It's New Years Eve, 2002. I'm feeling like crap. I mean, I feel awful. But then again, I've felt awful for a long time. I don't sleep well. I haven't been eating well - not much of an appetite and when I do eat, it's usually junk. I spent the holidays shaking and nursing a cold, feeling miserable the entire time. I figure it'll pass. It usually does.
These kinds of colds happen all the time to people my age. We shake them off and continue on. But why is my vision getting blurry and dark? I must have some kind of pink-eye infection.
I have an appointment with my doctor on New Years Eve. I've been seeing him for the last couple months, but he hasn't found anything wrong with me. I think it's all in my head - or that maybe I just partied too much. I mean, I didn't drink anymore than my friends. Hell, I drank less than some of them.... and I stopped smoking pot because it made me feel so sick and dizzy every time I was near it. My doctor tells me he needs a 24 hour urine collection, and hands me a giant orange container. I, of course, ignore it - I mean, how am I supposed to collect my own piss and leave it in a jar, in my fridge, for a day?
I get to my doctor's office - explain that I feel awful and that I've lost my vision. My mother actually had to drive me into the appointment because I couldn't see. She dropped me off, and told me she'd be back to pick me up in an hour. They take my blood pressure - 220/180. The numbers don't mean a thing to me. I just want them to give me a pill, give me something for my eyes. I'm told I need to go to the ER. Now.
But it's New Years! I've got a party to go to... my friends are expecting me....
I'm rushed out of the doctor's office by some over eager EMT's who strap me to a board. They ask me if I want to be taken out the back, but I tell 'em to take me out through the waiting room. Just to freak out the other patients. I'm mildly annoyed by being put out like this. I have places to go, and people to see. Whatever. I just know that my Mother will probably freak out because she'll get there and wait for a while before she asks about me and they say, "Oh, him? They took him to the emergency room." (This was just slightly before everyone and their brother had cell phones. Now, a quick text "MOM! LOL! ER! C-U THERE! LOL!")
What a way to start New Years. I'm still mildly annoyed as we rocket down the local highway. I see the roadsigns for 690 West speed off behind us as I stare out the back of the ambulance. The EMT says he has to put a line in my arm. I wince. I hate needles. (Hah! Funny now....) I get to the hospital, and I'm dumped in the ER.
My own memory of what happened here is fuzzy. I remember them doing a lot of manual tests - taking blood pressures, pressing on my soft tissues, checking my vision with little flashlights. A lot of people came in and asked me all kinds of questions. Oddly normal questions like "What is my name?" and "Who is the president?" A whole barrage of them. I answered all of them coherently and lucidly, which I later found had baffled them because apparently someone in my condition is usually suffering from stages of dementia and isn't lucid. They threw me in an MRI for a couple hours, found nothing and then came back in the room to tell me "We didn't find anything." It took an ultrasound on my mid-section and back for them realize my kidneys were totally atrophied.
"Your kidneys are atrophied, Steven. They're not working."
"Oh, good, okay. Let's get this fixed. Gimme a pill, I'll get some rest...."
"No, you don't understand. Your kidneys are dead. You'll require dialysis or you'll die."
"Ech. Dialysis? Don't old people who are dying do that?"
"You ARE dying. If you don't enter dialysis treatments now, you'll be dead in a matter of days, maybe hours."
My world dropped out below me. You can hear heavy words like that, but they don't always hit you right. Especially when you're 24 and have the whole world before you. I took it about as well as one might think.
Except, as we all know, I didn't use the fudge word. And, at first, I refused dialysis treatments.
"Let me die!" I declared, being extremely undramatic.
This sent my family into a state of immediate panic. My folks and brothers are such good people - I'll never forget how distressed they all sounded when I said that. My older brother, Alex, though, came in alone, and grabbed me and said, "Don't do this. You tell your niece she has to grow up without her uncle. You tell that baby that." He was crying, by stoic. And, I thought of his baby daughter, Eva - my niece. She wasn not yet a year old and had been the light of my family's life. I wanted to be around to watch her grow up. I had to be. I'l always be thankful to Eva for saving my life - and to this day when I see her, I can't help but think of that and be glad that I'm still here to be silly for her. I love that little girl dearly.
I had them tell the doctor that I'd have the vas-catheter put in my chest and I'd start dialysis in the morning. Thus began the rest of my life - as a patient with End Stage Renal Disease and my career as a dialysis patient.