About Me

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Los Angeles, California
I am 47 and thriving in Southern California. One day at a time.
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Sunday, July 27, 2014

It's Funny 'Cause it's True

It took losing my kidney to find the funny.
Let me explain.
I was 13 when I was diagnosed with CKD. It was serious business to me. I am an “A-type”. I wanted to graduate top of the class in CKD. I attended my nephrology clinics religiously, researched my medications at the library, and even asked my doctor for a tutorial on the function of the kidney (I’m not kidding). But I still saw the decline of my kidneys charted out on an old-fashioned paper graph, my renal function plummeting like The Great Crash of 1929.
By 19, my Mum had donated her kidney to me. We were an ideal match, and I not only survived CKD, but thrived. I know. I am one of the lucky ones.
For 23 years, I pursued my dreams. I became an actress, got married, moved to The City of Angels from The Great White North, and took my health very, very seriously. I ate well, exercised, and took my medications every single day.
Until I didn’t.
After 20 years, my transplant went into chronic rejection. Suddenly, my shiny, well-oiled good health that I drove with such pride was T-boned by an 18-wheeler with the emblem, “Destiny” scrolled along the side. When I rose from the smoking rubble, I braced myself for the fight. I knew what was coming. I mean, I’d never lost a transplant before, but it had to be the same as losing my kidneys, right? It was worse. So much worse. Suddenly there were biopsies and blood work, new medications and new misery; suffering side effects that increased/decreased my appetite and beyond. And in the noisy carnage as my Old life annihilated my New life, this A+ student who was suddenly scoring an “F”, couldn’t find one goddamn thing funny.
And everything went quiet.
And in that eerie quiet, when you realize that this is no joke, that this is your life, you have a decision to make.
How will you survive?
I chose to find the humor in it. And, I began to write.
Out into cyber space I vomited up the blood, sweat and fears that I didn’t know what to do with.  This did not just mean fart jokes, and witty observations about the lack of bedside manner that exists underneath that ubiquitous lab coat. (I mean really, Doc, would it kill you to smile?) Truthfully, my blog bordered on a black comedy at times, as I swam, indeed submerged myself in those waves of self-pity that lap up against our self-esteem, eroding it away complete. But in writing about my journey through illness, and using humor as a tool, I became more aware, and more grateful for what I did still have, simply because I wanted to share. I connected more because I was so desperate to find laughter and light in what seemed to be an endless dark.
My nephrologist and I tried to do my transplant preemptively, avoiding the Big “D” at all costs. Gone were the days where I could cook or fold laundry, and the day came where I could no longer get out of bed. It was the end. One morning, as I blew my nose, my Kleenex turned bright red. Through the brain fog of renal failure, I stared at the bloody, snotty tissue and mused,
“Wow. I have every symptom of renal failure.”
My donor-to-be-husband replied dryly,
“That’s cause you have renal failure.”
Maybe it’s a “you-had-to-be-there-moment”, but in the laugh that chortled up and out of my chest, I felt relief. And for a moment—free.
Finding the funny became my mission.
I would sing loudly though the 30-second injective torture that is the Epogin shot. I would flirt with any and all technicians, complementing their Scrubs-of-the-day. And I would laugh, loudly, as Bea Arthur as “Dorothy” indulged in triple takes on “The Golden Girls” as I lay in bed for my 16th hour in a row.
When you’re sick, you gotta get your laughs where you can find them.
Look, humor in illness is elusive. Let’s face it; those sitcom “buying-a-kidney-on-EBay” jokes are getting old. But you can choose what’s funny.
There’s an old adage. Comedy= Tragedy + Time. Does this hold true while you live the hell of kidney failure?
Make it true. Play the game with me; a variation on the Scavenger Hunt. Find those little moments that bond us, not break us.
Seek, and ye shall find. Find the funny.

Friday, July 4, 2014

American Beauty

My 1st kidney transplant didn't cost me a dime.

I was 19 years old, living in Toronto, Canada. My Mum offered me a kidney. I said, "Yes, please."

This was the apex of my stress with The Canadian Health Care System.

When I was 28, I moved to Los Angeles, the City of Angels, to pursue the American Dream.

I lived the cliche, a struggling actress in Hollywood, until my dream dissolved into a nightmare. I did not wrestle studio heads on the Casting Couch. I did not end up in a lawsuit. I did not end up in porn.

I ended up a casualty of The American Health Care System.

My kidney rejected. My health insurance gave me one year of "provisional" disability, and then told me—so sad, too bad—I would have to fend for myself. After 10 years of continuous group coverage I found a steal of a deal. My monthly premiums went from $100 to $750 a month. My yearly deductible was $4000 before anything was covered. And my stress went through the roof.

[That, BTW, needed to be repaired.]

I know. You've heard it all before. But have you lived it?

The insurance companies' ass-backwards message was loud and clear: "You are too sick to work. We can't make money off you. Now you will have to pay—and pay handsomely—to get better. "

The Perfect Storm of 2008 rolled on. Economy Crash. BOOM. Housing Market Crash. BOOM. Self-Employed Photography Business Crash. BOOM. End Stage Kidney Failure. BOOM. We tried to batten down the hatches against her relentless rage, but the hits just kept on coming.

My resentment for the white, affluent minority grew; for those could dismiss my warning, "It's not IF you get sick, it's WHEN", like an annoying insect. They could swat away the inconvenience of health care, put it off, buy a Chanel purse instead. I watched them with widened eyes dilated with envy, buzzed about them like a mosquito, hungry to somehow land on their plump, healthy arms and suck back their blessed blood.  

But for the rest of us, the huddled masses of the chronically ill, we huddled together but alone, no longer sheltered by an iconic poem that has become obsolete.

"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to break free...I lift my lamp beside the golden door."

The sick seek liberty as well, independence, freedom from. But it's impossible to break free of the chains of chronic illness when Lady Liberty lifts her lamp selectively, shining it only on those with the Platinum Health Care Plan.

But were we entitled to anything just because we washed up on the American shore?

[Technically, we crossed the border at Detroit.]

After all, we came from Canada.

This is the definition of The American Dream according to James Truslow Adams (in 1931), "Life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement, regardless of social class or circumstances of birth."

[Hmmm. It don't say nuthin' about dem der sick people.]

America is not a country that helps you. The American Dream is "Help Yourself."

The Dream has morphed into an idea that success is materialistic, a buffet we can all help ourselves to if our karma is aligned, if our feng shui is balanced, not if our bank account is full. We simply need to "visualize", no actual work required. Literally, just help yourself.  Gone are the days when money was a prerequisite for purchase. Sign here and for the Low, Low Price of "Name Your Price" you are entitled to collect from a life long smorgasbord of delights. All for the minimal effort of pushing a tray.

Or just being born 'Merican.

This country is littered with "entrepreneurs", now code for "get-rick-quick".  Self-made social-media men. They don't really want to work on building a career; they don't want to carefully construct their nest egg from economic effort and time. They just want to add water and—voila!—have a business that runs itself, so they can sit back and go to expensive restaurants and travel.

American Entitlement has become a pandemic. The fear of not getting what we think we need. The fear of losing anything we have. It prevents us from giving anything away. We live in a society where taking has become an art that is admired and copied—the genesis of which is usually a sex tape, later available on Pay-Per-View, the star of which gets a reality TV show. And our fear grows, multiplies, proliferates with every image of something we think we are missing. Every car we didn't buy, every house we didn't own, every Facebook notification we didn't get. Americans are breeding this desperation, this anxiety, this fear into future generations. It has now spread into the bloodstream. This sepsis of the soul has infected us all.

I get it now.

America was too sick to help me.

But I love America. I can't help it.

She's like an awkward teenage boy that so badly wants to prove She's a man. She just tries too hard for Her own good. She's the the bully in the hall, throwing you up against your high school locker, poking Her nose into everyone's business. She struts around in Her combat fatigues, painfully clueless to the fact that that no-one is scared of her; Her "better, stronger, faster" threats white noise we wish we could permanently shut off. From their corner of the cafeteria far across the ocean, the quiet Scandinavian nations, like the spectacle-wearing nerds of high school, peer over their computer screens in bemused awe, willing to take the shots, the wedgies, the stolen lunches while working hard and paying the toll necessary for a bountiful life.

There is no fast pass in life. But for those Americans in the 0.005%, the Golden Ticket they are born with sets a damaging precedent.

I am now an American Citizen. And I was no different than any other immigrant who landed here harboring The Dream close to a pounding chest.

The My Golden Ticket was a green card, my Fast Pass to becoming a big, fat Movie Star, when all my dreams would come true. And I would be happy.

Until I got sick.

And then all my dreams finally did come true.

If The American Dream is to "Help Yourself", then I finally did.

It took nearly dying from another disease that few are comfortable talking about, never mind insuring—drug and alcohol addiction—to finally get it. America taught me that bar stool wisdom barely gets you to the end of the bar. She taught me to stop pointing out what is wrong with everyone else, and point that wagging digit at myself. And keep it firmly planted on my chest. No matter how scared I get.

To me, The American Dream is like Happiness. I'm not entitled to Happiness just because I was born. Happiness is not as simple as one choice. It's a lifelong string of choices sewn together daily. It is work. It was my choice to move here. I could lie spread-eagled on the wreckage of my medical past (doing my best "Mena-Suvari-from-American-Beauty" impersonation) and martyr myself over the ceaseless stack of EOBs and medical bills we are still paying for 6 years later.

I could. As an American, it is my right to bitch. But it's also my duty to do something about it.


Living here still feels like The Land of The Freaked Out and The Home of The Broke.

No-one with a cold should have to sustain the stress of navigating the American Health Care System, never mind renal failure, dialysis and kidney transplantation. My 2nd kidney transplant cost us deeply; it taxed our very souls, and we are still paying for it. But the lessons I learned were worth (almost) every penny.

While we Americans lie flaccid in our fear over giving up what we currently have, nothing will ever change.

"Help Yourself" doesn't mean handover over that big fat raise I haven't worked for. To me, it means, when life throws you lemons, you plant another lemon tree.

But today, I think I'll plant an American Flag and watch it flap in the breeze.

[Beauty, eh?]