By Nate Charny
Someday time travel is going to be invented. That’s just a fact. And when it is, I’m definitely going to use it. Not to go back in time and fix all the terrible tragedies that have happened throughout history. I figure other people much more competent than me will take care of that. No, I’d go back in time to give myself advice. Because there was a point in my life when I sure could’ve used some.
When I was 23, my wife (then girlfriend) was diagnosed with kidney disease. She was 21 at the time and needed a transplant in mere months. She was fortunate enough to receive a kidney from a very selfless relative, to whom we’re forever grateful.
But a kidney transplant is a scary thing, especially when you don’t know what you’re in for. At just 23 years old, I was barely capable of doing my own laundry, let alone helping someone through the most trying medical ordeal of their life.
Spoiler alert: My wife is doing great. It’s been 5 years since her transplant and we lead perfectly normal lives. That being said, I was flying by the seat of my pants during the whole process and didn’t have anyone to talk to who’d been in a similar situation. So when I go back in time, I’m going to track myself down and share the following advice I’ve learned over the last 5 years.
We found out my wife needed a transplant after I told her to see a doctor. She was tired all the time and didn’t want to take walks, be outside, or – at her lowest point – even get out of bed. I had finally had enough and yelled at her (lovingly, but still yelling) that if she was so tired all the time she should go see a doctor. It was a good thing she did. Naturally, I felt like a real jerk for yelling at someone whose kidneys were apparently failing, but if she hadn’t gone to the doctor who knows what would’ve happened. The point is, if you have open and honest communication in your relationship, it’s easier to talk about tough subjects like health. Now that my wife and I talk openly about our health, it’s easier for both of us to stay up to date on things like yearly physicals and blood work. Try not to yell though.
After the transplant, there are a lot of lifestyle changes. My wife can’t drink alcohol and has a lot of dietary restrictions. The lifestyle changes were hard for her, but I was able to make them a little easier by being supportive. For instance, if our friends want to go out for sushi, I take it upon myself to steer us somewhere else. I don’t really drink alcohol anymore out of solidarity. I don’t want my wife to feel like I’m living a life filled with things that she’s missing out on. I try to be as supportive as I can, but I don’t have all the answers about kidney disease. And my wife knows I don’t have all the answers about kidney disease. If she’s going through something tough, we try to learn about it together. Sometimes it’s okay just being a shoulder to cry on. There’s nothing more supportive than listening.
Learn the Side Effects
To keep her body from rejecting the new kidney, my wife takes a lot of pills every day. These pills have side effects. Do yourself a favor and learn what they are so you’re not caught off guard. Right after the transplant, my wife was on high doses of steroids and was experiencing what I later figured out was some “roid rage.” She is normally a joy to be around, but at the time I had to try and remember that she was experiencing negative side effects and just needed some space. In the years since the transplant, her steroid dose has gone way down and now she only gets mad at me for normal married couple reasons.
Take Time for Yourself
It’s okay to take some time to step away from the medical stress every now and then. I would have been no good to anyone if I’d burnt myself out worrying. I’m not saying I flew to Hawaii while my wife was having surgery, but even taking a ten minute walk outside the hospital helped me stay sane.
Talk to Someone
Remember when I said I didn’t have anyone to talk to about dealing with kidney transplants? I could’ve found someone. The National Kidney Foundation has support programs I could’ve turned to. And it turns out my aunt-in-law is also the spouse of a kidney transplant recipient. It’s okay to seek help for yourself if you need someone to talk to. Trust me, it helps.
I consider myself a fairly positive person. I believe in karma and putting good energy into the world. But there were several times before and after the transplant that were emotionally trying. With any medical procedure like a kidney transplant, there’s going to be some stress involved. I tried to remain a rock of positivity for my wife. She’s allowed to feel her feelings, but I won’t let us spiral into negativity and start feeling bad for ourselves. We have so much to be thankful for in our lives that kidney disease is just a bump in the road.
If I had all that advice 5 years ago, I would’ve been much better prepared to be the spouse of a kidney transplant recipient. Although now that I think about it, if I went back in time and saw myself, I’d keep walking right by. Because even though there were plenty of trials and tribulations along the way, the kidney transplant made our relationship stronger. Everything we went through, we went through together.
Okay, MAYBE I’d walk up and tell myself all the winning lottery numbers. But that’s just common sense.