted. The long, saddened, and tired faces of my Dad and Dr. Winthrope that I was having a kidney rejection. The tall and gleaming IV pole as the OKT3 drug dripped and dripped into my body marked with purple and blue indentations from one too many torturous needle episodes. Curling myself into a feeble ball and shutting the world and myself out. I closed my eyes to try to shut the images out, but the colors and shapes just magnified. My breathing was suddenly becoming ragged and heavy. My teeth began to chatter, and my toes and fingertips began to go numb with coldness. What was happening? Was this happening now or over ten years ago? I almost could not tell the difference. I opened my eyes to the now and not the then, and told myself in between ragged and panic attacked breaths: “Mary, breathe. It is going to be okay. Breathe. It is now and not then.”
“Mary? You okay?” My sister called.
That is when the curtain opened to reveal my frightened and wide-eyed sister and my hardened Father with a deep frown etched in his face. I shifted and winced in response to the pain that punched at me yet again. I weakly smiled and lied: “Just great.”
My Dad looked dubiously at me. He went to pat me on the head and reach for my hand. My cold and icy hand was swallowed whole by his warm hand. Noticing how icy my hands were and how I seemed to be trembling from the frozen air and in my thin hospital gown, he immediately went outside and I heard him call for a nurse to get me more blankets.
Another petite nurse came in and said something to the effect of that I could not get comfortable yet because Dr. Friedman had just ordered the tests and indefinitely wanted me to undergo an ultrasound of my right lower abdomen and labwork, including a urine analysis, meaning that I had to get up to the bathroom to pee in a cup.
I cringed when the nurse said this, because the bathroom looked way too far away for me to even try to walk to. A part of me wanted to yell at the entire staff who told me to undress into the thin hospital gown and get into the bed when they wanted me to get out of the bed just as quickly to try to pee. The wheelchair was brought over to bring me to the bathroom. Trying to pee in that cup was a whole other episode that involved weird angles and poses and had me cringing and wincing the entire time. A voice in the back of my mind said to stay positive and that I could at least still move my body. Just like me to force myself with a positive note, I thought wryly as I opened the bathroom door and gave my pee cup to one of the nurses.
I struggled to get into the hospital bed all over again and laid down absolutely drained. I just wanted sleep, but every position I was in just caused my right side to ache and me to moan and groan. I finally and purposefully chose just to lie completely still. Peace and quiet pervaded the room, but my sister broke the silence by saying: “What is going to happen now?”
I opened my eyes, and explained as patiently as I could muster: “They need to do some tests to figure out what is going on.”
She paced around nervously back and forth and back in forth in front of my Dad and me. Our eyes followed her long strides. Seeing my almost always suave and sophisticated sister there in such a frazzled state was odd, discomforting, and nerve-wracking. My heartbeat seemed to stop each time she paced to other side and to see her with her arms across her chest and her usual cropped and stylish dark hair sticking up as though she stuck her tongue in a toaster. This was the first time that my sister was actually in the hospital with me when my body and health were in crisis mode. The only memory I have of my sister in the hospital with me was after the success of my second transplant, but she was not there for my kidney rejection because she was knee deep in university finals and exams. Seeing how panicked my sister was, I was almost tempted to tell her that it was probably best for her to leave.
My sister snapped: “Didn’t your doctor know that you were coming in the hospital in advance? Shouldn’t he have ordered the tests before you arrived? Doesn’t he get paid a whole crapload of money to know and do this stuff?”
My Dad who never raised his voice at my sister or I growing up said firmly: “Calm down. Sit down.”
He pulled the ugly teal and cushioned chair to her but she looked at it distastefully and said abruptly: “I need to go for a walk. You guys want anything?”
We shook our heads. She stormed out of the room. I breathed a sigh of relief and my Dad said with voice of reason: “Not everyone can be in a hospital or handle all this health stuff, Mary. Everyone responds to the unpredictable in different ways.”
I nodded solemnly. I wanted to apologize to my Dad for everything that happened and opened my mouth to do so when we were interrupted again by the phlebotomist with her carrier of color-coded capped vials, syringes, and sealed butterfly needles. I automatically flipped my right arm over to point to my cluster of reliable, good veins and announced: “These are my good veins.”
The phlebotomist raised her eyebrow at me and said: “You certainly know the routine.”
If she only knew.
I clenched my fist and she wrapped the tourniquet above my forearm. I immediately looked away and clenched the left hospital bed guardrail. I felt the prick as soon as the needle went in. I looked up at my Dad who placed his hand on top of my clenched hand on the guardrail.
“All done. You got good veins.”
I chuckled and knew I had decent veins ever since I lost over 60 pounds. I turned to my Father to apologize to him again, but he told me: “Just rest.” I knew that was his way of telling me that he accepted my apology and that things were going to be okay.
I closed my eyes, drifting in and out of sleep and wondering what my bloodwork results would show and when this ultrasound would be done. I was not sure how much time passed but running and familiar clickety-click sounds came my way and caused me to stir out of my slumber when my sister cried out: “Oh, my God! Is she dead?”
My eyes opened wide awake. Was she crazy? I immediately spat out with pain poking incessantly at me all over again: “No! I’m not dead! And, if I was dying, I wouldn’t want to hear it!”
Awkwardness inflated the room. My Dad motioned for my sister to sit down and said tiredly: “Just sit down and calm down.” My sister plopped haphazardly on the chair and immediately took out her cell phone and began to text with such a passion that it was surprising her cell phone did not set on fire. I sunk back into the bed again to sleep, but the pain returned with a vengeance. Even worse was this sudden sickening and nauseating feeling taking over me. I swallowed and tried to ignore the nauseating feeling by asking my Dad who stood stiffly near the doorway: “Dad?”
“How long has it been and how much longer until the ultrasound?”
“We’ve been waiting for at least an hour. Who knows how much longer we have to go? We use to wait hours in the emergency room when you were little, too.”
I didn’t say anything. How ironic that the longest waiting was in the emergency room, I thought to myself. The only sound in the room was my sister texting. I stayed as still as possible, but the sickening sensation was worsening. Rising bile inched its way into my throat and out of my mouth making my eyes water and sight blurry, but before I could do anything else, two men came in and one of them said: “Mary Wu? Ultrasound?”
I nodded with a weak smile, but I must have appeared a tinged pale green because my Dad asked: “Are you okay?”
I gulped down the phlegm mixed with bile in my throat and the nauseous wave seemed to subside, but I admitted to everyone who was staring worriedly at me: “I don’t feel well. I think I might throw up.”
One man said to me, “I’ll get a nurse to get you a basin, okay?
He disappeared and presented a square and shallow basin. I clutched on to it with greedy relief. I could tell that both men were very gentle and careful when they pushed the hospital bed down the corridors. I glimpsed the one man who was facing me as he pulled the gurney and noticed that he must be just a little bit older than me. My eyes met his and, though his facial expression was empty, his eyes swam with pity. Pity was one thing I could not tolerate. I turned away from him. The wheels and their shoes squeaked slightly on the shiny floors. Sounds of the nurses and doctors rushing around and patients moaning in their supposed confined quarters made me immediately alert and wary. The cold air breeze shocked the blanketed warmth that was toppled on to me when I was in the back room of the emergency room, making me momentarily forget about the sickening feeling in my stomach because my teeth began to chatter all over again. I held on tighter to the basin to try to shield away the frigid air surrounding me.
A door opened. The lights were low and all I could make out was the outline of the slim ultrasound technician. She greeted me briefly and asked for my name and date of birth. I robotically responded. The only visible sight in the darkened room was the ultrasound machine and the methodical sound waves coming from it. The ultrasound technician lifted my gown and the coldness struck me again, causing my body to erect uncomfortably.
“Relax,” the ultrasound technician said softly.
The waves of sounds increased in methodical rhythmn once she squirted jelly on to the transducer and placed it gently on my right side. My body surprisingly began to relax. I shut my eyes and the prickled pain spread like ripples each time she rotated and moved the transducer along my right side. I was not sure how much longer the test was going to last, but maybe about fifteen minutes or so later of the test, attacks of nausea began to plummet repetitively at me and then the pain in my right side responded from prickly to sharp. I mentally told myself to take deep breaths. The ultrasound technician had been professionally speechless at this point, but she abruptly said more to herself than to me: “Interesting…”
My eyes narrowed suspiciously at her as both the nausea and pain in my right side took turns to attack me. Taking a deep breath, I asked: “What is it?”
She said emotionlessly, “Interesting that you have three kidneys.”
I froze. Three kidneys? How could that be? “Well,” I said slowly, “I’ve had two kidney transplants.”
“Yes, I see that. The two transplanted kidneys here on your left side and this other transplanted kidney on your right side that is shrinking.”
My mind was bombarded with thoughts all at once. I was thinking that it was fascinating that my transplant surgeon did not remove the first transplanted kidney. I was thinking that it was extraordinary and how lucky I was to have three kidneys now and then there were the two kidneys I was born with that probably were non-existent or had shrunk into nothingness, which meant I had five kidneys at one point or another in total. I was thinking about the severe lashing from the nausea and the pain in my right side. Most of all, I was wondering when this test was going to be over with because I seriously felt like I was going to throw up. At that last thought, the lights went on and the ultrasound technician helped to push me out the door. The bright fluorescent lights of the hospital nearly blinded me and the pain in my right side thumped at me while the sickening sensation finally gripped me so tightly until I could not hold back vomiting. Fat teardrops rolled down my face as the bile, mucus, and phlegm traveled at warped speed into my throat and finally out of my mouth into the saving-grace basin. I felt someone stroking my back gently and saw it was the supposed emotionless ultrasound technician. Her kind and sympathetic face was blurry in my vision because my eyes were all flooded with tears. My mouth was soured with an acidic tang, but I strangely felt relieved and better after throwing up. I was in a glazed over daze when I finally returned to the room where my Dad and sister were. They immediately knew what had happened from my exhausted face and the basin filled with my vomit. My Dad wordlessly told me: “Drink some water.” I took a sip, but I was so tired yet again and drifted off into sleep just before the nurse took the basin out of my hands.
I don’t know how long I was asleep for, but I woke to the sounds of my Dad and sister talking quietly. With my eyes closed to feign sleep, I listened to them.
My sister asked: “Why is it taking so long for the stupid doctor to get here? Another hour and a half has gone by. Do you think it is really bad news and he is trying to figure out how to break it to us? Do you think she’s dying? ”
My Dad sighed. “It is always a waiting game in the emergency room. We have no choice but to wait to see what happens.”
I bit my lip as tears filled my eyes and trickled down my cheeks into the pillow. I hated to see my Dad and sister like this. I hated being here in the hospital all over again, and I hated myself for doing this to them and to myself. My thoughts then wandered to my Mom and her fanatically religious ways of praying with me almost everyday on the phone about getting better soon when I suffered from the kidney rejection, without her actually physically there by my side. I was never a religious person because of how my Dad raised me that it was more important that I do good rather than act good just by going to Church or reciting Bible verses. As the memories of my childhood and teenage years hammered at me in that moment, I remember that I was resentful that God had caused all these health problems to happen to my family and me. But, now, I needed something and anything to hold on to as I heard my Dad and sister fretting. So, I did the only thing I could do. I clasped my hands in a mental prayer to God:
Please, God, let everything be okay. Please, please, please don’t put my family and I through all of this again. All I wanted was to have a little bit of fun. Should I really be punished for that? Should my family be punished for my mistake? I don’t think so, so please make everything okay. Let’s make a deal, okay, God? If you make everything okay, I won’t ever, ever do this again. I won’t party. I won’t drink alcohol. I won’t stay out late at night. I promise that I’ll live the life I’m meant to live as some 50-year-old stuck in a 24-year-old body. I promise that I’ll make a difference and help others and not wrap myself in these superficial things that I’ve done ever since working. Don’t worry, God, I get it now that I should have asked Dr. Friedman if I could drink alcohol. I get it now to never forget about my health and both my organ donors and their families, and both of my kidney transplants. I understand everything now, God,that I'm not invincible. You don’t need to teach my family or me any more lessons. I'm sure you know, God. And, I’ll tell you, God, I’ll accept whatever you have in store for me. I promise that I will, because now I know that I am strong enough to handle anything you have to give me and that all of this has to be happening so I can do something great from all that sucks and is bad. Just promise me that you will try to be easy on what you have in store for me because I don’t want my family to go through all of this again. Thanks for listening, God.
I was so tired again and ready to fall back asleep to the hushed voices of my Dad and sister, but then my ears perked up to the footsteps. Those familiar footsteps that slapped against the ground with finality, dignity, the skyrocketing confidence. Dr. Friedman’s footsteps. Alert and awake, I struggled to prop myself up, silencing my Dad and sister’s muddled conversation. That is when I noticed that the pain in my right side only pinched at me rather than sharp and knife-like sensations. My eyes widened in shock as I shifted and moved around almost freely in the confined hospital bed without gripping pain.
“What is it?” My Dad asked.
“The-the pain….it isn’t as bad as before…” I stammered.
“That’s great! So we can go home!” My sister boomed enthusiastically.
My Dad and I looked at her strangely. She fell quiet and back in the chair again. “What? What did I say wrong?”
My Dad tried to chuckle, which sounded more like a choking noise and said: “Nothing. Let’s just wait to see what the doctor says first.”
I then eyed Dr. Friedman huddled with the nurse. I could only make out his profile. He towered over the nurse in his military stance and clean and crew-cut hairstyle. I could tell even from afar that his gaze was serious at whatever he was reading or looking at. My body froze and my mouth turned to a sawdust taste when he turned around and walked straight at me. Here he was about to come with his blunt and sarcastic humor combined with a splitting lecture. I tried to read his facial expression with the news that he was about to present to my family and me, but being the good doctor he was, his expression read nothing and so I was left to hang on to invisible hope that this was not bad news.
“Kiddo!” Dr. Friedman boomed, “What kind of trouble are you causing now?”
I cringed. I did not have it in me to make a joke. Dr. Friedman could tell right away and so he changed gears and turned to my Dad and sister: “So, who are these fine people?”
I introduced my Dad and sister to Dr. Friedman. My sister was open-mouthed and her eyes glazed over in some dreamy haze. I shook my head at my sister. What was up with her? She was just acting stranger and stranger here in the hospital. I guess she was not really cut out for the hospital scene, but, then again, who was?
Dr. Friedman sat on the edge of the bed, looking intently at me instead of my Dad and sister. Him doing that was the reminder as to why I chose him as my nephrologist. Talking to me and not to anyone else about MY own health. I was in good doctor hands. I smiled for the first time since I was brought to the emergency room.
“Kid, I’ve got good news…and, not so good news….”
The smile on my face vanished and the replacement was a clenched stomach, dry mouth, and the prickly right side pain returning, but not as much with a vengeance.
“How do you want the news?” Dr. Friedman asked.
Truth me told, I wanted him to return to his joking and blunt manner, because seriousness was not him at all. He was making me nervous with his serious he was. I gulped and whispered: “Good news first.”
“OK then. Kidneys are beautiful, so we can rule anything going on with those babies. And, let me tell you, kid, don’t gamble on those kidneys like you did last night. You are too smart, so what happened last night to your brain?”
I winced again. Here comes the blunt lecture, I thought.
He continued, “The truth is that you partied way too hard yesterday. The truth is that you should have let me know what kind of partying you have been up to and asked if you could even drink alcohol at all. I’m sure you know now that you shouldn’t have drank more than one drink and especially mixed drinks with all the medications you are on. I get it that you want to have fun, kiddo, but moderation fun is the way for you. With your small stature, you really can’t drink more than one alcoholic beverage when you are out and about AND when you do drink alcohol, eat some food first. Common sense, right? I also heard that you vomited. I am guessing that caused you to feel better because your body is trying to recuperate both from the muscle spasm and partying. So, to wrap this whole thing up, the cause for your right side pain is a muscle spasm brought on by advanced partying.”
I exhaled with relief. A muscle spasm. That’s all this was? I couldn't believe that all this pain in my right side was a muscle spasm that came from partying and drinking a tad too much, but this news was an immense relief. The last time I had a brief muscle spasm was in my lower back and sometime after my second kidney transplant, but it went away in a day or so. Granted, it was not pleasant, but all I did was rest with a couple of Tynonel pumped in me every few hours and I was better. I beamed with a wide grin. I was going to be okay.
My Dad cut into my thoughts by asking: “So, only a muscle spasm, right? So, she’s fine and can just go home to rest?”
Dr. Friedman stood up tall and faced all of us hanging on his every word. Uh-oh, I thought. Here comes the turning point bad news about something else going on with my health. “Yes, that is what she has and it will be fine in the next day or two with some rest and medicine I’ll prescribe. However, there’s the other piece of news I want to share with you, though it is more than a concern than piece of news.”
I swallowed hard again and was nearly at the edge of the bed about to fall off.
“If I recall correctly, you had left hip issues when you were younger and they seemed to disappear once you received your second kidney transplant. And, I also recall that you had a muscle spasm sometime after your second kidney transplant. Well, I want you to do me a favor and schedule an appointment with the orthopedic surgeon.”
I did not even have time to process this information, because my Dad started talking right away. “Are you saying that Mary’s left hip problems have returned? But, you just said that the muscle spasm was caused from her outing last night,” My Dad pointed out.
“I’m just saying that I think it is important for Mary to see an orthopedic surgeon regularly. Problems with the bones and joints don’t just go away after a major transplant surgery. Prednisone can cause major problems with the bones and joints post-transplant so it is important to regulate those, especially in Mary’s case because she has a history of problems with her hip.”
I battled to read Dr. Friedman’s expression and especially his eyes. Was he trying to tell me that something was really wrong with my hip, but he could not tell me because his specialty was nephrology? Was he trying to say that my newest health battle would be my hip and not my kidneys and I would need a hip replacement surgery in the near future? Was my past revisiting me again? I racked my brain, remembering the pediatric orthopedic surgeon that I met when I was 10-years-old and when my limping was so severe that I had to eventually use crutches and then be wheelchair-bound to maneuver around. The orthopedic surgeon had told my Dad that I would need to have a hip replacement surgery by the time I was 18-years-old and fully-grown or developed. But, here I was at 24-years-old without any sign or thought of anything wrong with my hip—until now with Dr. Friedman and his serious facial expression.
“Let me get the paperwork together so we can discharge you. Just get plenty of rest for these next couple of days. All you can really do is rest it off. Nice meeting you folks.” Dr. Friedman ended and he turned on his heel without looking back.
An uncomfortable and eerie stillness was in the room again. My Dad forced a cracked smile and said, “So, all is okay.”
“Yeah,” I mumbled, still in a daze with the news.
At that moment in time, my sister was ironically the perfect one to break the discomfort hanging in the air by saying: “So, that’s your doctor, huh?”
The way she said it made me giggle and forget about what had happened this day. “Yes, he’s my doctor.”
My sister’s eyes sparkled with mischief and she grinned. “You know, he’s kind of cute in a military sort of way.”
We all laughed for the first time since I was brought into the emergency room.
When I returned home by late afternoon that day, I followed Dr. Friedman’s orders with just spending the weekend resting and sleeping. However, when I was not asleep, I was wide awake and lost in my analytical and overloaded thoughts. I wondered if there was anyone around my age who felt like someone in their 50’s trapped in a 20-something-year-old body. Was I alone in this world, dealing with my arranged marriage health problems that would stay with me for as long as I lived? Was there anyone who felt old and young at the same time, so young at heart, yet with an old and worn out soul from these ongoing health experiences? Certainly, there had to be people out there around my age who had encountered the life experiences I had, but maybe we were all just hiding out in our problems because it was too hard and scary to really reveal these problems and weaknesses that lied in all of us—healthy or not healthy.
After this latest emergency room scare, it was clear to me that I had lied to the whole world and especially to myself ever since I started working. I did not like staying out late at night and returning home absolutely exhausted. I did not like the taste of alcohol. I did not like the superficial and screaming conversations with my half-drunk co-workers. I had just wanted so badly to erase my past and pretend that all that happened had not happened. I wanted to play the normal 24-year-old card of living out the bright lights of New York City without a care or concern about my health. This life that I lived out as soon as I started working in New York City almost made me forget everything about my past and more alive than I could ever, ever remember in my entire life. But, now I knew that I was not invincible and my health was my life, but not me. My health would always be a part of me. It would not go away. It would always be there and maybe it was time that I made the move to defy my parents’ protection over me about not telling others about my health. Perhaps it was time that I was honest to the world and to myself by telling others about my health problems that had made me stronger and who I really was and am. But, did I have the courage to reveal myself to who I really was to people around my age who were into the partying scene like my co-workers? Did I have it in me to really search out there for people my age who had been through what I had been through and, if I did, would I be disappointed to learn that maybe I truly was all alone with my constant internal conflicts and battles of trying to now learn from my past to make a better future and better me while also helping others in the process? These thoughts spun and spun around in my head like a merry-go-round. I clenched my fists and pursed my lips with all these realities, what was to come next with my health, and that the only person that I was truly scared of was myself and really showing how all my health experiences had made me who I was to everyone.
As Dr. Friedman predicted, my right side muscle spasm went away by the time I had to return to work. I never told my co-workers about the emergency room visit, but they must have suspected that something was not right because I no longer went out on Happy Hour Fridays. I spent my Fridays back at home before the sun had set and darkness arrived to the relief of my entire family. I was conscious that I was more guarded, withdrawn, and practically threw myself into my work and work alone with these families who were the only beings to know about my physical, mental, and emotional struggles. I was still polite and amicable with my fun-loving co-workers, but it was different and almost artificial. In many ways, I started to become a victim to my health again and going the extreme opposite way of isolating myself and putting my health and only my health first. However, in actuality, it took me unimaginable strength to close myself off in order to try and find the balance of taking care of my health without becoming my health. In the midst of trying to find this balance, I came to the realization that I no longer wanted to be a paper processor or pusher at my job and drive these sometimes far distances to see the families, especially when it was becoming clearer and clearer that my hip was posing and increasing threat to my well-being and would become the latest health obstacle that I had to face off with.
I eventually had a goal in mind to work at a hospital setting where I could directly help patients. I began to research and browse opportunities at healthcare and hospital facilities. One hospital that really struck me was a cancer hospital based in New York City, but had many locations in New Jersey, Long Island, and even up in Westchester where I lived. On whim and without any expectations, I wrote a letter to vice-president of the hospital about my passion for healthcare without sharing the personal details of my own health and life. I was soon called in for an interview that lasted over three hours with various people of different job titles and departments. Imagine my unbelievable happiness, shock, and surprise when I landed a job at the cancer hospital as one of the frontline administrative staff members.
About two and a half years later and after all the work and passionate energy I put into this non-profit organization and with these families, I packed up my belongings to leave. Saying good-bye to these fun co-workers was harder than I could ever foresee because they had given me some of the greatest gifts that I could ever foresee: The taste and life of New York City and the peak of youth in all its delicious and carefree glory. At the same time as I left my job there, I began to do my own personal research of organ donation and transplant support groups and organizations to find if there were any of us “young transplant recipients and candidates” out there to help them, which would help me. I craved to possibly connect with other transplant recipients and candidates to know that I was not all alone in my ongoing journey to take care of my health without succumbing to it.
No one could ever predict that I was about to face the most significant turning point in my life and about to embark on the greatest journey of working at a cancer hospital with patients and sharing and showing the world just how strong and capable I was to indeed change the world by changing what I could about myself.
**denotes fake name to protect privacy of individual