Sally and I played golf for the first time this season as a Mother’s Day treat for her. I could manage only 7 of 9 holes. I was shocked at how weak I had gotten. As it happened, that weekend marked the anniversary of the start of my most serious decline. On the Tuesday of Players’ Championship week last year, I woke up at four in the morning with my legs paralyzed.
I crawled into the kitchen — no hope trying to waken either of my two hard-sleeping sons upstairs; Sally was in Montenegro — and called our ever-faithful housekeeper on my cell phone.
“I’m having a low blood pressure episode,” I told Jennifer. “Bring some crackers.”
Jennifer showed up with the crackers, but the salt did no good, and she sensibly told me we needed to call an ambulance. Off I went with the EMTs for the first, and the worst, of that year’s trips to the hospital.
They kept me for a week. My initial problem was an ulcerated esophagus, from taking over-the-counter pain relievers. I remember the docs trying to place a nasogastric tube and the blood burbling out of my mouth. I was garbling, “Take it out! Take it out!” And that’s the last image I knew for many days.
They tell me I had a heart attack. I didn’t know. The first thing I saw when I came out of a kind of coma was our minister’s smiling face as he sat in a chair waiting for me to wake up. I will never forget that kindness.
LONG TERM DIALYSIS takes the strength right out of you. I had been on dialysis for two years at that point. When a disaster like that hospitalization happens, you go straight downhill. The hospital stay put on 30 pounds of fluid and gave me peritonitis. I lost the weight. I cured the peritonitis. But the trials had only just begun.
I will not go into those trials in any detail. I had to go to the hospital five or six times for gastrointestinal bleeds throughout last fall and winter. At times now I am so weak I can scarcely walk.
What sustained me was the hope of an imminent kidney transplant. Now, I find that my “recalculated PRA” — or protein reactive antibody rating — is 90 percent. Nine out of ten people carry antigens — proteins — to which I have developed antibodies.
The transplant could happen tomorrow. I am, at least, being tested against every available O positive kidney, because I’m now at the top of the list. But I could be in for a wait. A long wait.
SO HERE’S MY RESOLUTION for the summer, and for the foreseeable time beyond. I must fight back and try to get stronger. I have made a list of a dozen exercise routines. Most take ten minutes or so. I’m aiming to do between four and eight of those routines a day.
I’ve got to dig in and work out against the awful lassitude and the pain in which I find myself. I have to engage in the battle. I have to fight. I know what will happen if I don’t, because it has already started to happen in the last year. My muscles will shrink. I can no longer touch my toes. It is a struggle to climb stairs. A long walk around a supermarket exhausts me.
Can I get stronger? I don’t know. Without kidneys, the body weakens, and weakens horribly. I’ve been through this before, before my first transplant. Then, with my mother as a donor, I knew the transplant would happen,
This time, I’ve just got to build up strength on guts, and prayer, and with no finishing line in sight. And, most important, not even knowing if it’s possible.
O LORD, how long will this go on? Will you hide yourself forever?
How long will your anger burn like fire? Remember how short my life
is, how empty and futile this human existence! No one can live
forever; all will die. No one can escape the power of the grave.
Lord, where is your unfailing love? You promised it to
David with a faithful pledge. (Psalm 89:46-49)
Lawrence Henry writes every week from North Andover, Massachusetts.
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