Chapter 10: Forced Maturity
It finally happened on Christmas. Herb wrote gave me a card and at the bottom, he penned, “I really love you.” As fate would have it, a few family members were in the room when I read the note, and because I’m awkward and have trouble showing emotion, I just looked up, smiled, and said, “Me too.”
In January we celebrated our first dating anniversary, as if no break had ever occurred, by going to Denny’s and exchanging gifts. There was such a security and peace in our relationship. Because our expectations were lying out on the table and we were learning to communicate more efficiently, dating became so much more fun. Much like the winter of the previous year, Herb and I spent the chilly months of 2005 getting to know each other even better and falling more and more in love.
It took until around Valentine’s Day until we were both ready to actually verbalize those sacred words. It is so rare for a couple to wait so long to use such a common word like love, but I knew without a doubt, that by the time we said it, we both really meant it.
What we didn’t know was that those few winter months would be the calm before the storm.
What we didn’t see was that those weeks were God’s gift of normalcy to us.
What we didn’t realize is that as we were falling in love, Herb’s body was falling apart.
He was weak and tired, and had a perpetual cough. The flu put him in bed for a week on two occasions. There was a constant pile of used tissues overflowing from the trash can in his bedroom. His extreme exhaustion caused him to miss classes and fall behind on his work. And finally, by his third encounter with a week-long couch stay, Herb sought medical help.
What we had been witnessing was a very slow kidney rejection. Herb’s transplanted kidney had been hanging on by only a thread for months, and the thread slicer came in the form of pneumonia.
For Herb, this was old hat. He handled his sickness with such grace, despite his disappointment. This was the third kidney rejection he’d suffered. He tried his best to put a positive spin on everything and continue to be the rock of our relationship.
He stayed in the hospital for a week. The doctors worked out a diagnosis and and we waited to find out about the next step. The words “end stage renal failure,” “dialysis,” and “transplant” were what we dreaded, but exactly what we heard. I hated to see him so fragile in his hospital bed. I just wanted to march out into the hallway, grab the first doctor I could find and tell them to take my kidney, here and now.
Herb said, “No way.”
He left the hospital with a shunt coming out of his neck for hemodialysis (through the blood), plans to move to peritoneal dialysis (through the stomach), and prayers for a transplant. Herb’s brother and sister both volunteered to be tested as potential matches to be living donors, but unfortunately they had their mother’s blood, who was also not a match. Other family members had been exhausted as well – Herb’s first two kidney transplants had come from his father and his aunt.
Hemodialysis was an awful nightmare, but it made me thankful that when you are in kidney failure, there are at least treatment options. I kept thanking God that Herb was not in heart or lung failure, where his only hope would be a cadaver transplant. Herb went to the transplant center three times a week for three hours at a time. Sometimes I would go visit him, I got to know the dialysis nurses by name, and I looked for recipes that I could cook that were geared towards end stage renal failure.
We were a young couple in our twenties, on the verge of happily ever after, suddenly faced with decisions, situations, and emotions that most couples don’t deal with until retirement.
Because of the neck shunt, Herb couldn’t shower. He spent months giving himself a sponge bath, and then leaning over the bathtub so I could wash his hair. He lost weight and became a skeleton of the man he was. His exhaustion improved from dialysis, but he was still wiped out after a treatment.
Minus the three weeks of sickness in the hospital and on his couch, Herb still managed to finish out that semester. He had to cancel his junior recital, drop a class, and push graduation back a semester, but otherwise finished well. This was the semester that we enjoyed being study partners in physics, where his previous science major came in handy. We had also (foolishly) signed up for an upper level art history class with two of our friends and my brother.
When the semester ended, Herb had another procedure done so that he could switch to perotenial dialysis and do it at home. This dialysis took about twice as long to do, and he had to do it every day, rather than three times a week. However, the dialysis could be done over night, while he was sleeping. Herb just had to make sure he was in bed by a certain time and didn’t have to wake up too early so all the liquid would cycle through his system and do the work for his kidney.
We made plans to go to the Creation music festival again, but this time would be much different. Herb would have to take his dialysis supplies along, and because the weather was so hot and there was potential for dehydration, he’d have to do it during the day, as well. But Herb was a fighter, and anything he could force his body to do in order to make him feel healthy and normal, he did.
Read on, Chapter 11
Read on, Chapter 11