I know I said I was deleting this blog but I just never got around to finalizing it. I had every intention of shutting it down and deleting my personal Twitter and eventually my Facebook because I wanted to focus on my website sportsbabeoftheday.com (@SBOTD on Twitter) - but I began to realize that the website is successful not only because of the content but because of who I am as a person. All my real life friends, Facebookers and Twitter followers have played such a roll in my website growing that they enjoy sharing in my success with me and really do care about me as a person.
With that said…there’s something you should probably know about me: I’m sick.
Some people knew that, but I stopped talking about it for a while because I thought I was getting better. I tried so hard to do mind over matter and just flat out deny my pain, but despite my best efforts, even the ‘ignorance is bliss’ motto can’t fix this.
Before I go further, I really want to be clear - while I appreciate your encouragement and support so much, I’m not seeking your sympathy. In fact, I really want to encourage YOU! You see, I’m not a superhero, nowhere close to a saint, and I’m definitely not strong all the time. But I really do try my very best to choose to overcome what life has handed me - and I do believe very much that happiness (unless you’re suffering from a medical/emotional condition) is a choice.
Before I got sick, I was actually pretty successful for my age in a retail career, working my way up from part-time Keyholder to the solo Store Manager for a skate/snow/surf shop. By 23, I had moved from Kingston to Ottawa to manage the flagship store with 40-50 staff under my employ. I was so proud of myself because I was financially sound, independent, and had a road of success ahead of me. But in November of 2010, I got sick.
The emergency department doctors found a couple dozen kidney stones between both kidneys and said I was full of “kidney stone gravel.” They started me on narcotics and different drugs and discussed surgery, but it seemed every doctor had differing opinions. By January 2011, I couldn’t work anymore, and had to give up my life in Ottawa to move four hours west to Oshawa and live with my mom.
During that time, I became incredibly depressed. I was in the “middle of nowhere” it felt, as I had no friends around the area. I went from being the life of the party to completely alone. The people I surrounded myself with in Ottawa virtually forgot me once I became sick, and I had to trade in my success and independence for loneliness and physical pain. I couldn’t even shower most days without getting sick to my stomach. I felt very sorry for myself, and we all know pity doesn’t get anybody anywhere! I was bedridden until mid-March when a new doctor finally got me on better medication. I found a job managing a kiosk - a huge change from having 40+ teenage staff under my employ - but it was work, and I began making some local friends!
(The long and painful stent from May 2011)
After being on a waiting list, I was called in for Surgery #1 in May 2011. It was intrauterine lithotripsy - essentially the doctors go up through my peehole (ouch!!!) and laser-blast all the stones, then leave a 14-inch-long tube (called a stent) in my ureter for one week after to let them pass. Recovery from that hurt like hell, but I felt so much better afterward! I vowed to turn my life around, so I chopped my long dark locks off for short blonde hair, got a good tan and moved to Kingston. After not working for so long I was pretty broke, so I slept on a blow up mattress in my parents’ basement while I saved enough money for a new apartment by working as a waitress at a sports bar.
(Summer 2011 - Feeling pretty good!)
I had an incredible summer and reconnected with my childhood best friends again, surrounded myself with great people, worked hard and played harder. But come late August, just before moving into my new apartment, a trip to the emergency room changed everything.
The stones in my right kidney were starting to move, so by September, my doctor in Oshawa decided I needed the same surgery done as on the left. He gave me only three weeks to prepare. I set aside enough cash for two weeks off, though I thought I’d only need one week off, and got ready for surgery. It was just my luck that I got in a car accident that very week which set me back a good $500! But finally the time came for surgery. I remember the day before I was to go in, I panicked, I felt certain that something would go wrong. Everyone reassured me that I would be fine, but unfortunately, my worst fears were confirmed.
Surgery #2 seemed to be a success at first. A few hours after the intrauterine lithotripsy which was done in Ajax, Ontario, my best friend Blaire was driving me back to my apartment. The first week seemed to go okay. I was uncomfortable because of the 14-inch-long tube (stent) that was left in me, but was hanging in there. However, the day I was to return to work, everything changed. Early that morning I began throwing up violently. I couldn’t even stand on my feet. I held myself up by hanging on to the bathroom sink and looked in the mirror. My skin was yellow. I knew something was wrong.
(October 2011, I texted this picture to a friend right before I got violently sick, saying I didn’t think I looked or felt well enough to work! Haha.)
The emergency doctors told me that my stent had gotten blocked, meaning my kidney was fully blocked and backing up. I was critically ill. They decided to pull my stent out early (Surgery #3), which temporarily relieved the problem. I went back to work for one week and even dressed up for Halloween! But a few days into November, I became critically ill overnight again. I tried so hard to wait til morning to notify anyone, I felt like I had been such a burden to my parents over the past month, but I had sweat through my clothes and was very afraid. It was terrifying. I called my dad at 4am and told him I was dying, because I really thought I was. By the time I arrived at emergency, I was literally laying on the hospital floor, unable to even hold my head up.
Within 24 hours I had an emergency surgery (Surgery #4) to put the 14-inch-long tube (stent) back in as my ureter (the tube from my kidney to my bladder) had scarred from the surgery and blocked, causing my right kidney to again be fully blocked and back up. I was getting so sick because my kidney was actually beginning to fail. They decided to leave the stent in for six weeks and hoped that my ureter would heal around it.
Again I felt better within a few days and returned to work, but within two weeks, I was critically sick AGAIN! This time I had contracted a deadly infection. The doctors thought it had even reached my blood, and if it had, I would have been a goner. Thankfully, after fighting the infection for three days in the hospital on an IV, I was able to go home.
(Nov 2011 - SO excited to finally be eating after being stuck on IV only for a couple of days!)
I continued to work as best I could throughout all this but it was very hard to run around a busy restaurant with that long tube in me - every twist and turn of my body had me wincing in pain! Not to mention, it was hard to do my job properly when I was on narcotics every day which made me loopy, cry, or get sick! I was reduced to working part time and by December, the management were tired of accommodating my erratic emergency room trips and schedule and I was tired of making the staff overcompensate for me. I quit my job, thinking in a few weeks I’d be feeling better and would start another one. With extra time on my hands, I decided to create a blog I’d been thinking of for quite some time. I called it “Sports Babe of the Day”. For more on what inspired it, you can read an interview I did by clicking here.
Once the doctors pulled my stent out at the end of December, I actually began to feel better, but that only lasted til mid-January. A trip to the emergency room showed a partial blockage in my kidney which would indicate that the last surgery didn’t work. The problem with my kidney continually getting blocked is that when it backs up, it causes permanent damage in the kidney until it eventually fails. Even though you have two kidneys, one failing kidney can still make you sick enough to die. In my case, my right kidney has been slowly getting worse, causing my left kidney to work harder, and my entire body to just sort of slow down, making me incredibly sick and tired. On Wednesday January 25th, my urologist put me on a waiting list for another surgery and said it would be a six week wait. However, the next day (Thursday) he called and said he suddenly had an opening for Friday morning. Thank God he did.
I went in for Surgery #5 Friday morning, expecting him to laser the scar tissue off my ureter and leave another stent (long tube) inside there for six weeks, hoping the ureter would heal around it so my kidney could drain. He said there was a 99% chance it would work and I’d get to go home that same day. But when he went up my peehole to do the surgery, he realized my right kidney was actually fully blocked and it needed to drain right away so we could save it. I woke up from surgery in blinding pain. The doctors were telling me that I needed to go into Surgery #6 immediately. That turned into the most painful two hour wait of my entire life! The doctors ended up putting a nephrostomy bag in my back, meaning they cut a hole in my back, pushed a stent all the way down my ureter and corkscrewed a tube into my kidney that was attached to a bag - so I actually peed from my left kidney through my bladder and peehole, and from my right kidney into a bag out the side of my back! I was awake for that entire procedure.
I was kept in an isolation room that night, even my parents couldn’t stay with me. All I had was my cell phone. The support that my friends were texting, tweeting, and facebooking me helped me get through that lonely, scary and very painful night with a smile on my face. I was even exchanging emails with Bret Lockett of the New England Patriots’ P.R. people from the hospital bed - someone had to keep SBOTD going!
My kidney was finally draining properly by the following afternoon so the doctors sent me home with tubes in my back and in my kidney/ureter/bladder. A few days later, I got the tubes in my back pulled (Surgery #7), and a few days after that, I returned for the surgery I was supposed to have the week before, which was now Surgery #8.
The doctors went up my peehole AGAIN (there really is no nice way to say that!) and lasered my ureter, hoping to eliminate the scar tissue that made it keep getting blocked, and left a stent (that big long tube) in me for 6-8 weeks. All through February and into March, I just hung around home, resting and hurting, distracting myself by pouring all my energy into Sports Babe of the Day and watching a TON of movies. All during this time, I remained in my apartment with my roommate. My mom lives too far from my doctors and I was locked in a lease til the end of April.
I lived off as little money as I possibly could, though it was definitely hard because I didn’t even have a drug plan. I lived without any luxuries, and instead of being depressed, I found myself having new gratitude for the little things in life - the days I felt well enough to drive my own car, an afternoon talking with a friend, even wheeling myself around the mall in a wheelchair (walking with the stent in hurt a LOT!)
Of course, with my luck, I got incredibly sick again with a terrible infection that landed me in the hospital, made the doctors pull my stent out early (Surgery #9) because it just kept picking up any little bad germ and pulling it right up into my kidney like a backwards slide!
(A bad day and a good day within a week in 2012)
Everyone thought I would finally be better once my stent was pulled. I even stopped blogging about it or talking much about my health or how I was feeling because I was so sick of it all. I decided to push it all out of my mind and ignore my physical pain, and just pretend that I felt fine. My lease was ending on my apartment, my blog was doing well and I thought I’d finally be able to return to work by mid-April. I’d been sitting on a plane ticket credit that I’d had from an ex-boyfriend I wasn’t able to see once I got sick, so I decided to visit a friend in California, detox from months of narcotics in the sun and mentally prepare for a return to “normal” life. The trip cost me less than $80 - all I did was lay on the beach - and I returned to Canada totally rejuvenated. My parents were helping me get set up in Toronto because it had always been my plan to move there before I got sick, so I even spent a week there apartment hunting with one of my girlfriends.
Sadly, the whole week I was there, my health was not improving one bit. I was starting to feel worse. I ended up not getting an apartment in Toronto, but my lease was ending here in Kingston, and I was getting sick again (or rather, I was staying sick.) My best friend and her fiance offered to house me while I figured out my next moves. The day I was moving, my grandfather passed away extremely unexpectedly. It was a huge shock for the entire family. The first couple weeks in May were spent dealing with everything that comes with death, and I’m still grappling with it now. I also ended up in the emergency room a couple of times, and ultrasounds and CT scans showed that my kidneys didn’t look any better following my latest surgeries. I got a call from my urologist that he wanted to see me on May 23rd instead of early August, so I knew that wouldn’t be good.
Finally, the time came. The doctor explained that my ureter is just too damaged to fix with any ‘minor’ surgery. We’ve obviously exhausted every other option. Now the only solution is a major incision. He will cut me open across my whole tummy, through the muscles, and cut out the part of my ureter that is damaged, then he will try to reattach it. However, there is a big chance that it is simply too damaged to fix, and if that’s the case, they will remove my entire kidney. I was not prepared for that conversation - I went to that appointment alone! I thought that there had to be a way to repair a ureter artificially, but I guess not.
I know a lot of people live very well with just one kidney, but my left kidney isn’t exactly healthy. In fact, my left kidney is actually the most problematic one for stones and infections, but the ureter is good so it drains okay. My right kidney was the better one, but after all these surgeries and a pretty destroyed ureter, it now has a fair amount of permanent damage and isn’t working that well. My urologist reassured me by saying that people donate kidneys every day, and that’s true, but transplants are risky so we’ll pray this surgery works.
The surgery itself is risky and will be quite a big thing to heal from. Apparently the best case scenario is that I’ll be in the hospital for a week or so afterward and in bed for two months minimum. I go in for a minor surgery (Surgery #10) on June 15th so my doctor can do imaging with a catheter and get a better idea of what he’ll do for the big surgery (Surgery #11), which he projected to be early or mid July - just in time for my 25th birthday!
I’ll be moving in with my Dad and Stepmom because I’ll need homecare and someone to look after me, and one of my best friends is looking after my kittycats for me! At this rate, it looks like I won’t be able to work until the fall or winter, best case scenario. And worst case scenario - well, that’s just not something we’ll talk about. Learning that I’ll be bedridden for a couple months for the third time in a year and a half was a crushing blow emotionally, so although I still have no income, I’m taking advantage of every single day I get to walk with my own legs!
Re-reading all this makes me realize how crazy it all sounds. I mean, I was going through life just like any other early-twenties person, having so much fun, figuring out what I wanted to do, dating, etc. Now, nearly two years of my life has been consumed with sickness. I only exist financially because of my parents and the kindness of others, which has been incredibly frustrating at times as I’m a very stubborn and independent person. I have realized who my true friends are, because most people who used to hang out on patios drinking beer with me went M.I.A. when I was stuck in the hospital. And some really incredible people stepped up to the plate to support me - way too many to mention - by spending time with me in the hospital or sending cards or letting me borrow books or stopping by with pizza. They have prayed for me and wished me well and made sure I wouldn’t have to feel alone, they even helped me make ends meet, and I am so extremely grateful for them. I’ll honestly never forget it.
And it’s true, what they say, that through hardship we realize the things that really matter in life. It’s not clothes or wealth or status or looks, it’s not gossip or drama or other such silliness. It’s friends and family and love and encouragement. It’s prayer and God and faith.
It isn’t until I was broke and sick that I became grateful for the ability to have a hard day’s work. It isn’t until I struggled to pay car insurance that I felt so happy just to cruise around with the music on and windows down when I could afford gas.
And I guess what I’m saying is that it’s all in perspective. Sometimes things come so easily and so much is handed to us that we forget to be grateful and our minds become clouded with so many things that, in the grand scheme of things, just don’t matter. So if it took being sick to finally appreciate my health, and being actually broke to be thankful for work, and for a few nights alone to be grateful for friends, then I guess it’s been worth it.
I hope that when you read my story, you understand a bit more about what I’m going through. But I hope more than anything, that you’re a bit more grateful for the blessings in your life. :)
P.S. If for some reason you wish to email me or you need somebody to talk to, my email is firstname.lastname@example.org - I’m always here to listen. I’ve got nothing but time. ;)