Well, I'm back in the USA! It is extremely bittersweet. I really didn't want to leave Spain. 3 weeks was just enough time to start getting settled in, make a lot of reconnections, and establish a routine. As soon as that happened I had to start packing again to come back. God called me to Spain, and so (more often than not) I desire to be there. But I need to get a new visa, and for that reason I have to be here.
The good thing is, lots of good things are happening here Stateside! My brother and his wife are adopting a little girl and I get to be there for that; I get to be at our yearly family campout with everyone on my mom's side; I get to attend a leadership conference in November; I will get to watch my nephew play football; I will get to see my Aunt whom I haven't seen in years; I will get a chance to experience fall in Indiana again. I'll try to post some pictures of the trip here in a couple of days!
I have escaped to Spain for a few weeks. It's good to be back, weird to be back. It's fun to see people I know and see their joy that I am doing well. For some reason I find it amazing to see people who are genuinely content that I am back and still alive. When I mentioned this to Gaby, she said "well, nobody is going to tell you that they wished you hadn't made it." Good point, amiga.
I think I'm just as content about it. That God, in His great mercy, continues to allow me to serve Him here. I am thankful to have been brought through this awful situation so that I can testify to the goodness of God and show compassion to those who are suffering.
Three weeks isn't a very long time -- it's just enough time to start getting settled in. But I'll take it. And it just makes me more excited about coming back in a few months! Praise the Lord for another opportunity at life!
Fresenius Medical Center #6422. This is where I have spent the last 6 months. And it's time to give a shout out to the staff here! (Please hold your applause until the end.)
Keith, Lee, Heather, Dawn, Misty, Leslie, Gerald, Maria, Tiffany, Christy, & Kate.
And the crowd goes wild!!!!!!!
I just realized I probably missed someone. Yikes. That would be bad. Since I was sure when I started this post that I wouldn't. Anyway, I didn't mention any of the office staff or doctors. But to that awesome tech that I forgot to mention, I am really sorry and what follows applies to you as well!
So, you crazy dialysis peeps, this is for you:
Just over 10 years ago my life took a drastic turn and I was introduced to a side of the medical world that I had never been exposed to before. All things Kidney. Kidney failure, kidney doctors, kidney function, kidney jokes, and dialysis. It was a whole new experience for me and I was blown away by this sub culture of people living with kidney disease. I was made aware of the importance of the kidneys and how it is so intricately related to the heart. But dialysis was the most fascinating part.
These machines are amazing! Dialysis is amazing! When you told me about the history of dialysis last fall, I remember googling it and being even more amazed that the origin of it and how it has changed over the years. As I sit here and listen to the hum of the machines, the swish of the pumps, and the alarms of the guy beside me, I am truly amazed and grateful for it's life-giving purpose.
For me, dialysis has been a positive experience. 9 years ago it was positive, and it has been that way the last 6 months. It makes me feel better. Some days are harder than others and most days I go back to my mom and dad's and crash on their couch for a few hours. But the days in between have been great. Dialysis for me has been a transitional activity until I get my transplant.
*For the rest of you non-staff readers: For many of the people that come in here, there is no hope of a transplant and the rest of their lives will be spent here 3 days a week if they choose. Their days in between aren't so good. Some are brought in on transport beds or in wheel chairs. Some are driven here by family members or friends. For those with weak bodies, dialysis is something that takes a toll on them and they don't come here as happily or as easily as I do.
Now back to you dialysis workers:
I know that you have a thankless job a lot of the time. When I walk into the big dialysis room and see those who are struggling with their fistulas, their artificial legs, their catheter ports, their diabetes, etc., I know that not all of them are able to thank you. Or they don't want to. Or they don't think about it. I mean, it WOULD be awkward to hear "hey by the way, thanks for keeping me somewhere between comfortable and miserable until I finally die."
But I want you to know that I am extremely grateful to God for you. Thank you for doing your job so effectively. Thank you for being aware of every patient's needs and for treating us like individuals. I love that I hear laughing from you from time to time and that you have ready smiles for us. Thank you for sharing your lives with me. I loved hearing about your families and the trips you would take and what you did on the weekends. Thank you for listening to my stuff, too! Thank you for noticing those 25(or whatever) times when I almost passed out on you. You all can move pretty fast! And "de nada" for keeping you on your toes.
But seriously. I appreciate you. And I can honestly say that I will miss our interaction and how normal you made me feel in a less-than-ideal situation. You all gave some something to look forward to and I'll miss you.
I know you know how important kidneys are in general, but I want you share something real quick about their importance to me. Originally the kidneys were considered the place where the soul resided - the innermost part of the body. Once I learned that, these two verses from the Bible took on a different meaning for me:
"For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well."
The "inmost being", when translated, is "kidneys." God created my kidneys -- my whole body, my soul. He is in complete control of all of me. And I can praise Hime for that. And I praise Him for the fact that YOU have cared for my inmost being.
If the Lord grants me a successful transplant, I will come back and see you soon!
P.S. I'll be the one with four kidneys.
Who in the world is 38 and shingle?
There are actually more of us than you think. I have been surprised by the amount of people crying out that they, too, have struggled with this same issue at some point in their lives.
It's easy to get down about my situation. It can be painful at times. But with the right dose of feel-goody medicine, everything seems ok.
Having friends and family who are sympathetic is a big bonus. I even have a great friend here from Venezuela to help me in my time of need. Having dear friends is important when you're 38 and shingle.
Amigos, as the saying goes: "Be kind to the people around you, because you never know what battles they are facing." (or something like that)
Shingleness isn't for everyone. But for those whose lives it seems to affect, be at peace and be happy. For this, too, shall pass.
P.S. No blisters were exploded during the writing of this post.
erday as I was washing up some dishes, my mom came up behind me and thanked me, giving my back a little scratch. And if your back is anything like my back, all of the sudden my whole back decides to get itchy and it's not satisfied until the entire surface has been covered! My mom, being one of the best back-scratchers that I know, graciously finished the task.
It reminded me of something that happened in the hospital in October. Despite being mentally foggy most of the time, my mind recorded this moment and I don't want to forget it.
I had been taken to dialysis in the hospital, and I was laying there in bed watching the activity all around me. There were four beds on each side of the room, with a wide aisle in the middle. The older man diagonally across the room from me was kind of restless, coughing a lot and seemed pretty miserable. I understood. Dialysis levels the playing field.
I noticed a group of three doctors as they entered the room. They stood off to the side and you could tell they were discussing the man whom I just described, looking at him from time to time. It became clear who was the lead doctor. It was a young woman who was explaining things to her even younger male students.
The young lady doctor was attractive, probably of Middle Eastern descent. Her skin was a beautiful smooth brown, something that my blotchy palish-red caucasian epidermis has never experienced...except for those summers as a lifeguard when I practically begged the sun for skin cancer. Anyway, I digress.
Eventually the little huddle of educated intelligence moved its way to the foot of the man's bed, where Dr. Beauty Queen began to speak with him. She was kind and spoke gently with the patient, explaining his situation and how his recent lab results looked. It was hard not to eavesdrop; it's not like I had anything else to do and they were a short 15 feet away. The other two docs just stood at the foot of the bed while Dr. BQ listened to his lungs and examined his legs and feet.
The old man spoke loudly, asking the doctor all sorts of questions. The doctor answered each one until he was done. As the consultation came to a close, Dr. BQ asked the man "Is there anything else I can do for you?" The old, weary patient didn't miss a beat: he said "Would you please scratch my back?"
Beauty Queen didn't miss a beat either. She replied "I sure can." The two students smiled awkwardly at each other as their mentor moved close to the man as he leaned over on his side. She began to scratch and the man said "I haven't been able to reach that spot in the middle of my back all morning." He continued to give her directions:
"A little higher."
"Over just a little bit."
And the Beautiful Doctor did just as he requested. When the man finally declared that all was good, BQ said "Are you sure I got it all?"
She's one of the greatest doctors I've never known.
It made me teary when it happened, and it still moves me as I remember it. I don't know if she realized how much she looked like Jesus in that moment. I'm sure there wasn't a class in her university on Proper Back-Scratching Techniques. But she mastered it.
"In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to be grasped;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death--
even death on a cross!" (Philippians 2)
Beauty Queen was transformed into Beautiful Heart right before my eyes.
True humility is a gorgeous thing, and I was so grateful for its lesson that day.
I want to be a back-scratching Beautiful Heart.
Thanks, Mom, for the reminder.
In the summer of 1999, shortly after my graduation from Kentucky Christian College, I nervously made the trek to southern Indiana to help out at a week of church camp. The location was Wonder Valley. All of the faculty graciously accepted me as part of their family and I am friends with several of them to this day. One of the ladies, Dana, has been a dear friend ever since that week. Dana and her husband, Jay, have two daughters, Andrea and Lindsay. They were young teenagers but have since grown up, married, and have cute children of their own.
Andrea, the oldest daughter, became a friend of mine as the years passed. She became a nurse and took over her mom's position as Camp Nurse for that annual week of camp. She is super compassionate and kind. She is well-grounded, extremely dependable, and as sweet as her parents.
She met a guy named Adam and even brought him to camp to work one year. Everyone found Adam to be as kind and humble as Andrea, and you couldn't help but root for them and their relationship.
I got to be there the day they married. I was there the day they found out that their first child would be a girl. I happened to be there when she was born. They have become like family, and they have accepted me into theirs.
One memory I have of Andrea was when she was pregnant with her first child, Macy. We were at church camp that week and I found out that my mom had cancer. We were staying in the same dorm and, after a long day, climbed into our bunks. As I lay there in the dark waiting for sleep to come and trying to block out the worst case scenarios of my mom's condition from my mind, I looked over to see movement and watched Andrea crawl into my tiny bunk with me. She said she just wanted to make sure I was ok and didn't want me to feel alone as I dealt with the news of my mom's frightening condition. A while later, after the serious conversation fizzled out, we somehow started talking about kidneys. And we ended up stifling our laughter realizing that we had 7 kidneys in that one bunk! She had four (Macy's) and I had 3. But I will never forget Andrea's compassion during that time. It was one of the sweetest gestures that I have received.
Adam and I have a history of our own. Other than smashing the campers in the yearly Faculty vs. Campers basketball game together, we have also co-hosted a radio program. That's right, folks. Two shows, to be exact. We named it J-Love. We needed a skit for a night at camp and so we decided to create a radio program and take calls from listeners, aka other faculty members. Adam, though soft spoken, is a funny guy and pretty quick witted. We got several laughs out of that deal and still joke about it to this day.
Adam has been a high school teacher, has worked for his county, and now works with computers at a School of Dentistry. He's a smart guy, and his brain gears are always at work. But one thing about Adam that I appreciate is his desire to always deepen his walk with Christ. We have swapped books to read and talked about books that have challenged us. I appreciate his insight and his servant-like demeanor.
I was surprised to hear that Adam had called in to be a kidney donor for me. I didn't know that it was even a possibility. The more I process it, though, the more I am not surprised. Of course he would donate a kidney. Not because of me, but because he loves the Lord and it is his nature to serve others. Just like my sweet donors before (Susie and Scott), Adam represents the love and grace of God to me. A kidney donation isn't something that you can repay. I just have to accept it. And that is a very humbling place to live. Because Adam and Andrea love the Lord, they are free to love me, and I am so grateful.
Adam and Andrea, I want you to know that you are making a spiritual impact all over the world. Let me tell you why:
Last week I was talking with my teammate, Gaby, about the happenings in Spain. She said that the other night she was visiting with a Spanish friend of ours named Eva. Eva was telling Gaby that she saw on Facebook that I had a donor and that I will be having a transplant soon and that she is happy for me. Eva said that she was so amazed that a friend would just give me a kidney. She said to Gaby "That is the biggest testimony that the evangelical church has. They aren't just talking.....they are doing." WOW.
Adam, you are impacting my friends. You are impacting my family. You are impacting people I don't even know. Thank you for your gift. I know that there are still possible problems that could occur between now and the transplant. But for now I choose to live in faith that God has ordained this and that on March 17th God will guide our physicians in a successful transplant.
Let the countdown begin. 56 days....
I've wanted to write this post for awhile now, but wasn't sure how to go about it. I have so many people that I could write about -- their influence in my life or a specific instance when they have ministered to me. And maybe in time I will get around to giving them a shout out. But today, It's Gaby Time.
Gabriela Balestrini is my Venezuelan teammate in Spain. I first met her in Venezuela and grew to know her and her family through the church I worked with. Her honesty about Christianity and her desire to understand God made for some really interesting conversations. Gaby had become a Christian as a teenager and began to pray daily for her unbelieving family. The Lord heard her prayers and eventually her parents became followers of Christ. It's a beautiful testimony of prayer and redemption.
Gaby is now a full-time worker in Spain. The transformation that has happened in her life over the last 4 years is visible. The Lord has broken her, changed her, molded her, and matured her. It has been beautiful to watch.
The Gabster has been my flatmate in Spain and a real blessing. I have learned from her and taken notice of her humility. If you walk into her bedroom, it is simple and enough. She doesn't have a need for extravagant decorations or extras in her room. Just a bed and a place to store her necessities. I admire her.
Gaby and I rarely speak english together. But her english is getting better and from time to time it just slips out. She is doing a great job. But whenever I think about the progress she's made, I have to laugh out loud. Not to make fun of her (my spanish mistakes were/are waaay worse), but because she makes THE BEST mistakes. For example, one time she was learning a Bible story in English and she said "And Jesus said 'Don't be scary'." Although that's still good advice from Jesus, it wasn't exactly what we were looking for. Or the time I asked her what she had to eat at a carry-in and she said "What's it called? Apple Creepy?" Close. Very close, Gabster. That would be Apple Crisp. And then the time when she was demonstrating what the police say to people -- "Freezing!" Again, so close, yet so far away. Gaby laughs about her mistakes, too; another trait of humility and goodness.
So what's the big deal about the Gabsterizer? I believe that she saved my life.
Last fall as I was preparing to come back to the states for my kidney transplant, there was a week in there when my health declined rapidly. So quickly that I hardly noticed. Sweet people offered to help me, but there wasn't much to be done. I could hardly eat, hardly drink, and I just entered this state of being where I slept, woke up, swallowed some food, took pills, slept, woke up, swallowed some food, took pills, etc. As you may recall from previous posts, Gaby arrived in Spain 7 days before I left. I barely remember that week. But there are a few things I remember:
I remember her taking a prayer scarf and placing it over my heart. She then took olive oil and prayed over me, her tears flowing and she cried out to God for my life.
I remember her feeding me food, because I had lost all desire to eat.
I remember her reminding me to take sips of water so that I wouldn't get dehydrated.
I remember her holding my hair as I threw up, both times while we were out in public.
I remember her helping me to the bathroom throughout the day and night, as I could hardly walk.
I remember one of those nights telling her that I couldn't go any further and she said, "Repite conmigo: 'que diga el debil: fuerte soy!'." "Repeat with me: 'Let the weak say: I am strong'!" And we repeated the verse from Joel over and over again until she put me back in my bed.
I remember the day before I left when she led my sister and I in a Bible study.
When my sister arrived she jumped on board with Gaby. They packed my suitcases. They ran errands. They made sure I was warm. They fed me. They dressed me.
Besides the obvious salvation that Christ offers, a lot of people don't get the opportunity to have their earthly lives saved. I have had(and will have) the experiences of having at least 4 life-savers. Susie, Scott, my second kidney donor, and now I am adding Gaby to that list.
Gaby, you kept me alive until God's appointed time for me to go back to the States. I am grateful for your friendship, your sistership, and your humble example of Christ's love. I trust that someday we will get to work together again. But if not, I want you and the world to know that I noticed. I noticed Christ in you. And when I was knocking on death's door, you were there to gently reflect salvation and a peace that passes all understanding.
I send you grateful love from the USA.
A lady died last week here at the dialysis clinic.
I had about an hour left to go when I saw this lady walk in for her treatment. She was about 55-60 years old and had only been in a couple of times so far. About 15 minutes later I hear the nurses saying something about calling 911 and within a few minutes the fire department guys had shown up and within 10 minutes the EMT's had arrived. I couldn't see what was happening because the lady was seated in a chair behind me. About 30 minutes later they were wheeling her out in front of me, doing CPR. But I had a feeling she was already gone. That was verified at my next treatment. The lady had passed away immediately of a heart attack(she had serious heart issues) and was gone before they took her out of the clinic.
It was a sobering moment for me. It shook me up a little. I have only seen dead people at funerals. I have never seen anyone who has recently passed away. And so my mind wandered...
I thought about the overlap of the spiritual and the physical. It was weird to think that just 50 feet from me the spirit of this woman left her body and I wondered where it went. And then I envisioned all of the rest of us just sitting here with our spirits hovering inside our pitiful bodies, just waiting for I AM to say "It's time."
I thought it was my time two months ago. It was a sobering time as well. Knocking on death's door wasn't my plan, and apparently wasn't God's plan either. But I'll be at that doorstep again sometime. I would love to say that I was knocking on that door with a smile on my face knowing I was being escorted into eternity with Jesus. But I wasn't smiling. It was scary, and I didn't want to die. I thought of all of the things I wanted to do yet, like spend time with my family and friends as well as see all of Spain become true followers of Jesus.
Many people casually throw out the phrase "well, any of us could die at any time." And while that is definitely true, there are some of us that hang around this reality with visual reminders all the time. You know who you are. There is the cancer surviver. You've been through chemotherapy, lost your hair, been given the shocking percentage of your chances to survive. There's the war vet. You live with the reoccurring nightmare of when your buddy fell at your side and you know it could have just as easily been you. How about the parent who has lost a young child? You can still smell her and you think you hear her crying. She looked just like her older sibling and it's difficult to live with. And what about that new widow. That word shouldn't even apply to someone of your age. Every day you think about the death of your husband and wonder if it was real. After all, you never asked for a "new normal."
It's enough to take your breath away or drive you crazy.
I'm just thankful that Jesus makes it bearable.
**Dialysis Diaries: These are entries written while sitting in dialysis. I am thankful for wifi and for a chance to get my blood cleaned out at the same time. At this is what I look like the majority of the time.
Now, on to more important matters. Some of you are just now jumping in on this transplant journey with me, and some of you have been around for the duration. No matter where you find yourself on the information train, I hope that this entry blesses you.
Ten years ago I found out that my kidneys were failing. I was working at Kentucky Christian University and was told that I would have 5-10 years of function with my kidney before needing a transplant. Because my original kidneys were over-achievers, they failed more quickly than anticipated and I found myself on dialysis in May of 2005. A month later I received a transplant from Susie. Susie had been an intern for me in Venezuela and was currently a student at KCU. She was in my small group and wanted to give me her kidney.
The transplant did not go as either of us expected. I remember waking up from surgery with several doctors around, talking and looking at a monitor as an ultrasound was being performed. I was super groggy, but I do remember clearly when one of the doctors said "we have to get it out of there." The kidney had clotted off, and was no longer able to function inside of me. There was no rejection nor did my body build up any antibodies against it. So back to surgery I went.
I woke up to a situation of which, to this day, I consider to be one of my worst days ever. I had been intubated, which means that I had a tube down my throat. Let's just say: I'm a gagger. So it was torture. I was given the choice to receive meds that would help me sleep for a few days, or I could stay awake all night trying to improve my breathing and try to get my lungs strong to get the tube out. For me it was a no-brainer. During that time I had visitors come in and out, but the most impactful was when I looked over and and saw sweet Susie walking in the door. Remember: She had just been through surgery too and so she had the hospital gown on and was connected to a pole in order to receive IV fluids. Her mom was helping her walk in to see me. Our exchange was limited because of my inability to talk. I don't want to share what Susie said to me in those moments because I want to keep it between us. But I remember using every ounce of my energy to try and avoid weeping which would cause serious gagging. We have talked off and on over the years about our situation and how we felt during that time. To put it simply, we shared a broken heart.
We have remained good friends and I have been encouraged to see how God has blessed her life: she and her husband lived on the mission field for the better part of a decade and they have been blessed with 4 beautiful children. My life is better because Susie is in it.
Back on dialysis I went. Over the next 6 months I continued on dialysis. I was recovering from the failed transplant and preparing for transplant #2. And on December 15, 2005 I received a second transplant from a guy named Scott:
Scott was a Social Work professor at KCU at the time, and he felt like God had led him to donating his kidney. He had talked it over with his wonderful wife, Nora, and their two girls and they all decided that it was something he should do. (I have to give a big shout out to Nora here, because she apparently kept him focused on those days when he wasn't too keen on donating) ;) The second transplant went off without a hitch and in 10 days I will celebrate 9 years with Scott's kidney. He and Nora have continued to bless my life and I enjoy a special relationship with them because of his sacrifice. This usually includes mexican food. ;)
I think about Scott and Susie all the time. I am alive because of their sacrifice. When I think of them this verse comes to mind: "Greater love has no one than this: to lay down his life for his friends." John 15:13. Scott and Susie risked their lives to save mine. Their actions have shined light on Jesus' sacrifice for me. They have represented Christ in their actions, and I am forever grateful.
It's weird to me to think about going through this process again. Another donor. Another transplant. It's kind of surreal. And honestly, I haven't really processed it yet. It's a lot to take in. A lot to ponder. A lot to accept.
I don't know who the next donor will be. I understand that several people have called in to be tested. That blows my mind. I look around here in the clinic and see people who will be here until they take their last breath. People who aren't eligible for transplants. And here I have people lined up to give me their kidney. I know it's because it's what Christ is doing in their lives and not really anything that I have done. Which makes grace that much sweeter.
Scott and Susie, thank you. And I pray that God continues to bless your lives in unbelievable ways. I will always be a testimony to your graciousness, kindness, sacrifice, and love.
It has been a long time since I have written in this blog, and my intention today is to try and bring it up-to-date. I will add little stories and thoughts later on, but today is just a simple overview of what has happened over the last month and a half.
Shortly before I left Spain I was skyping with my friend Amy, and she suggested that I keep blogging to make sure all of the incredible stuff happening to me was written down. Well, I fell a little short during that time, but maybe I can make up a little for it over the next few weeks. :)
So here's the summary: I had gotten the "ok" from the nephrologist in Spain to wait until October 13th to leave Spain, but in the two weeks before I left I quickly lost energy, mental strength and stamina. I found myself counting the days until Gaby got there, and then once Gaby was there I was counting the days until Tab got there. During the days I just sat there and tried not to sleep all day. My days consisted of waking up, trying to eat something and take my pills, pray, take a long nap, wake up, try to eat something and take my pills, pray, take a nap, wake up, try to eat something and take my pills, pray and go to bed. I really don't remember much of the last two weeks in Spain. (More stories from what I DO remember will come later)
Gaby arrived on October the 6th, and then Tab arrived that same week on October 11th. On October 13th Tab and I left for the USA. If you would like to hear Tab's testimony of the amazing things God did on our trip that day, please watch the following video!
A Story of Hope
Once arriving back in the US, I was admitted to the hospital. We were shocked to learn that my sodium was at a dangerously low level, lower than many of the medical personnel were accustomed to seeing. They were surprised that I was speaking in coherent sentences and were expecting seizures due to all of the imbalances in my system. It is evident that God was protecting me during that time. I had a rough time in the hospital. Physically and mentally. Maybe I'll be able to write about it sometime.
The morning after being admitted a port was inserted into my chest, and I was put on dialysis. Over the next week they took off 24 pounds of fluid and my body was in shock. After getting my chemicals back in order, I was discharged and went home with my mom and dad. I have been at their house ever since and keeping up with dialysis 3 times a week.
As far as where we are in the transplant process -- that's a good question! I know that several people have called in and are in the process of getting tested to be a donor, but I don't know how far along these people are. It is pretty confidential but I expect to hear some sort of news in the next week or two. I will do my best to keep you informed.
So thank you for reading!