Monday, April 19, 2010

But What a Face

I cannot stop chuckling over the unbelievable irony of the past few months. Thanks almost entirely to the unseen exposure of this blog, I have been offered some amazing opportunities that never would have occurred were it not for my crappy kidneys. Who knew that another small burst of quasi-celebrity would come my way in the midst of my midlife crisis, all because of Stage IV kidney failure?

In a few weeks, I will be testifying before the Michigan Legislature at the state capital in Lansing, putting a personal face on the topic of "Chronic Diseases in High-Risk African American Populations" for the National Kidney Foundation of Michigan's annual Diabetes and Kidney Day. I've pretty much polished the outline of what I'm going to say.

"I'm sick! Support us sick people with greater funding!"

The irony here is not so much that I don't live in Michigan any longer, although that is pretty funny; this speaking engagement was offered and agreed to some time before my move to central Illinois. The irony to me is that I could not have a kidney transplant performed in the state of Michigan now even if I wanted to. My current health insurance won't cover it. That's a point I'll be certain to mention during my little chat.

Then in early May, I have been asked by the folks at Baxter Healthcare Corp., the company that manufactures and delivers my dialysis supplies, to be the guest speaker at their quarterly employee meetings in northern Illinois, read a few entries from this blog and leave 'em with a little snappy patter. Guess campaigning for an invitation really works sometimes, eh? (See the "Cancel the Tour Guide" entry of Feb. 10.)

Baxter is really doing this first class. They offered to pick me and my Karen up in a company car and drive us to the meeting, put us up in a hotel the night before and pick up the tab for dinner after the event. Pretty snazzy. Originally, when they extended the invitation, I thought it was going to be sitting around with a handful of workers in the Baxter coffee room and engaging in some clever small talk. "Oh, no," explained Trisha, the Baxter senior marketing manager. "This is the quarterly employee meeting. There'll be hundreds of people there, the corporate executives, teleconferencing...."


My patter had better be snappier than I thought.

But the real kicker of late is my selection as the "Male Face of Kidney Disease" for DaVita, owners of the dialysis centers that coordinate my care. DaVita launched a new Web site a month or so ago on behalf of their awareness-raising Kidney Run/Walk events across the country. They wanted to humanize the affair and selected three women with kidney disease to tell their stories in the online forum. Apparently, they were having trouble finding a man to help balance the presentation.

"Would you mind if we told your story on the site?' the DaVita marketing people asked me. Again, they never would have known that I, my crumbling kidneys, YouTube or my Little Home on the Prairie even existed if it were not for someone turning someone at DaVita headquarters onto "Just Kidneying." What a world, this Internet!

So I'm on the site, putting my manly face and personal story on the cause and effect of kidney failure. You can see the page here. When I informed my Facebook friends, always a supportive bunch, some suggested it was way better than being the Male Face of Incontinence, or Erectile Dysfunction. Jimmy Doom, a Detroit actor, writer and one of my favorite people, opined that as long as the role didn't involve wearing a mascot's costume, how bad could it be?

Others have suggested that maybe I should find a mascot's uniform. Hey, what are they saying about my face? If I can find a getup in the shape of a kidney, I'll let you know.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Going Through the Change

Be it underwear, socks or dialysis nurses, I am highly resistant to change. So it was a morning of great trepidation and personal upheaval recently when two events that signaled a major transition in my life occurred back to back: Diane King, my beloved kidney counselor, confidant and guide, agreed to meet me for a farewell cup of coffee the hour before I was scheduled to be examined by her replacement, a nurse named "Mar."

"Mar?" Sounds like something you do to a coffee table, not to a patient.

Anyway, Diane and her husband, Bruce, were packing their lives into a U-Haul and preparing to move to California and an uncertain future. (She told me the State of California had not yet accepted her license to practice nursing, so she wasn't sure when she might begin working there.) Yet she still made the time to drive downtown and meet with one of her patients at his insistence just so he could officially say goodbye, which should tell you all you need to know about the kind of person Diane King is.

She arrived at the coffee shop on Main Street with Bruce in tow. What an adorable little couple they are! They're the same height, they've begun to resemble each other the way married couples do after years together – they even sound the same! Ah, love.

Because I have referred to her often as my AWWOE (Angel Who Walks On Earth), I thought it fitting to buy her the gift of a small ceramic angel, holding a small circular sign reading "Thank You," as a token of my deep appreciation. I know, it'll just take up space and gather dust on her new office desk, but it's far more practical for California than the full-length mink coat I wanted to buy her.

      Diane opens the wrapped Haines and Essick gift box as Bruce looks on.

Angelic couple say hello to their little friend.

Then they said goodbye to their other one. We spent a delightful hour together. I'll never forget Diane. She taught me how to take care of myself and guided me through the emotional upheaval of dealing with this miserable disease. Then, with a lump in my throat and fear in my heart, I drove my Chevy at a snail's pace through the downtown streets to the DaVita office for my first examination by "Mar."


"Mar," as it turns out, is short for Marion. As you can see, she's quite attractive, and she retains the slightest hint of an accent from her native Germany. (Much to my disappointment, she does not wear a monocle.) 

"I need to tell you right up front," I said upon our introduction, "I'm sure you're a very nice person and an experienced, talented nurse. But it may take me a while to warm up to you because I was very close to the person you're replacing and...I'm...just going to need some time."

(In my mind, the pipe organ is reaching a dramatic crescendo.)

Mar was extremely understanding, kind and efficient. However, she may not be Diane's permanent replacement: she explained that her home office is in Springfield, and she's filling in at the Decatur office until a new nurse can be hired. (If you're looking for a fulfilling career, there is an ongoing shortage of dialysis nurses. The job features great one-on-one contact and the opportunity to teach and make a real difference in the lives of patients as well as their families.)

So for the moment, at least, my new full-time kidney confidant has yet to be determined. Maybe it'll be Mar. I hope so. But maybe not. No one knows for certain.

Change, they say, is good. What do they know?