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.