“I’m dying.” #mentalillness #mentalhealth #kidneydisease #friendship
August 26, 2014 § Leave a comment
Last October we rented a spare bedroom to a friend in need. On the mornings that I am writing, we often cross paths in the kitchen as we brew up our tea or coffee to fuel our work. He has been working for almost a year to find funding for a project he has devoted many years to develop. I will ask him, in passing, “Did they put the money in the bank?” or “Any news?” or such expressions of mild curiosity about his progress. Yesterday morning I asked him how it was going and he answered, “I’m dying.”
My friend is not an easy person to know. He has developed a telescopic tendency to turn every conversation into a diatribe about his project, with his latest conspiracy theory about how the forces of his enemies are aligned against him. It has made it difficult to simply chit chat over coffee, but I make the effort because I know how important it is to me to have some conversation in this lonely pursuit of writing in obscurity. I can do no less than offer him the same.
Today, however, he caught me off guard. It wasn’t just his words. His eyes filled with tears as he explained that his kidney disease had been on a long flare up and his medications were no longer enough to maintain fluid balance in his body. His feet and ankles had been swollen all summer and now the oedema was progressing to other parts of his body. He had seen his doctor last week and been told that he was showing signs of pulmonary oedema. Until he spoke to me yesterday morning, he hadn’t disclosed this sad turn of events to anyone.
He is not a candidate for dialysis or transplant. With his medications at full dose the oedema is progressing. His only hope now is that the disease will turn itself off and the fluids will again balance in his body. His kidneys are badly scarred from previous flare ups and multiple biopsy sampling.
His prognosis is not good, and the likely outcome is congestive heart failure.
We stood in the kitchen, making our tea and coffee, talking about his situation and what to do. He doesn’t want to go into hospital when his time comes. He doesn’t want to die alone in a hospital. He is a bachelor, his three grown children live far away, two of them live in another country. In the time that he has been here I have never heard him talk about his family or his children except to mention that he had a brother and sister but he is also out of touch with them. He hasn’t done anything to put his affairs in order. I would not even know who to call or how to get a hold of them if something happened to him. He has 15 years of research papers and data in his room, controversial work that has made him a target for a very nasty cabal of government, non-government, media and scientists.
I told him that he can stay with us through the end. That we need to sit down and ensure he has left clear instructions about his wishes. That we need to sort out what to do with all his papers and correspondence. His first impulse was to have all his work destroyed after he is gone because he would not want to curse anyone else with the task of bringing it forward and becoming a target of his enemies. After we talked about it, he agreed it might be a good idea to put it into a time capsule and let it go dormant for 20 or 30 years. Perhaps at that time the world will be more receptive to his ideas.
He said he wished he could just go out into the wilderness with a tent and camp until his time comes. To pass away quietly surrounded by nature. I said we could probably arrange for that. He does have many friends from years gone by, even if he has been isolated this last year.
I told him it would give him some comfort to prepare his affairs and make his wishes known so that decisions about his health care, remains, and work are not left to those who are wholly unprepared to know what to do. He agreed and said he would write some things down and give them to me.
My friend’s situation reminds me of how fortunate we are to have our health, our strength, and people to share our lives. It is very easy to decide it is too difficult to bother to stay in touch, or put up with others’ foibles. But the truth is that none of us is perfect, none of us is above anyone else. We are all struggling to make sense of our existence. Some of us were lucky enough to be born in a stable country far away from historical war torn zones of conflict.
Whatever our life journey, our paths criss cross and double back as we learn and grow. I can be present for my difficult friend, who faces a prospect that I cannot imagine. Whatever choices he faces in these coming days, we will stand by him and give him what comfort we have to offer. There is not one among us who does not deserve the same.