My 2014 New Year’s Revolution

Dear Blog,

I’ve been neglecting you for the last year. My bad. You know how a hairdresser just doesn’t feel like doing her own hair when she’s just styled 15 women’s bouffants all day long? Well, being an editor at a women’s magazine now, and reading and proofing articles submitted by others all day long, I just run out of steam. Must write more. Need to go back to my beginnings. And it’s always so cathartic being with you.  So this is just a quick note for now with a promise of better things to come. Hang in there. I’ll be back. Really, it’s not you. It’s me.

Happy New Year, my friend.

Love, Me.

Sarcastic

Shifting One’s Fate – My Kidney Transplant

Once upon a time… That’s how fairy tales usually start. This story is not exactly a fairy tale but a tale, nonetheless, about taking risks, fighting the odds and all those other cliché sayings that fit so nicely into a neat little package.

So, as I was saying…once upon a time…my doctor presented me with the news that I had only one kidney – this after performing some basic lab tests after I complained about how tired I had recently been. Upon further testing to find out why I had a single kidney, they determined it occurred during the embryonic stage and that I was only born with one – as opposed to my kidney being impaired by some mysterious condition.

“Relax,” he said, once he saw my head spin a la Linda Blair in the Exorcist. “Many people only have one. You just have to take good care of the one you have. Don’t go play any powder puff football.”  No problem, I thought. I’m no Sporty Spice.

Silence is Not Always Golden
Which all brings me to the silent disease known as CKD (Chronic Kidney Disease). I was lucky that he steered me to a nephrologist (kidney doctor). With his help after a diagnosis of glomerulonephritis (inflammation of the filtering units, called glomeruli), I remained healthy for years through a steady maintenance program  –  sticking to a kidney-safe diet and  browsing kidney forums on the internet.

kidneyFor years I did beat the odds, and I gloated when reminding my nephrologist of each new item on my bucket list as he scoured my lab results and got that fatherly look in his eyes. “Talk to the hand,” I’d say. “I have plans.” He smiled in quiet resignation and said, “Okay. I’m just trying to prepare you.”

What it did do is produce a feeling of urgency to live my life to the fullest while I still could. The first thing on my list was taking my daughter to Rome. We jumped on the plane, and I dug my heels in – literally speaking  – along the cobblestone corridors of Rome. I scoffed at the fickle finger of fate. Mission accomplished. So take that, Doc.

With each follow-up visit to the doctor, I reminded him of my next harebrained scheme  – ignoring the little ticking time bomb inside of me . He’d smile and say, “You have a great attitude, and that’s half the battle.” Got that  right, I’d think to myself. Damn the torpedoes. I don’t care what those lab reports say. I feel great, and there’s nothing you can do to convince me I’m sick. Yup, still in denial.

Slowly, my labs began to show that my lonely little kidney was tired of doing all the work. And once your numbers reach a certain danger-warning level, you are automatically added to the Kidney Registry List. Since you can be on a waiting list for years, their intention is “the sooner the better.”

The Process
I remember getting my first call once I was listed on the registry. A soft-spoken specialist called at 4:00 a.m. indicating they had found a match. The call went something like this:

Me (rousted from a deep REM sleep): “Uh, wait…no. Wait, what?”
Her: “Do you want me to give you a minute while you think about it?”
Me: “A minute!? Really!?”

I finally told her that I was going to pass…I felt fine…not on dialysis yet…yadda, yadda, yadda…and to give it to someone else…someone struggling on dialysis…someone in much more need than I was. Oh, yeah, and I was still in denial.

The Countdown
This scenario played out four more times in the next two years. I felt like Lady Luck was on my side because I was still not yet on dialysis, I felt fine and, besides, someone else was benefitting from my decision to turn down yet another kidney.  And, yes, I was still in denial.

After a long run, though, my tired kidney recently took a sudden turn for the worse. “Do NOT turn down the next kidney offer,” said my nephrologist. His words rattled me to the core and, in that very moment, I knew what I had to do…except I had something else to scratch off my bucket list. My son was getting married in one month. My brain did the math: It takes about six weeks to recuperate from a kidney transplant. What are the chances I’d get a call anytime soon and, if I did, could I recuperate in time to walk him down the aisle?

The Choice
Miraculously, my cell phone rang days later with an offer of a kidney. “Yes, I’ll be there!” I screamed into the phone. Although saddened to hear a fairly young man had passed away and I was to be the recipient of his kidney, I also realized that not only was this an omen, but perhaps this family’s burden would be lifted having known he did not die in vain, and someone would be the recipient of a very special gift from him.

The Gift
I’ve had my new kidney for four months as I write this. Having made such a pre-emptive decision, I felt in control and confident that I had made the right choice. Yes, I was going to be in the hands of strangers and unseen risks, but it was the path I chose to take. I also had a good incentive to recuperate quickly and, exactly one month later to the day, I walked arm-in-arm with my son and handed him over to his beautiful bride. I beamed. He cried.

The New Beginning
It’s still early and, yes, I have to deal with anti-rejection drug side effects and costly medical costs. But I alone decided this fate of mine. To this day, I never look back and think about the “what ifs.”

The nephrology world often uses the terminology “end stage,” referring to the last stage in the progression of kidney disease. I learned that we can turn the tides, and we all have our own “end stage” options. We just have to know when to recognize them and when to use them to our benefit in order to live the very best life we possibly can.

Update: An implantable bioartificial kidney is slated for testing in patients between 2016 and 2018. The Kidney Project brings together scientists, engineers, and clinicians to create a surgically implantable bioartificial kidney to enable end stage renal disease patients to live longer, healthier lives free from dialysis. Funding to-date has been primarily through U.S. government research grants and private support. Learn more at http://pharmacy.ucsf.edu/kidney-project/

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Printed in the Feb/March issue of I AM Modern magazine at http://www.iammodern.com/preemptive-living.html

Sand, Surf and…DUCK!

I remember when my son first told me about his plans to marry his fianćee on the beach near Duck in the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  How romantic, I thought.  I taught him well.  He’s going to make for a great husband

Me: “Wait.  When did you say the wedding will be held?”
Him: “September.

Ack!!! He just burst my NOAA weather balloon. Romantic as he may be, seems he missed a gene in the judgment department. My eyes rolled into the back of my head as I envisioned the dark cumulus buildup looming dauntingly over friends and family tripping over hurricane lanterns and scattering like sand crabs with a bad case of the crabs.

But that’s the worrier in me.  Thank God he didn’t inherit that part of my DNA. “Fahgetaboudit!” That’s his take.  He doesn’t worry about it any more than he would worry about a blizzard if they got married on a ski slope in Maine, a tsunami if they got married on surf boards in the Pacific, or a BP oil spill if they rocked the night away on Bourbon Street. Now, he might reconsider if it was the Mexican Riviera, since being jumped and robbed isn’t what they had in mind in the “till death do us part without our ATM cards”…part of their vows.

But I’m feeling the need for speed to sit down with the mother of the bride, biting my fingernails the whole time and trying not to twitch as we go over Plan B over three bottles of wine. I keep waking up in the middle of the night, note pad and pencil handy on my night table, jotting down things to remember to bring, or not bring, in the event of a hurricane.

With 6,504,222,450,960,472 sites on the Internet feeding off the fears of people like me, there are tons of survivor kits one can purchase for slightly less than a down payment on a full size Humvee. Really? A roll of duck tape for $37?

Wait…did someone say Humvee? That’s a great idea, in case we need to traverse over the wet sand dunes while being chased by the Spanish Mustangs of Currituck.

Now, mind you, I’m just as concerned about safety as the next person but, by gosh, there are just more pending, important items to consider in the case of nuptial mayhem.

Case(s) in point:

The power goes out. OhEmGee. What will happen to the music!? That’s where emergency acoustics come into play.  Note to self: Make sure Grandpa brings that dusty old accordion out of the basement. Also, remind kids what a “polka” is. Amplifiers, shamplifiers…

Now would be a good time to scour the Sears ads for a good backup generator, one with at least 65 kilowatts. Better yet, that neighbor down the street whose house was demolished by that tree last week might be willing to work out a deal with the one he had. Oh, and as for so-called “hurricane” candles?  Yeah, right.

“You distract them while I go for the cake…”

Vendors are a no-show.  Sure, they’ve covered themselves already in the “not responsible for natural disaster” part of your contract, so they’ll be big pussies and not show up.  No problem.  Three words: box cake mix. Note to self: Bring son’s plastic, miniature baseball statue he got from cheap little league official for top of cake.

Mass (hysteria) communication. Leave voicemail on your answering machine for the 100+ calls you’ll be getting just prior to wedding.  Leave verbal instructions: “Look out window. If there’s a hurricane, don’t come. But thanks for the gifts.”

Medications:  Those three Xanax you stole from your sister aren’t going to cut it.  Bring enough for three weeks. Lengthy evacuation routes may call for extreme measures and extreme partying. Also, you’ll be in a room with family members for over an hour, dontcha know. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Travel insurance: Family from out of town would be wise to purchase it. Of course, considering most of them will be stuck due to layovers for two days and probably won’t make it, the point may be moot. Note to self: Bring extra Xanax for Aunt Jane who is stuck on tarmac for 16 hours and not allowed to pee.

Storage items.  Just bring anything with the word Ziploc on it.

What NOT to bring:  Umbrellas.  (You were actually thinking of bringing one, weren’t you?  That’s so cute.)  Baby diapers, formula, etc. You know why. Don’t make me say it.

So I know my list is not complete.  But I have a few months to build up my personalized, bedazzled survival kit. I don’t want to be a Debbie Downer but, after all, I was a Girl Scout and learned to always be prepared. I know how to light a fire without a match.  And that’s not a euphemism. I was also a Red Cross volunteer. Didn’t do much. Just ate the leftovers on the patients’ plates.  But I looked really good in those candy striper outfits. No, that’s striper with one “p,” not two. Note to self: Explain term “candy striper” to kids.

So come hell or high waters that soak our Louboutins, we shall prevail. I don’t know what the next name will be for the hurricane d’season, but she’s not invited.

Note to self: Request Rolling Stones song from deejay…“Gimme Shelter”

 

Miss Spelling

“I was tired, bored and stressed out.”  No, not me. On the contrary, since being laid off from a company after 16 long years, the one thing I’m NOT is tired, bored or stressed out.  Broke?  Yes.  Stressed?  Meh…

No, the quote is from Lori Anne Madison, a cute, blond, petite, six-year old whose one incorrect letter in this year’s National Spelling Bee ended her chances to beat out those twice her size and age.

I want this child. No, really, I want to adopt her. Not only is she tugging at this Grammar Nazi’s heart strings, but she’s sassy ta boot. With her cornfield blond bob and devilish grin, she reminds me of myself at that age. Not that I was spelling that well at the ripe old age of six, but the sassy part had definitely set in by then. Gradually through the years, with the constant din of the nuns spewing their diatribes with one raised eyebrow and dragon breath wafting over your shoulder if you even once forgot the “i before e except after c” rule and the “never end your sentences in a preposition,” imperative, the years of repetitive exercises soon burned a permanent indention in your brain. Spelling bees were the bomb, and I’ll see your AP class any day for the fun, instructive contest that has been lost in today’s dark educational abyss and replaced with standards of losing…I mean learning… tests. Read: “I’m tired, bored and stressed out.”

Years later, with children of my own, I had a tendency to chase them around the room with a red pen in my hand. This struck fear deep in their souls that sometimes prompted them to eat their homework before succumbing to my editor’s marks. (Who needs a dog?) My daughter’s response was always, “Mom, the teacher doesn’t care…as long as we get the idea.” My head exploded, my eyes bulged, and my head spun around ala Linda Blair. I reminded my daughter that some day she’ll be thankful that I was such a Word Witch. Not only would her homework end up looking like a blood splattered newspaper, but I then proceeded to red-line the teacher’s instructions, which were usually replete with typos and grammar gaps.

Recently, an app was devised by the Mitt Romney campaign which invites users to photograph themselves with their choice of pro-Romney slogans and then share them on social media. One of the slogans reads, “A Better Amercia.” Oops. Somebody didn’t observe the “i-before-c” rule. Really!?

So I’m getting out my crayons, poster board and Elmers glue. Then I’m distributing my posters that say “Lori Anne Madison for President.”

But first I need to fill out those adoption papers.

Dress for Sucksess

I just had the most painful experience. It involved a road trip, bad decisions, stripping down, glaring lights and solitary confinement.

 Yes, I went shopping for a mother-of-the-groom dress. I was going to shop in the safety of my daughter’s watchful eye this weekend, but the two of us couldn’t get our schedules in sync, so I impulsively wandered off on my own this morning to at least check which styles I could get away with without my son disassociating from me. Although I was just going to window shop for ideas, I succumbed to entering the great fashionista abyss, and with each item I hauled into the dressing room, I knew I was in trouble when the nice lady handed me a number and whispered, “Bueno suerte…”

Good luck?  What did she know that I didn’t know? Oh…

I was just telling a friend the other day after witnessing a cute, tow-headed toddler with her frilly frock and Mary Jane shoes with daisy-trimmed white socks that I am so excited that dresses are making a comeback.  After the drab neutrals of unkind khakis and woeful, winter hues, it’s so refreshing to see color back in style. Florals, pinks, yellows…a true sign of spring and oh so perfect for a “beachy” wedding.  Personally, I like night weddings – preferably indoors – with lots of dim lights and softening filters on cameras. But, no, I’ll be exposed in the full glory of the bright sun with my lily-white legs blinding the guests, overlapping dough peaking out of my armpits, and my dimpled, sun-damaged décolletage. Who says I’m not growing old gracefully?

And I don’t look good in dresses. I have chicken legs, a dumpling waistline and fried eggs on my chest. Life would be easy if the celebration was held on the snow-covered peak of a ski slope. I could don my finest turtleneck with my padded uplift bra, cover my stick-legs in fashionable, knee-high leather boots and eat all I want, exhaling in comfort after each course.

Every dress I tried on either gave me flashbacks of my prom or made me look like a librarian that had been ridden hard and put away wet.

The sensory overload I witnessed standing in front of those fluorescent lights was enough to send me sprinting out of the dressing room. “Gracias,” I said to the nice lady as I handed back my outfits, even though I wanted to slap that “told you so” grin off her face. “You could have at least warned me,” I said.

In my dream world, I sketch up my own design with lots of whispy coverage and ship it off to Vera Wang to perform her magic. I want to look like Grace Kelly, I’ll say, with a little Audrey Hepburn thrown in, but with a Katharine Hepburn attitude. I’ll sit comfortably throughout the entire wedding, sans Spanks, and she’ll insert an undetected metal rod through the back so I can’t slouch. I don’t mind paying extra for that.

I’m in cahoots with the mother of the bride, and recently asked her what length she’s wearing. “Long,” she said. “I don’t like my legs.”  My reply: “That’s all you don’t like!?” She’s lucky I really like her. This could get ugly.

Hopefully, by the time the wedding rolls around, I should have whittled at least an inch off my fla-belly with this new low-carb diet I’m attempting to try out. (Notice how I didn’t commit fully there.) And as for the old-age spots on my skin, I’ll just flaunt them, telling people I’m Irish and was blessed with freckles en masse. Half truths…works every time.

And, attention guests, there will be absolutely no low-carb dieting for anyone that weekend.  I’ll be spiking everyone’s bottled Evian with extremely hard, carb-laden alcohol, ensuring that they’ll all be seeing double, thus providing me with the best excuse ever to stuff my face with cake.

Secrets

ImagePretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them
They say they still can’t see.
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman

Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need of my care,
‘Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

~Maya Angelou