I first discovered I had Minimal Change Disease, the mildest form of nephrotic syndrome, when a routine insurance urine examination came back with higher than normal protein. Up until then, I assumed that foamy urine was a by-product of what I’d eaten or had to drink. In Sarah Safford’s poem “A Cute Kidney Failure” from the Intima Fall 2016 issue, she asks the same question, “Kidneys, shmidneys, who thinks about them.” After my initial diagnosis, I did. A lot.
I researched the Internet to learn more about proteinuria, the progression of kidney disease from Minimal Change Disease (MCD) to Focal Segmental Glomerulosclerosis (FSGS) to End Stage Renal Disease. I read research papers, studied treatments, symptoms and nephrology. I debated treatment options with one nephrologist and moved onto another doctor who had better training and provided better treatment.
Safford’s poem approaches her “stopped up, inflamed and indignant” kidney failure with a light tone of voice and playful imagery. For Safford, her kidneys were “cute bean shaped blobs” that were worthy of her apology for mistreatment.
It’s a very different emotion than I characterize in my poem “Life after Prednisone.” For me, my kidneys were my enemy. They had failed me in their failure to work properly. It was a battle that demanded the full pharmaceutical armamentarium of immuno-suppressants. I was angry, or maybe, it was just the side effect of the drugs.
MCD is an autoimmune disorder and to combat it, I took a progression of drugs that moved from the easy stuff to the difficult, prednisone, a synthetic corticosteroid that’s an effective immunosuppressant. But it’s a helluva ride, as I catalog in my poem.
Fortunately, I have been about to move onto a much more helpful and benign drug for the past 3 years and have been in remission for some time.
We can improve the health of many of our vital organs—our heart, lungs, liver and intestines—through better diet and exercise. Kidneys, on the other hand, those “spongy filters cleansing and draining away waste” as Safford calls them, have their own agenda. What I learned from her experience is that even with all my medical exploration and the snarling, snappy, twitchy, grinding of prednisone, sometimes it’s how you view your disease that can make all the difference. Ain’t that a pisser?
Larry Oakner’s poems have appeared recently in Tricycle: Buddhist News, PROVOKR.com, The Shambhala Times, The Jewish Literary Review, Lost Coast Review, Home Planet News and Mystic Nebula. Earlier, his work appeared in Mobius, Long Island Quarterly, CCAR Journal, Jewish Spectator, Kerem, SPSM&H, MARILYN, He is also the author of a chapbook, Sitting Still, and his essays on poets Jack Spicer and William Carlos Williams appeared in Manroot and Thoth: Graduate Studies in English (Syracuse University). Oakner has a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing from UCLA, and works as a branding consultant in New York City.
© 2017 Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine