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“Forever Intertwined”

posted Tuesday June 25th, 2019



Today we have a guest post from one of my favorite writing students, Anita Whitely. For her final project in “Mapping Your Memoir,” a class I teach at Phoenix College, Anita wrote a letter. I won’t say anything more — except thank you, Anita. I have learned so much from you.  

I am a recipient of your loved one’s kidney. More than anything I want you to know that I think of you often. I know that it is because of your generosity and honoring the one you lost that I have a life. I want to tell you what it is like being on dialysis. I feel that this is best said in something I wrote for a creative writing class. I will share that with you now.

September 11, 2011, was the first-time dialysis needles pierced my skin. This would continue three times a week for the first five years. It would increase to four times a week for my duration in hell. Dialysis is a medical procedure that replaces the function of working kidneys. Two needles are inserted into the arm, one pulls blood out pumping it into a machine. The machine cleans out toxins and excess fluid, performing the function of working kidneys. The blood is then returned to the body through the second needle. This procedure can take a minimum of three hours. Without this procedure being done on a regular basis, several times a week, the patients will die.

In addition to having this procedure performed, a patient must follow a strict diet including low-phosphorus and low-potassium foods. Phosphorus is in everything, so this limits or eliminates many foods. Potatoes, dairy, anything processed just to name a few. Potassium is in tomatoes and bananas in addition to many other foods that would be considered healthy. The hardest of all is the fluid restriction. 32 ounces a day. Unfortunately, this is not just the fluid the patient drinks. This also includes, but again is not limited to, soup, applesauce, yogurt, anything that breaks down into liquid. This is the basic science of dialysis, all of which has been documented.

This is the information I was given when I started dialysis. There are things no one warns you about. No one tells you about the nausea, vomiting, low blood pressure, and generally feeling like crap. No one talks about them until you’re in the middle of experiencing them. There is also a much more dramatic change, at least there was for me. I found that in time it felt like the dialysis machine not only took everything out of my blood, both good and bad, it also took my sanity, my faith, and my positive attitude. Replacing all these with a feeling of worthlessness, depression, anxiety, and a decrease of my will to live. I can honestly say that I begged God to let me die and end my suffering. I don’t mean just occasionally. I would plead with the Almighty on a regular basis. I was consistently told “NO” it was not my time. No matter how often or how hard I pleaded the answer was still “NO”. I couldn’t understand why I was still here. I had nothing left, I was no longer a teacher, no longer contributing to the greater good, and I felt like I was taking a toll on my family. My family never made me feel like a burden, this was all in my head. I could not imagine what I could ever do that would matter in the world. I had been consumed by my disease. It was hard to find grace. All I could see was dialysis treatments until I died. And in my mind, I would welcome death with open arms.”

By December 2016 I had decided I was not going to live past the end of January 2017. I could feel how much my body was failing, my mind was greatly diminishing, and my spirit virtually gone. I am so grateful that I did not have to follow through on that decision.

On December 9th, 2016 my life started anew. After my surgery my surgeon told me that my donor kidney started working before he could finish my stitches, a highly unusual occurrence. One of my nurses who took care of me after surgery said that she had been doing this type of nursing for over 20 years, and she had only seen such a good match from a deceased donor five times. That’s including me. I never had to return to dialysis. This too is quite a miracle. For most transplant patients they have to return to dialysis until the kidney takes its time to start to work. I could not have asked for a better match. It’s still the most amazing thing to me that two strangers can be so perfectly matched, if only by genetics.

Before my kidneys failed, I was a preschool teacher for over 20 years. I’m very proud of the work I did. I was so pleased to serve the children and families I worked with. But because of an immune system that is now compromised, I cannot go back to teaching. After an organ transplant, the immune system is kept at a minimum. So, because I have a compromised immune system, as cute and endearing as they may be, preschoolers are a petri dish of disgusting germs. That means that I am in the process of reinventing myself. I have to find out who else I am. I absolutely identified myself as a teacher and I couldn’t have imagined doing anything else. I want to contribute to the greater good. Because of this, I have started to develop the skills that would allow me to fulfill a lifelong dream. I always wanted to be, and still want to be, a published author. I want to write children’s books, inspiring stories for young women, and my life’s story. Off to school, I went. I am currently on an academic path that will include an associate’s degree in family development and this will pair well with my first- associates degree in child development. In addition, I am also studying creative writing and American Indian studies.

When you go to school and apply for scholarships and financial aid, you have to have a plan. People keep asking what is my plan, what do I want to do with this education. I answer with great confidence that I would like to work with Native Americans, serving children and families in a non-profit organization. This is my intention. It remains to be seen where life will lead.

For the first time in probably 10 years, I feel like I have my brain back and I can think with clarity. I can manage life, and my spirit is strong. You and your loved one have allowed this to happen for me. You would think because I’m a writer I could come up with some beautiful, eloquent way to express my feelings. I have tried many times both in my head and on paper. It never seems to come out right. I will try once more.

In the morning when I wake up, I open my eyes, knowing I have enough energy and strength to face my day, no matter what it may bring. I pray that God sends you many blessings, it is because of you I will be able to watch my nieces and nephews grow to offer their amazing gifts to the world. I will be able to hold the hands of my parents as they finish their path of life, and to rejoice with my brothers as each one of their children leaves the house and goes off into the world. There are so many experiences that I will be able to have because of you and your loved one. I promise I will never take life for granted. I will always remember that your loved one’s legacy and mine are now forever intertwined.

It is with great respect and immense gratitude that I thank you with all my heart.

(Image of Anita and her dog, Taco, courtesy of Anita Whitely.)  

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2 Responses to ““Forever Intertwined””

  1. Beautiful. Thank you for this post.

  2. Anita – I want you to know that you are meeting your goal of inspiring people.

    I too am a kidney transplant recipient, I just received the gift of my kidney from my Hero in January this year. I have been struggling with the daunting task of writing a letter to my donor’s family. I know that I will not be able to write it as eloquently as you have but your letter hits the nail on the head and is very inspirational.

    Blessings to you as your begin the next chapter in your life I am so happy for you.

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