Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Personal Archeology

December 16th, 2008

I've been doing some excavation. I've been digging into my old works. Why would I do this? I can safely identify a couple of reasons. One: pure morbid curiosity. I've been writing since I was fourteen. I wanted to see if I could discern the original spark of talent that I was so convinced I had. Two: I wondered what it was like for me before I knew I had kidney disease. Was I a less serious person? Was I blissfully happy? I was diagnosed with kidney disease in 1986 at the age of nineteen. So, I had about a five year window when I was writing to see what my life was like before.

So what did I learn? It's complicated. I learned the Jon of twenty-five years ago is an absolute stranger. I have memories like anyone else, but they seem to be from someone else's life. I know that sounds odd, but I am convinced I wouldn't recognize my teen self on the street. As for this idea I may have been "happier" when I was younger or before I knew I had kidney disease, that didn't turn out to be true. Not at all. Look at the poem on the right. It is a fairly straightforward poem that chronicles what it's like to be in the process of growing up. In my case, way up. The language choices in the poem reveal that my internal processes were not without a flare of adolescent ennui and drama.

While this younger Jon may feel like a stranger, we have more in common than I thought. We both have a flair for the dramatic. We both write to help ourselves unscramble our feelings. We both feel like we are "in progress" and growing. Today, I am in the middle of this end stage renal disease to transplant journey. My pain is mostly physical rather than emotional. However the situation has given me the opportunity to imagine, much like when I was younger, what my life will be like "after." I feel much like I did when I was younger that I have the unique opportunity to invent myself (or in reality re-invent myself). I feel there are new possibilities ahead. I feel my life has untapped potential. However, there is one significant difference between me and my younger self. Thoughts of the future and what I might become made the young Jon quite anxious. Most surprisingly, today, I am hopeful.

I've posted a couple older pieces of work on my website http://www.joneseaman.com/. "Inheritance" is a poem and "Absolute Zero" is a short story. I wrote both over twenty years ago. I think these pieces show where I came from and how far I've travelled. Perhaps they even reveal that raw spark of mythical talent as well.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Poet or Patient? Curious Readers Want to Know.

December 4, 2008

The short answer is poet, first and always. However, it took this nasty confrontation with my mortality to spur me to action.

Today I do want to write about being a patient. Many kind folks have emailed me or signed up for the newsletter. The question folks ask repeatedly is "Why did your kidneys fail?" As you can imagine, this is a sensitive topic. Most people are genuinely curious, but sometimes it feels like there is an accusation hiding beneath the polite layers of inquiry. In fact, a few people have even bluntly asked, "What did you do to make your kidneys fail?"

First, I assure you that my kidneys did not fail because of some moral weakness or divine retribution. The damage did not come from alcohol addiction or drug abuse, drinking the water in third world countries, unprotected sex, over the counter pain medication or too many cups of coffee. Lastly, my kidneys did not fail because I struggled with obesity for a time. However, that word "failure" is powerful. Failure is personal and demands introspection and accountability. It carries a heavy aura and acrid bite. Sometime I feel its stench on me. How do I explain this? I have asked myself in quiet moments, "Am I defective in some crucial core way that makes me less worthy of life than someone else?" and "Do I deserve this?"

Here is my personal story, the short version. From the time I was a baby until I was three, I had recurring kidney infections. They discovered my ureters, the tubes that connect your kidneys to your bladder, were defective. This caused urine to reflux (backflow) into my kidneys. So, I had an operation to reimplant my ureters. The surgery worked - no more infections.

The rest of my childhood was healthy, as evidenced by my 6'8" frame and active mind and body. Then in college, at the age of 19, as a joke, I stuck my arm into a blood pressure cuff. My blood pressure was abnormally high. After a month of tests, we found that significant kidney damage was causing the high blood pressure (and vice-versa). This damage stemmed from the reflux I experienced as a small child. Unfortunately, kidney damage is a downhill race. The doctors told me that I would have 2 years until kidney failure. This was in 1986. I cannot explain how this affected me. You will have to read some of my poetry for insight. Suffice to say I felt very "temporary" about myself. This reality colored every aspect of my life.

How does this story end? My kidneys did fail...in March of 2008, beating the estimate by 20 years. You see, I took charge of my life at 19 and went on high blood pressure medication. I followed a diet based on the best medical evidence at the time. I monitored my condition with doctors regularly.

Now when I look deep inside and ask myself if I am a "failure," I smile and say, "Hell no!" I am a success story.