This column sometimes comes easy. An idea forms in my mind and I run with it.
Occasionally, it works and I’m pleased with the results. Much more often — as my own worst critic — I think about the efforts that could have been better.
And every now and then, a column gets shoved into the back of the closet for myriad reasons. But mainly because some subjects are more difficult to tackle.
This is my sixth or seventh time I’ve tried to write a good news-bad news column. This time, I think it will finally hit “save” and get it done.
The good news is that after much testing and drawing of copious amounts of blood, Cleveland Clinic doctors have said I am an excellent candidate for a kidney transplant.
The bad news? I need a kidney transplant.
There. I said it. Or typed it, to be precise.
It doesn’t feel much better reading it here than it did when I found out my kidneys weren’t working as they always had. But I’ve accepted the reality of the situation and have begun to do what I need to do to take back control of my health.
This all began in January 2020, when I came down with pneumonia in both lungs. I thought it was the flu, but it was more than that. I spent a few days in the hospital and eventually recovered — at least from the pneumonia.
During the stay, tests were conducted and I learned that my kidneys were not performing well and that I would eventually need to address the issue.
I didn’t want to hear that. In fact, you could say I didn’t hear it at all.
Aside from the whole “not being able to breathe” thing that put me in the hospital, I felt OK. I generally don’t take sick days, so once I recovered from the pneumonia and was cleared to get back to the newsroom, I threw myself into the work. When I wasn’t working, I played a lot of golf.
My kidneys and the potential for life-altering dialysis and a transplant?
That stuff happened to other people, not me. If major organs were really failing me, wouldn’t I feel a lot worse than I did?
The rationalization worked for a while. While my doctors monitored my kidney function monthly, I just kept doing what I do.
But then — in late fall — one of the nephrologists I saw regularly looked at the latest results and told me there was no more kicking the can down the road. His advice was to begin peritoneal dialysis, which was less intense than “hardcore” dialysis and easier on the body.
It was also something that I could do at home at night while I slept, instead of having to visit a dialysis center several times a week for hours at a time.
I still wasn’t sold. I wanted no part of it, to be perfectly honest. So I asked the doctor what would happen if I did nothing and just continued what I was doing.
I did not like the answer.
That was the moment I came to grips with the reality and decided that there were things I still wanted to do — chief among them walking my daughter down the aisle, getting to know my future grandchildren, continue working, becoming a better person and breaking 100 on the golf course.
So on Nov. 30, I had surgery to implant a peritoneal catheter port. Then came instructions on how to use a home dialysis machine, and I began those treatments on Jan. 12. In March, I spent a day visiting with the Cleveland Clinic transplant team and learned more about the process than I ever dreamed.
You probably already know this, but they’re really good at what they do. They’re thorough, too. One of the final procedures that day involved blood work — a lot of it. I watched as the woman tasked with getting my blood took one vial after another from a drawer. Finally, I had to ask:
“I’m sorry, but my obsessive-compulsive disorder is kicking in ... I have to know how many of those we’re filling,” I said.
I don’t think she was thrilled, but she counted the 28 vials. I think they wanted to know if I’d been bitten by a mosquito at any point in 1978.
Later, there was a colonoscopy, which — like a lot of people — I’d been putting off for a while. If you’re also not looking forward to the experience, please get it done. Two of my favorite people in the world — friends and long-time newspapermen — died young because of colon cancer.
The doctors and other members of the transplant team encouraged me to go public about my diagnosis as soon as possible. They suggested I take to Facebook and Twitter and when they learned what I do for a living, they told me to write about it. Their goal is to help me find a kidney.
But as is my MO, I resisted. It’s a lot easier to write about something as a third-party observer than it is when you’re telling your own story. It is for me, at least. I enjoy my relative obscurity. I’ve kept this largely under wraps, confiding in a just a few family members and friends. I want to thank all of them for their thoughts and prayers.
I had concerns about my kidney disease taking over my life and becoming who I am. And let’s be honest — a new kidney is a big ask. (I’d like to think I would have been nicer to everyone if I’d known I’d eventually need an organ.)
I still worry about all of those things. But I came to realize that dealing with those concerns is better that than doing nothing and “dying with dignity.” I may have actually uttered those words as I tried to make a case for not following my doctors’ life-saving advice. How stupid!
I’ve gotten smarter since then. And God-willing, before too long I’ll be much healthier, too.
ED PUSKAS is Editor of The Star Beacon. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @Ed_Puskas.