Monday, March 11, 2013

Know Your History, Know Yourself

It's the second week of  National Kidney Month.  Yay!  So throughout the month you'll see more posts on the science of kidney disease, treating kidney disease, and living with kidney disease.  And most importantly, what you can do to support yourself or anyone you know with chronic kidney problems.  Happy Kidney Month!

Last month, Saturday, Feb. 9, I woke up at about 7 A.M.  I was feeling a bit nervous.  I didn't know what to expect.  I ate a big breakfast and put on comfortable but decent clothes, wondering about what every one else would be wearing that day.  I wondered if anyone would talk to me, or if everyone would separate into their own, "We know each other and we know what we're doing" cliques.  I was a little sad because I was taking part in this new experience for the first time without Ben.  Not that I can't do things on my own, but it would have been nice to know SOMEONE I remember thinking. But I had to remind myself: this wasn't about knowing people or having someone to talk to.  It was about helping people, and learning how I can spread awareness about kidney disease.  And, fortunately, I was able to (I think) succeed, in helping one person, spreading a little bit of awareness, and I even met and talked to some incredible people!  This, ladies and gentlemen, was my first experience at KEEP.

For the past few years, I've been wanting to volunteer with the National Kidney Foundation.  It took embarking on a new goal-setting adventure with my friend Abe for me to finally get it together.   After procrastinating for too long, I last minute committed to participating in a Kidney Early Evaluation Program (KEEP) event. KEEP is one of NKF's biggest, monthly volunteer events.  For about four to five hours, volunteers welcome members of the public into a location like a school, church, or convention center, and test them for free to see if they are at risk for or have kidney disease.  Isn't that cool?!  NKF draws in volunteer nurses, doctors, dieticians, and people who can't do anything really, like me, to help run these programs.  I was with a group of women that ran the registration desks.  Part of my job was to make sure each person that registered for KEEP was eligible for the free test.  To get the free test the patient had to meet one or more of these criteria:
  • the patient has high blood pressure
  • the patient has diabetes 
  • the patient's mother, father, brother, or sister, has one of the above and/or kidney disease
A positive answer to any of those risk factors entitled the patient to a FREE blood pressure check, blood draw, and urine check, and a meeting with one of the doctors and dieticians.  Of course, some people didn't know if they had either of those risk factors, which meant they could only get their blood pressure checked for free.  And believe it or not, a good chunk of people found out THAT DAY that they had high blood pressure.  Remember, what I told you about HBP being the "silent killer."  Lucky for them, they were able to get it checked for free then continue on throughout the rest of the KEEP program to see if there were any other warning signs.  Early prevention is the best way to go!  I've heard several stories of people not finding out they had kidney disease until both the kidneys failed!  

Besides volunteering, another thing that I have been longing for ever since getting diagnosed, and ever since finding out that I need a transplant, was a connection.  In my bubble of personal relationships, there's not really anyone who's had to go through something like what I have.  Recently, my aunt had a biopsy on her brain, and the tumor turned out to be noncancerous (Yes!).  I talked to her about her surgery, which was comforting because she was another person who'd had major surgery.  But really, nobody else...gets it.  No one else is sick :-/  And no one else has ever been the process of recovering from being sick. And I mean really sick.  Like this kinda sick.  Like "you need another person's organ to stay alive" sick!  Well, secretly, before going to KEEP, I hoped that I would meet people I could talk to about this.  And it turns out, that volunteering with KEEP at NKF is the best place for this.  I met a woman who donated a kidney to her coworker a few years ago.  She helped us check in folks at the registration desk.  Another girl on my registration team, looked like she was a bit older than me, and on her second transplant, and she'd gone through dialysis before.  And my registration desk partner...well she was just there because she loves volunteering with NKF!  

It's weird but, I sort of felt like I belonged to a little club now.  I love love love getting those encouraging words from my friends and family members.  It really helps a sick gal like me.  But somehow talking to people who have already gone through the process turned the light switch on, and it allowed me to see that people, real people, people who really have no clue who I am except that my kidneys are failing...people who also only have one kidney, are making it through this, and they know I can make it to because they made it already.

Anyways, the moral of this blog post, volunteer somewhere!  It doesn't have to be with NKF.  If it is, awesome!  That's a great way to commemorate National Kidney Month.  If it's not with NKF, awesome! It's still a great way to give back and help someone, the way so many others have helped a sick gal me.