Chronic kidney disease, I’ve come to believe, is both a blessing and a curse.
What a curse it is to have an illness that will never leave me and will only get worse over time, I’m told. But what a blessing that I will be unaware of it in my day-to-day life, I'm told, until it is almost over. I eat everything I want and it tastes just the way it is supposed to taste and it stays down. Not even a slight watering of my mouth to suggest differently. Anything I feel creeps up on me so slowly, I just assume it is a part of me, a part of getting older, of existing. After all, I’m in my fifties, sixties, seventies. I’m supposed to feel more tired, aren’t I? A little more short of breath when I walk up the stairs, right? But, still, no worries—the doctor ordered a shot for that to make it better.
What a blessed thing it is to be almost completely unaware of this chronic kidney disease in my day-to-day life right now. I would be completely unaware if the doctor would stop telling me I have this chronic kidney disease and that it is getting worse every time I come to see her. But, still, I feel so well, it is hard to believe it when she tells me I only have about 11% of my kidney function left. It seems so random, what she is telling me. Last time I was here, she said it was 12%. Does that mean I am getting better, I ask? The numbers are about the same to me, she says. The test is not perfect, she says. What is important is that we prepare for dialysis, she says. Preparing doesn't make it happen faster, she says.
I’ve chosen hemodialysis, the kind through the blood, where you go to the dialysis center three times a week and the nurses take care of you. I think the word "chosen" is strong, because I don’t really want any of it. But I know I don’t want to be doing dialysis at home every day and she tells me that people can’t live without any kidney function and I don’t want to die, I guess. The transplant sounds better even though it does mean taking a whole bunch more pills for the rest of my life. But I don’t know anyone who can give me one of theirs and the line for a kidney from someone who has just passed is long, she says. Three, four, five, six, seven, eight years, she says, depending on my blood type and what transplant center I can get to in an hour or two. I definitely don’t have eight, seven, six, and probably not five, four, or even three years of my own kidney function left to hope I would ever get out of this dialysis thing altogether. Hell, I don’t even have one year, let her tell it.
What a curse it is that I don’t really believe her. These doctors don’t know everything. And even though this one seems nice, a piece of me thinks these doctors just want to make more money off me. Or worse, their treatment is really just going to kill me faster. So, why, why, would I go see some surgeon and let him cut on me to make this fistula for dialysis when I don’t even need it right now? A fistula is the best thing for me and can take months before it is ready to use, she says. If I wait until I have to have dialysis, then it will be an emergency with avoidable procedures, she says.
Have to have, I think about those words. I don’t have to do shit but stay black, brown, yellow, white…and die.
Is there something special I should eat or stop eating to bring my kidneys back, I ask? She inhales deeply and blinks long like she’s heard this question before.