The past year has been interesting for me. My older daughter started college in the fall and is about to finish up her freshman year. I get to witness a regular old first year happen.
Would you like to hear about my freshman year in college?
Ok, here we go…
My parents dropped me off at school — about 2.5 hours from home. As they got ready to leave, my mom said, “If you can’t be good, be careful.” My father did not appreciate this comment.
During Thanksgiving break, I went to see my nephrologist. He asked me what classes I was taking. When I told him calculus, he was profoundly upset, “Why are you taking that?! Your brain can’t think like that. Your blood is too full of poison.” Um, ok. It’s a little late for this information. I did indeed fail the class. I had been mostly an A, sometimes B student through high school. My first semester in college did not go well academically. I felt like a failure — probably because I failed. (Good news — I took calculus again after my transplant and easily got an A — so the toxins in blood thing seems legit and not a made-up excuse for failing.)
The doctor also told me to stop going to school. Immediately. He said my kidneys were failing and I was not going to make it much longer without intervention. I told him there was no way that was happening. I only had three weeks of school left and I refused to sit around waiting to die or something. His little Irish face turned bright red and he said, “Fine, but if these things happen, you come straight home.” I promised and went back to school.
My grandmother, whom I adored, went into the hospital a week or so later because of stomach pains. She died within a few days. The morning she died, before I had been told of her passing, a cardinal, her favorite bird, sat outside my window. Her death came rather quickly and completely out-of-the-blue as far as I was concerned.
Roughly a week after that, finals started. As soon as I was done with my last final, I went straight home and had surgery the very next day. A shunt was put in my arm so I could start dialysis when the ever-looming time came. December 23rd, I was finally able to go Christmas shopping, but I had to keep my arm elevated. So, I put my hand on one of my friend’s shoulders, put sunglasses on, and acted like I was blind as we walked the mall.
We went to my grandmother’s funeral after Christmas.
A few days later, I got all of my wisdom teeth pulled — puffed up like a puffer fish.
I went back to school in January.
In March, I enjoyed Spring Break in Florida. Had quite a fun week. Got a speeding ticket at 2am in South Carolina on the way home. (Please keep in mind the speed limit in those days was only 55mph everywhere. It’s now 70mph — I was simply ahead of my time.) We were just miles away from North Carolina. Ahhh, so close. The state trooper asked if I knew why he pulled me over and I said yes. He asked why I was speeding and I said because I just wanted to get home. He said it was his job to make sure I got there safely. I said ok.
About a week later, I started dialysis while at school.
Four hours a day. Three days a week.
Finished my first year of school. Went home.
In July after my freshman year, I had my first kidney transplant. I only got the kidney because the transplant coordinator had sat and talked with me for a while the day before as I was on dialysis. He received a call late in the night for a kidney for another person. He asked if he could have the other kidney too because there was this young girl here who was a match for it. My name, for some reason, hadn’t shown up on the list.
He just missed letting me know a kidney was on the way for me while I was still in the dialysis suite. I had already left for the day. If you’re wondering why he didn’t just call my cell — if they existed at that time, very few people had them. I got the news after I got home when our neighbor knocked on the door to let me know my parents had called and asked him to let me know there was a kidney available for me.
I was in the hospital for four weeks after the transplant because that was the hospital rule. I convinced the doctors to let me out a whole day shy of 28 days. It’s my birthday guys, come on, let a girl go home for her birthday. They were reluctant, but let me go home.
A month after I got out of the hospital after my life-changing transplant, my dad got orders to move to Hawaii. OK, well, I’ll see you later, I guess. What better thing to do than to send him as far away as possible? I didn’t go. My doctors were here, not there.
Dad left first, then my mom, then my sister followed a few months later. My brother lived in Germany. I was on the east coast — my nearest relatives that I knew lived in Texas.
I was all alone in the middle of nowhere on mainland USA.
All that was my normal.
But it’s not normal.
But it was so normal to me that I never even questioned it. If anyone did recognize that any of it must have been tough — which, if I’m honest, has been a rare occasion — I’d usually shrugged my shoulders. Yeah, I guess. I probably had my guard up because I was so incredibly used to people not understanding that I was as sick as I was.
Then there’s now.
I’ve warned my family this could be a bit of an emotional year for me. Experiencing our daughter go through her first year of school away from home and hearing our younger daughter’s plans for her future hits me in a way, above and beyond normal “my kid has gone to school” emotions, I can’t fully explain.
I sit on this side of the equation now, look at my daughters, and think how young 18 is.
I can’t help but feel both grateful and robbed at the same time.
Does that make sense?
I’m so incredibly grateful to still be here. My life has been good in many ways. To watch my daughter start her new phase in life and to hear my other daughter’s hopes for her future give me an incredible joy and pride.
I guess I’ve reached a point where I need to let my younger self grieve a few things I have shut out for a long time. Things that I have acknowledged only in passing, because why dwell on it? It’s all over. You know?
But seeing my child at 18 gives me pause. I cannot think how hard it would be to watch her go through something similar. It’s like my brain is allowing me to finally fully admit I was not ever imagining how tough it had or has been.
The thing that hits strangely for me is that my girls plan. They dream. They hope. All without a giant obstacle in their way. All without a doctor saying they can’t; it’s impossible for you to do well at this; stay home and wait.
I never really had plans or dreams or ambitions when I was their age, because I honestly didn’t think I’d make it past 30. There were a few jobs or other avenues I might have possibly pursued if my health hadn’t been such a big factor. In fact, I had a job for a while that I liked because I got to travel to cool places, but had to give it up because I got sick again.
Even now, nearly 27 years after transplant number two, I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up and I still need to live near a transplant hospital, because I can’t seem to find a doctor who follows post-transplant patients outside of a transplant hospital. If you’re out there, would you let me know?
So, I still don’t know what to do. I still can’t live wherever I want.
But my girls…
What I missed out on for myself at 18, I get to see in my daughters’ lives. My girls are free to choose what they want, where they want. They are healthy and work opportunities for women have changed drastically since I graduated from college. They both seem to be walking forward confidently with purpose in that freedom.
May they always.