As 2018 slides into 2019, that is the thing for which I’m most grateful.
If you’re new to this column, I’ll try to catch you up quickly. In 2007, kidney failure (triggered mainly by an infection) sent me to Newport Hospital for 10 days.
My creatinine, which measures kidney function, was 18.6 (normal is about 1.0). One doctor poked his head in because, well, he was surprised I was still ticking.
The number dropped but never far enough. Five years later, with worsening function, I began kidney hemodialysis treatments at the Dialysis Center of Tiverton.
As I write this, I’ve been a dialysis patient for nearly 6½ years.
This involves visiting three times a week for four hours per visit. A machine cleans my blood and returns it, and also removes excess fluid. It serves as a surrogate kidney but is nowhere as thorough.
So where do things stand on the cusp of 2019? I have reason to believe this will be my year for a kidney transplant.
Why? Because my doctors say so. I’m moving up Rhode Island Hospital’s transplant list, and a kidney would be removed from a deceased donor who agreed earlier to donate. Doctors would implant it near my bladder while leaving the near-lifeless kidneys near my backside.
Dialysis is full of rules, largely dietary. Foods like tomatoes, oranges, grapefruit and avocado are forbidden, plus fun foods such as chocolate, ice cream, cheese and marinara sauce.
These are foods that mess with potassium and phosphorus levels. Oh, and I’m not supposed to drink more than 32 ounces of any fluid per day — this is the hardest rule.
This experience has provided an invaluable education. I’ve had people I scarcely know offer to drive me for treatments, doctor’s appointments (I still drive myself).
I can name eight or nine people who tried to give me a kidney. Some had to bow out for medical or personal reasons. Two gung-ho types vanished without explanation, the rest were rejected for being less than a solid match.
One was 98 percent approved save for a colonoscopy. Then doctors diagnosed her with Stage 1 colon cancer. People say I saved her life, but she saved her own by trying to donate. She is fine but unable to donate for two more years. I doubt I’ll need her, but I am forever grateful.
Everyone who’s tried is a major part of my life merely by making the effort, for being so selfless. If I win Powerball, they’ll be on my list as I play Santa. Since I seldom buy lottery tickets, it’s something of a hollow promise.
My job is to stay healthy. I try to follow doctor’s orders. You’re a lot more likely to find me at Planet Fitness (after 25 years as a Y guy) than at last call.
Long ago I saw New Year’s Day as a sign that one lousy year just ended and another miserable one was starting. I no longer think that.
I want every year I can grab onto. There’s much more fun to be had. In 12 years of end-stage kidney disease (seeing your name next to “end-stage” is a cup of cold water in the face), I still feel remarkably lucky.
I have great friends, supportive family members (especially my sister) and a terrific wife who took charge in the early going of my illness and grilled doctors, even chasing one down a hallway.
Oh, and the people in Newport County who stop me on the street, who put my name on prayer lists (I’m not religious but never scoff at prayers), who send supportive emails and cards are more important than they realize. And don’t let me forget the tireless staff at the dialysis center, people I respect and appreciate.
There are worse illnesses than this, but then again, it’s no ride on the Ocean Drive. But I’ve found out amazing things about people — and myself. I try not to complain, though sometimes I do (that damn fluid restriction).
But I’ve never felt alone in this fight, not for five minutes, not for a second.
What’s left to say but Happy New Year?
Jim Gillis is a Daily News columnist. Send him email at email@example.com .
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