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Why I Can Look Back at My Chronic Illness History and Smile

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I needed an autotransplant.

My left kidney had restricted blood flow because of a greater than 90% compression of my left renal vein from a condition called Nutcracker syndrome — which, funnily enough, and to my mother’s great amusement, was diagnosed around Christmastime and treated about a year later, also in December. I mean Nutcracker at Christmas? Come on! Plus, my case was so “textbook,” the IR (interventional radiologist) who did my venograms said he would be using my footage from my procedure to teach people/students what Nutcracker syndrome looks like. So, silver lining of sorts?

Anyway. Autotransplant. They move the affected kidney — because of the renal vein constricted between the aorta and the SMA, hence the name, Nutcracker syndrome, an anatomical anomaly — down to the pelvis where they would put a kidney in a “real” transplant patient. So essentially a transplant, but I am my own donor and I don’t need meds afterward for possible rejection.

And yes, the answer to your question is, “They actually do that.” It is a real thing. And the day before I went in for surgery I thought I was so funny telling my kidney, “See you on the flip side!” (Because it would be on my right instead of my left and… oh never mind.)

With all of my conditions, one of the most prevalent symptoms is brain fog. It’s to the point that I say, “I can’t words!” (Humbling, for the writer in me.)

One of my favorite (and by favorite I mean worst) ones yet is when I asked someone to let the dogs out back to potty. I knew what I wanted to say. It was on the tip of my tongue. But I couldn’t remember “outside.” So what came out?

“Can you please take the dogs out… there?” *points at back door emphatically as I search for my mystery word* “Where it is sunny and bright and on the other side of the door? The pee place?”

The “mascot” for a condition I had surgery for (median arcuate ligament syndrome) last year is the unicorn, so as a gift, a friend who had an autotransplant with my same surgeon, and oddly enough our MALS surgeries as well, sent me unicorn salt and pepper shakers for a Christmas/get better soon gift.

I showed my boyfriend after I opened them, and he laughed and said, “For you guys it’s a salt and salt shaker.” (POTS — postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome — joke, which made me laugh. POTS being a form of dysautonomia that, as recommended treatment, requires a massive intake of salt daily.)

On New Years Day 2021 I was diagnosed COVID positive. What a way to close out a decade and ring in a new year.

All of these moments are filled with smiles and fondness in my head. If only because of irony.

Then at the end of the week, as I sit there filling my pill cases yet again, mostly vitamins but still, I get a little sad. Frustrated. I sigh a lot and mumble, “I hate this.”

The pharmacists know me by name. They ask my mom if she’s just there for mine, or if we are expecting other family meds, too.

I guess what I’m getting at, with way too many words and jokes that are probably only funny to me, is that it’s OK.

You have an obstacle in front of you. Maybe big, maybe small, maybe you have many of them, but there is now an incline in front of you when you were expecting a straight path, a flat road or at least a marked trailhead.

And I’m here to tell you, as someone who has to climb these mountains and many others daily, that it’s OK.

So your road goes a little bit more up than flat now, it’s still your road. You can still travel it and make your way down its twists and turns, it’s just at a bit of an incline for now.

These obstacles, while yes, I will fight them like hell, kicking and screaming if I must, are still my obstacles. And instead of fighting them like hell, kicking and screaming that they are in my way, I am going to climb them one step at a time.

Maybe one day they will move. Maybe one day I will have molehills instead of mountains, speed bumps instead of molehills, or better yet, smooth sailing. But right now, the only way through is up.

And a small victory is still a victory.

My most recent Facebook update sums it all up a bit more concisely:

“2020… It’s been a year.

Still on the road to recovery from my June 13, 2019 open surgery for the condition MALS. (Median Arcuate Ligament Syndrome)

Recovering from my December 11 2020 AT (Autotransplant) of my left kidney from Nutcracker syndrome.

In the past decade I have undergone five surgeries, not including times I was under anesthesia for tests and procedures, LASIK twice, wisdom teeth removal…

I no longer have a gallbladder, or an appendix, my sinuses were ballooned, a ligament compressing my diaphragm was removed, and my kidney is on the other side of my body now.

I still have multiple chronic health conditions, on a genetic level, and fight against them daily.

But my goal isn’t to complain that I have a mountain to climb.

It’s to show others it can be climbed.

“If you’re going through hell, keep going.” — Winston Churchill

And it only seems fitting that on New Year’s Day I find out I’m COVID positive.

What a way to wrap up a decade, and ring in the new year.”

Photo by Carlos Lindner on Unsplash

Originally published: April 19, 2021
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