Oh. Mah. Gawd, y’all. THIS STORY. This is going to be a long post, because if I broke it up – even into two posts that posted an hour or so apart, all y’all would be at my house with torches and pitchforks. SO. Grab a beverage, put your feet up.
To start this story I need to go back in time thirty years to when I was about 16 or 17. Every time I have given a urine sample, someone has come back to me with my urine always showing up as having more than the usual amount of protein. This can happen if you are something like a gymnast, and spend hours and hours a day working out. HAHAHAH, so not me. I remember about a year of tests back then, but all bloodwork and more urinalyses – I never got any sort of ultrasound or cat scan or full body MRI or anything. It was all things like, “OK, only eat this for a week. Now pee in a cup. Nope, still too much protein. OK, only eat this for a week. Now pee in a cup. Nope, still too much protein. OK, now go on bed rest. Pee in a cup. Nope, still too much protein.”
After months and months of testing I guess my dad and Stepmonster got tired of the runaround because the decision was made that while I had a lot of protein in my urine nothing else seemed to be wrong with me so let’s stop testing. I didn’t have diabetes, I didn’t have lupus (it’s never lupus!) and I didn’t have cancer, a UTI that spread to the kidneys, extreme renal failure, or any of the other myriad things that can cause Proteinuria. I just had a lot of protein in my urine. So every time I’ve had a new doctor, they’ve been all, “Protein!” and I’ve been like, “I know! I’m fine!”.
Fast forward to last February. I’d been sick in November and December – like, flu-like sick and my lungs were taking a beating. While my asthma has been under control for years, I could tell I was wheezing, so I started thinking about finding a new Primary Care Physician so I could get some asthma meds. Coupled with getting a letter about it being time to schedule my mammogram, and not wanting to go back to my previous doctor, I decided to look around here in Keystone Heights to find someone that was closer to me and also maybe human and from this planet — someone who would listen to me. Both of my last Primary Care Physicians have not believed in my food allergies and I really just want a doctor who will fucking listen to me about my body, and why is that so hard to find?! Gah!
But I did find someone out here! She’s a tattooed knitter, so you know already I’m all, “How did I not know you as a person?!”. I like her. She’s really down to earth, believes in my food allergies (started asking me about iodine and other medical things I might be allergic to via the fish and egg allergy), wants to help me learn to manage my anxiety and stress levels and asthma and how to live better with food allergies and feels that some of my current health problems (like high blood pressure) could best be served by the anxiety and stress being managed. Apparently my blood pressure has gone up in the last couple of years and she’d like to get that under control since there is a history of heart attacks and strokes in my family. Overall, I absolutely adore her and finally feel like I’ve found a lifetime doctor (and she’s a few years younger than me so no fear of her retiring or anything!). She’s really taking a whole-life approach to my health and talks to me like I’m going to be seeing her for years.
The most interesting part about my physical was that there were two questions on the initial paperwork that caused them to give me a weird little nine-question test. The two questions were something like “do you have trouble falling asleep/staying asleep at night” and I think the other one was “do you have trouble concentrating on things like reading”. Because I answered yes to both of those, she gave me the whole nine question test. Which I failed. Or passed, because I got a big number? Hahahaha. Anyway, it indicated that while I do not suffer from depression I do suffer from pretty high anxiety. WHICH I COULD HAVE TOLD ANYONE, seriously, dudes, I am anxious like all the time. But to be fair…. I come from an alcoholic home that was not always safe, growing up. I grew up anxious. And the last handful of years have been a roller coaster, what with Hanks closing, Tim losing his job, me starting HaldeCraft, Tim starting a new job, us buying this property, the move, still not having sold our other house yet because of a series of unfortunate events, breaking my hand, finding out the pain in my mouth for five years was a broken tooth…. YOU KNOW. LIFE. And just this year, two of my cats died. And I never know when my dogs are going to attack each other. OF COURSE I AM ANXIOUS. I AM ANXIOUS ALL THE TIME. I COULD WRITE A BOOK ON BEING ANXIOUS. But it wouldn’t get very good reviews because it would make people too anxious to read it.
So. My new doctor took me off all the vitamin supplements my previous doctor had put me on, and had me start a very low dose of Prozac to help with high blood pressure and anxiety. Also I am never allowed to have an NSAID again in my life (which does kind of suck, because that was the only thing that worked on my migraines. Ugh.). Two weeks later they did more bloodwork, and my kidney glomerular filtration rate (GFR; it’s basically the percentage of how functional your kidneys are) improved from 43% to 50%. Still not great, because, in case you can’t tell, that’s about halfway functional. I should be yellow, and sickly. Or maybe just dead. Yet, I’m not!
So she asked if I’d like to see a specialist to (again) rule out lupus (all together now…. it’s never lupus) or a tear in one of my kidneys, or a tumor. Or maybe a kidney stone that’s blocking things but not giving me any pain. Or the calcified remains of a twin I ate in the womb. OR ANYTHING, really. So. Yes, I would like more tests – my dad’s cancer was really fast-acting, but maybe in part to him not going to the doctor when he first had weird symptoms. I’m not having weird symptoms – but let’s be sure, right? Even though our money was on dehydration from being sick for two months…. let’s do some more tests.
So I went to a specialist who in looking me over decided I’m the healthiest oddly sick person he’s ever seen, and there doesn’t appear to be anything wrong with me. So let’s get an ultrasound, because it’s weird that my kidneys would be so low-functioning and me not have any other kinds of symptoms. He agrees with Dr. Miller that the Prozac will help with anxiety and high blood pressure, which will probably increase kidney function as I chill out more. So let’s keep me on that. And get an ultrasound. Just to see.
So on…. let me see… Friday, March 24th, I drove up to the Shands ER in Starke and got the ultrasound.
HERE’S WHERE SHIT STARTS TO GET WEIRD.
So, the tech who met me at the elevator to take me up to the ultrasound room introduced herself, said that she was a student who’d be doing my ultrasound that day (Shands, if you’re not familiar with it, is a teaching hospital. If you’ve never been to a teaching hospital before this might make you nervous, but I would one thousand percent rather have a student who questions everything than a doctor who thinks they know everything and doesn’t look hard at weird shit).
As we were riding up in the elevator, she asked me why I was here; what I was getting the ultrasound for. I had to admit that I didn’t really know…. my orders just said to look at the kidneys and measure them. Were we looking for anything in particular? At this point we had gotten to the room, where her very pregnant supervisor was, and I said that as far as I knew, we were just looking for anything weird. A tear. A tumor. A stone. The calcified remains of a twin I ate in the womb. At which point her supervisor cracked up, and was all, THAT WOULD BE AWESOME. And I was all, I KNOW RIGHT?!
So, supervisor had to go downstairs for a glucose test, and the student started my ultrasound. I was on my back for about five minutes, while she fiddled around with the machine, and then she said to roll over on my left side and she’d get my right kidney. I lay there for about five minutes, during which time she asked me – twice – if I’d had any surgeries. I allowed as how I’d had surgery for a broken finger about two years ago, and also when I was nine, I swallowed a quarter. The whole time I’m staring at a dull wall with a poster on it that says “do not ask your radiologist about anything you see on your ultrasound, they are not allowed to tell you anything. Your doctor will go over all of your results with you.”
After about five minutes, it was time to flip over and get my left side. At that point I could see the monitor, so things were a little more exciting than a dull wall. Except that where it had taken maybe five minutes with the right side, this side was taking, like, fifteen minutes. Breathe in. Hold it. Picture. Breathe out. Measure. Breathe in. Hold it. Picture. Breathe out. Measure. During this time she asked me again if I had had any surgeries. At this point I’m starting to think that she must be working on her small talk routine. But for the love of god, I’ve only ever had two surgeries. Hey, wait a second. She keeps asking me about surgeries. Did… did something go wrong with a surgery? Did the screw come out of my finger and… I don’t know, float down to my kidney?
About the time she’s wrapping it up, her supervisor comes back in. “Oh good,” she says. “We’re done with the left side, but I need your help with the right.”
….. er? So, the fifteen minutes for the left side was normal, and the five minutes on the right side wasn’t????
So the supervisor tells me to roll over onto my left side, and again, looks at my right kidney.
“So,” she says. “Have you had any surgeries?”
Sweet zombie Jesus, don’t these people have anything else to say? I’d even take the weather at this point!
I talk about my finger surgery, and she says, “OK. Have you had any other surgeries?”
I tell her about swallowing a quarter, and it getting lodged in my esophagus, but they went in through my mouth and got it that way. Maybe if I keep talking about it, though, she’ll stop asking me if I’ve had any surgeries?
“OK,” she says, when I finally stop talking. “But have you had any surgeries?”
And at this point, I’m like, THIS IS GETTING FUCKING WEIRD. AM I NOT ANSWERING THESE SURGERY QUESTIONS OUT LOUD? AM I ONLY TALKING IN MY HEAD?????
She says that I probably know, since I’ve mentioned having a mammogram, that I probably know radiologists aren’t supposed to talk about what they find, to the patient. That the doctor will go over all the results with the patient.
I’m all, “yeah, and I’m looking at this BIG SIGN on the wall that says not to ask, so I’m not asking, but this is getting pretty weird.”
She says, “well, here’s the deal. Normally I wouldn’t ask you what I’m about to ask you, because it sort of flies in the face of me not talking about what I find on the ultrasound. But I need an answer to a question that I’m just not getting from you, so I need to be pretty direct.”
“Have you ever had any surgeries,” she says, “that would cause the removal of your right kidney?”
I whip my head around so I’m looking at them. “ARE YOU TELLING ME THAT I DON’T HAVE A KIDNEY ON MY RIGHT SIDE?????”
“Uh, not that we can find, no.”
I sit up. “OH MY GOD THAT’S SO FUCKING AWESOME!”
Both of them cracked up.
“I mean, MOST AWESOME would have been a twin I ate in the womb! But I’m missing a whole kidney! That’s pretty awesome! And I swear I’ve never woken up in a bathtub full of ice with a note to call a doctor taped to the hotel bathroom mirror!”
So, again, the radiologist really stressed that she wasn’t supposed to be telling me that I do not have a kidney on the right side, but it was the only way she could determine why they couldn’t find it. And BELIEVE ME. They looked. They spent more time looking for the one than they spent photographing and measuring the other. So it’s not like there was faulty equipment, or that they just didn’t know what they were doing. I just simply don’t have two kidneys.
She said it could be one of three things: I could have never been born with one; I could have been born with one that was sickly and by the time I was a few years years old it could have died, shrunken, and withered away; or, I could have been born with one and any time since puberty it could have died, shrunken, and withered away. Her money is on me never having been born with one because even if it had died and withered away she said that there still would have been a shadow of a shell of it that they could have seen on the ultrasound — but there wasn’t. Not a thing. She said that she’d seen withered/dead kidneys before, and that’s not what I have. I just have nothing. Not even, as a friend said later, an empty candy wrapper of a kidney. No artery or anything that just trails off into nothing. Just absolutely nothing there.
You may be freaking out for me right now, but honestly, this is the best of all possible scenarios — while high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and anxiety (all of which I have) can all cause kidney disease, do you know what only having one kidney can cause? High cholesterol, high blood pressure, and anxiety! It has something to do with only having one adrenal gland (they live on top of each kidney, and since I only have one kidney, I only have one adrenal gland). When you get into your 40s, the one lone adrenal glad that’s been pushing out twice it’s worth for your whole life, can start getting a little overzealous or a little tired, causing side effects that are completely manageable.
It turns out that one out of every 750 people are born with only one kidney, and the majority of those people don’t find out until they’re in their 40s and start showing up with higher blood pressure than they should normally have for their age. HOW FUCKING CRAZY IS THAT?!?!?
I’ve been waiting to tell y’all about this for… oh my goodness, FOR FOUR WHOLE WEEKS. I’ve told many people in person. I just didn’t want to put anything out there in the Internet until I’d gone back to see the kidney specialist one more time, just in case he wanted me to get a CAT scan or MRI or anything – I knew people were going to have questions and I wanted to be able to answer them. However, I saw him today, and he trusts the ultrasound; says that them only finding one kidney actually explains a lot (especially high blood pressure and anxiety, and the Proteinuria… although he did not know if all of this is related to my food allergies at all), and he was pleased to see that I’d been doing accurate research on living with one kidney already, without prompting.
What precautions do I have to take? Well, there goes my hope of a boxing or football career — I should stay away from full body contact sports. Or if I do play them, I should wear padding around my left side to protect Lefty, since she’s the only kidney I have. I should eat a little less salt, but I don’t have to go salt-free. Just don’t add a lot of it to foods, and maybe don’t eat a bag of chips at a sitting. And I love all y’all but if any of you need a kidney I am *not* yer girl. Which is kind of funny because all my life one of my ways of saying how much I love someone is to say that I’d give them a kidney. NOT ANYMORE, BITCHES!
Hundreds of thousands of people live healthy lives with only one kidney, either through donation or, like me, having been born with only one. The doctors need to track my bloodwork and urine numbers for the next six months or so to make sure they have a good base line for me, because my numbers aren’t going to look like anyone else’s numbers. But other than that, I’m completely healthy. I got some bloodwork done last week that looked for all sorts of other kidney diseases that I should keep an eye on, since I only have Lefty and need to take care of her, but all of the tests came back negative. I am as healthy as a horse! A horse with one kidney, that is.
Go, Lefty! She’s a champ – one tough little kidney who’s been going at it alone for 47 years. YOU GO, GIRL. I’m your Number One fan!