WARNING!!!! THE BELOW CONTAINS SOME GRAPHIC DEPICTIONS OF REAL LIFE AND IT MIGHT TRIGGER SOME FOLKS. FOR THAT I DO APOLOGIZE, BUT IT IS TRUTH.
Ok, so I’m not entirely sure how to do this or where it goes so it may not end up making the most sense. First things first though. This is not a cry for help and I intend myself no self harm. I have just had some… realizations in the past couple of weeks and I have shit I need to say, so bear with me.
But to address that I have to address some things that have happened in the past. In my junior year of high school I got mono and it sucked. My private Catholic High School was unwilling to work with me (thought it was mainly just the Principal who happened to be a priest) and was threatening to not let me move on to senior year and I had to scramble to find some alternative to get the required classes needed to advance. This meant home-schooling and being this weird social outcast at another school that was willing to work with me for the chemistry class I couldn’t get home-schooled in. This led to my abandoning the Catholic church and organized religion completely.
Then my senior year I got stricken with some mystery illness that took months to diagnose. Those were some of the most terrifying times of my life. There were blood tests and scans and more blood tests and more scans and eventually a referral to a specialist who would ultimately diagnose me with Ulcerative Colitis. Since this diagnostic process I have had issues with needles. Like pass out if I watch issues.
Giving a name to my body’s nemesis was a relief and it brought me some measure of peace. However it has been a maintenance regimen of pills every day since then to keep it under control. I genuinely feel for the folks who have more severe cases. I’m told that at its worst mine was mild case, not that it made it any less terrifying for the boy who had been shitting blood every day at school and crying because he didn’t know why.
Now I graduated from the Catholic school I mentioned earlier. It wasn’t because I had a ton of friends there. Shit, I could count them on one hand. Still can. It was because I needed the win. A win against that asshole who said I’d never graduate from there. A win because my body tried to deny me a life. This was the biggest win of my life up to that point. I was 17.
Now Ulcerative Colitis has some identifying characteristics when the symptoms manifest. Usually it’s just having to shit frequently and for what it’s worth, my record was 28 times in a day. My asshole was exactly as raw as you think it would be after that sort of event.
As I go on I’m going to use the abbreviation UC for Ulcerative Colitis as this is a common abbreviation. UC can be somewhat insidious in what it does to your body over time and in the 24 years since my initial diagnosis there have been some… hiccups. All of the chartable ones have been in the last 14-15 years, not that all of the intervening time was clear of any issues. There was the whole appendectomy thing after all.
Then there was the first time I had kidney stones. My oldest child was an infant at this time. It was a Saturday night and I had no idea what was wrong, but I couldn’t stop trying to shit and it felt like a UC flare up. But I also felt like I was being stabbed in my left kidney, which was weird. The entire event was the most excruciating pain I had experienced up to that point in my life. I passed the stone on my own and missed being able to keep it for further study.
My oldest was two and my youngest daughter was only a few weeks old when I got the second set of stones. I’d come home from work for lunch because I wanted to be able to shit in peace. And that all too familiar pain in the kidney and feeling like I needed to shit. It hurt so much more than the first time, but still I felt like it was just a UC flare up. This time the stone was too big to pass on my own so the doctor had to go in surgically to break the fucker into passable pieces. He left 18 inches of surgical plastic in there as a temporary stent that was removed a week or so later. That was a source of weird discomfort in the mean time though.
I was also hospitalized for two nights that time. The first night was mandatory due to the surgery, which made sense since it kept getting bumped to later and later in the day such that I didn’t finally get wheeled into the OR until sometime after 7pm. They were willing to let me go home the 2nd day, but gave me the final say. Having a two year old who was not the most dextrous plowing into my crotch for hugs or trying to climb up into my lap was not something I really wanted so I took the 2nd night.
Since I was able to get stone fragments to the doctor, he was able to tell me that they were some sort of Calcium. This matters later.
As it stands now, and with the clarity of hindsight I think I might have passed another smaller stone on my own a few years after that, but I never sought treatment for it.
My oldest was 13 and my youngest was not quite 4 when I had my third diagnosed kidney stone. This time it was a Sunday. Once again, I’m fucking stupid and thought it was a UC flare up. It was only after hour two in the shower on all fours with what little hot water there was beating down on my back that I let my wife finally, after half a day, talk me into seeking medical attention. They did an MRI and some other shit I don’t remember thanks to the drugs. The nurse was like a server at Dick’s Last Resort though, which I found oddly comforting. They kept me for a couple hours, gave me some meds and filters to pee through at home so as to try and catch the stone and sent me on my way. And then, as if by some miracle, something like five hours later, fully enveloped in a vicodin fog, I passed that stone in the last piss before bed.
A few weeks later I had some blood work done. Nothing fancy, just the usual shit my doctor wants from me twice a year because now that I’m over 40 and with the medical issues I’ve had over the years there is just some shit he likes to keep an eye on.
The following week, I got to meet with the doctor. And this visit started to crack the foundations of my world. Apparently my left kidney may as well be a marble sack since it’s got a bunch of stones piled up in their going “when gonna be my time lord”. Also, since I have had the stones more than twice, it’s called a recurrent condition. It also puts me in this new and more fun at risk group for eventual renal failure. Cool, I’ll just put that on the shelf next to the increased risk for colorectal cancer.
My doctor also explained why I was getting the stones. The UC, being an immunodeficiency disorder, does some dumb shit to your intestines such that instead of processing this shit called Oxalate the way a normal body does, it takes some of it and kicks it back into the body which causes it to build up and then get filtered out by the kidneys creating kidney stones. This meant more dietary restrictions and limitations than what I was already dealing with due to just having UC.
This visit I also learned about the medical term “incidental diagnosis”. This is when they are looking for one thing and find something they weren’t looking for. In this case it was an umbilical hernia. It’s not fatal and shouldn’t have any impact on my daily life but it’s something to be aware of. It’s honestly the only diagnosis I’ve gotten that doesn’t sit at the forefront of my mind wondering if that is going to be the thing that takes me out.
Now, for lets say two to three years prior to that particular doctor visit I’ve been dealing with low iron anemia. This meant that I was cold all the time, even on hot summer days, and tired. Just bone weary, fucking tired. All the goddamn time.
About two months before that doctor visit I had stopped taking iron pills that I didn’t know I needed to continue taking. I should have talked to my doctor first and I didn’t. That’s on me. I’ve been back on them for about three weeks as of writing this.
Last week I went on a long planned vacation with the wife and all three kids. Nine hours in the car each way. We went to the base of the Smoky Mountains. I had one goal on this trip. Go up a mountain. It was all I’d wanted since I was able to get my wife talked into going there instead of some random ocean beach. I don’t know what I was expecting.
Three days into our trip we finally started up the mountain. Thankfully you can go most of the way in a car. The last mile or so was on foot. The hour it took to get to the top was fucking majestic. We stopped halfway up to take some pictures. I am not one to take selfies, but I took one and seeing myself there in frame, with my hair blowing in the breeze, I look happy. Well as happy as I can look in a picture at any rate.
The next bit is likely to sound fairy tale princess and I don’t care. The hike to the top of the mountain was fucking magical. The mist rolling down the hills in the distance. Moving through a rain cloud and into the higher clouds. Clouds that took the clear sunny day and reduced visibility to maybe a hundred feet and gave the whole thing a cold gloom.
Here’s the thing though. I didn’t care. There was this spire thing you can go up at the top of Clingman’s Dome that puts you up above the trees. Even starting out into white mist as far as could be seen in any direction it was a transformative experience and it’s sat with me since.
This is not to discount the rest of the trip, just to say that this moment was the moment I was seeking. I love my family and I loved this trip.
From about the midpoint of the trip until the present I’ve been that same old bone tired and worn the fuck down. I’ve been in pain from head to toe and joints that have never hurt now do. Again though, I don’t care. It was worth it. Because I saw something on that mountain. I’ll come back to it. Promise.
But, it does make me take stock of what’s important to me.
The friends I call brother. I’ve known them now longer than I haven’t and we’ve all of us been there for the good and the bad the others have gone through. In some instances as a shoulder to cry on and in others to make the darkest, most inappropriate jokes. Life just wouldn’t be the same without them.
My wife who happens to be my best friend. We’re so much the same but different. She isn’t my better half so much as she is just my other half. And I cannot fathom a life without her.
My kids. Man, my kids are all kinda awesome in their own ways. Whether it’s the girls and their attempt to work as foils for my shitty dad humor or the way that they strive to live their best lives so much so that they can get in their own ways. Or the boy. My mini me. My little buddy. He is awesome and funny and weird. But I love all three of them.
Now if you’ve made it here you might be a little concerned, because truth be told it does read a bit like a goodbye letter. It’s not. Because of what the mountain showed me.
I’m not dead yet. You haven’t fucking got me yet. I’ve still got some fight left in me.
I’ve got more shit that I want to do and goddamit I’m going to do everything in my power to do it. I’m going to make games, not because I want paid to make games but because I love it.
I’m going to take more trips with my family. I’m going to try and understand my oldest’s taste in women. I’m going to try and make sure the middle one grows up happy, or at least as happy as I can. I want to make sure that the little one doesn’t turn out to be a sex offender. I may end up putting more effort into the third thing than the first two, but there is a reason for that concern.
And more. So very much more. Mainly though I’m going to live. Probably not forever, but as close as I can get.
I think I’m going to climb another mountain. Because I really want to. I know it’s hard and I don’t fucking care. If it was easy everyone would be climbing mountains all damn day.
And I’m going to do it all with the people that I love around me. Ok, maybe not the mountain part. I might be on my own for that.
So if I look tired, I probably am. If I look a little down, I probably am. I’m told my resting bitch face is strong. I know that I have a lot going against me medically as I pack on the years and the pounds. But I’m not going to just give up.
And I won’t go through the rest of my life with anything left unsaid.