I am 25 now, but a year ago, almost to the day, I went out for a curry and came home with a kidney.
My kidney failure story is somewhat out of the ordinary, both in the way in which I held off any symptoms or reality of organ failure for 21 years (I was diagnosed when I was two) and also in which, on the day that I finally got my transplant, I serendipitously and by complete chance got the call about not one but two kidneys - one from a family member and one from an unknown donor. I almost missed the second call, being in a noisy bar celebrating the first one, but I was by chance around the corner from the hospital, and it was a brilliant match, and I took it.
Throughout the whole experience, which spanned about two years - from first being told that my kidneys were beginning to fail, to life on dialysis, through to the day I got beloved Jidney (Jess + kidney), I adamantly and stubbornly maintained a sense of humour, in particular throughout some of the most ridiculous and horrifying situations.
It was at the very beginning of my kidney failure journey - or as I liked to call it at the time 'Magical Ride of Joy' - that I first learnt this important lesson. I was sat in bed, chilling, and thinking about my hospital room's en-suite wet room (fancy, right?). I had gone in to have a kidney biopsy but was incredibly anaemic so had dangerously low blood pressure. I was suddenly told I would need a blood transfusion. One minute I was sitting there merrily eating yoghurt, watching Come Dine with Me and wondering if a wet room is convenient or gross and the next, I was being told that they would be there with the blood in ten minutes.
This was all too Holby City for me so I did what any self-respecting person in that situation would do. I pretended I was Kim Kardashian. I was Kim K at a health clinic getting some fancy new treatment that just so happened to involve my mum holding a towel over the drip, with my arm out of view, for the entire four hours it took to finish. But really, by turning the situation into something more graspable and at the same time funny (the more ridiculous the easier this is) I was able to view it from a different angle. Think of it like those rock climbers who hang on to a mountain face by their fingertips - I just chose the angle that was able to shrug its shoulders, put its palms up to the sky and say 'what can you do' and then swayed there, stubbornly clinging on for dear life.
You see, having kidney failure isn't all that fun (who'd have thought?) and nor is it at all straightforward. The whole experience is a bit like climbing a mountain on which un-foretold difficulties continue to arise. These can be as small as stubbing a metaphorical toe, or as big as a ten-tonne boulder hurtling it's unforgivingly stony way towards you, Indiana Jones style, just as you are reaching for your hat.
Many an ordeal occurred throughout those two years in which a sense of humour was necessary and absolutely saved me; some were boulders, such as when I got my dialysis tube painfully shoved into my stomach (while awake) and had to stay in the Ward of the Damned with a bunch of geriatric, limb-less, 24 hour-moaning, haemo-dialysing scary old ladies; and some were mere toe stubs, more annoying but not quite as painful, such as my not being able to eat basically ANYTHING and with a horrifying 500ml limit on fluid intake each day. It must be said that there are, as ever, upsides to living on the edge (of death), as the whole experience did spur me on to create a small greetings card company, I wrote articles for the Independent, children's books, I worked in places I actually enjoyed and I even lugged my dialysis machine all the way to Copenhagen.
But what became predominantly clear to me in this hazy 'what's gonna happen' time was that, as annoying as it is, you always have a choice. Even when you get to the point where you think you don't, you can't possibly; you can, and I'm afraid you kinda have to. Take, for example, when I found myself nine months later, aged 24, with all eleven of my initial prospective donors having dwindled to none, still plugging in to a dialysis machine for nine hours every night and with no hope but the dreaded 'list'. I got on the train that morning and immediately turned on R.E.M.'s 'Everybody Hurts', fully prepared to dive headfirst, pirouetting, in to a deep and hopeless misery.
But then the sun came out - it couldn't even bloody rain for me - and the hilarity of my clichéd music choice hit, and I found myself chuckling. In short, I stepped away from the dark side; I let Darth go. I may have been holding on to an increasingly threadbare sense of humour, but what was more important was what was hidden within it - a sense of hope. You see, for me, the two things are irrevocably intertwined. So I turned off R.E.M. and put on Beyoncé. What else can you do?
And then, one beautifully unremarkable day, everything changed. By pure serendipitous, joyful chance, I got a call. And then that evening, when I was out celebrating, I got another. And this second call was for now. And I happened to be just around the corner. And it was a perfect match. And I took it.
And as I ran down the hospital corridor that night, looking far too jazzy and overdressed and laughing to myself as I yelled the filmic line: 'Where's renal?! I have a kidney, it's waiting for me!' I thanked my lucky stars, and above all, my sense of humour.
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