One month out! Today is one month since the surgery. I am really close to being back to normal. Funny I thought I wouldn't have much else to say about things (what's to say about normal?), but then, this post turned out to be quite lengthy. I guess it's because it finally feels like "after."
Let's talk real life, first. I went back to work almost 2 weeks ago on the Friday of week 3, the week we traveled home. That put me working a full week on week 4, which was last week, and again this week, which is halfway through. All of this is fine - I'm not having any trouble sitting and standing all day, and my concentration and work habits are absolutely normal. I don't feel any different, really. I have to select work clothes that have a certain amount of stretchiness to be comfortable, but not an entirely different size. At home I'm able to do most things like laundry and vacuuming, but I move carefully so I don't strain anything. I stay away from lifting or moving anything heavy. Tyler got me started on Marie Kondo's "The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up" so that's been my home activity here lately and will keep me busy for a while! But overall, I think Dale and Tyler would agree that I'm the same Anna.
Next is training. I started going back to the gym last week according to my normal habit of Monday, Wednesday, and Friday morning before work. I've continued this week. I don't to a lot at the gym, but getting back to the habit and the mindset helps a lot. My kettlebell is 4kg, for presses and get-ups. My barbell is a PVC pipe. My bodyweight exercises bird dogs, Cossack squats, and hanging on a bar. I also do Original Strength rocking, head nods, and crawling. Stretching and a few easy yoga poses round things out. All of this seems good for keeping mind and body linked together and helping the muscles figure out what's working and what needs to learn to work better. I noticed that the middle of the rectus abdominus on the right side doesn't contract like the left side. It does twitch a bit, so it's trying to wake back up. I can still roll up on both sides so it's not a major deficiency. I still feel like having a strong back from deadlifts was the greatest advantage in recovering from abdominal surgery, and that's my biggest physical ally now as I start moving for strength again. I also practice breathing during training; I noticed that my breathing suffered a bit just after surgery, becoming more shallow and chest-centric rather than diaphragmatic, and I still have a little pain around the bottom of the right lung when I take a deep breath. The surgeon said this would last a few months. Slowly I'm getting back to a better breathing pattern. I've been walking 1-3 miles per day, with my longest walk at 4.5 miles last Sunday. No problems there. The only problems with walking for exercise are that it takes a lot of time, and that it's hot outside. But walking is gentle and natural, and good for building stamina back up and keeping everything flowing. We should all walk daily. Still many to look forward to, such as riding my bike again in another a week or two, beginning to add weight to my gym training in another two weeks, and probably having a little bit more energy to get through the day. All of this will be more "getting back to normal" but with the new addition of the experience of building back. That will be priceless, having this new first-hand knowledge of the process of rebuilding. I'm learning a lot from Dustin as we navigate that process, mostly because he knows so much about training and movement, but also because his current path is similar.
Physically other than exercise, I feel really good. I'm quite amazed at how much I feel like myself with really no major differences. I am tired at the end of the day and I have been sleeping quite soundly the past 2 weeks, but I wouldn't say I'm fatigued or easily tired. The incision is not painful at all. Really it's just a red line on my belly on the right side from just above my belly button to about my right hip bone. It's softening up and I've been using Mederma and Vitamin E oil on it. If I press on it there's some hardness around the incision, but not lumpy or swollen. The right side of my belly is still maybe an inch bigger than the left. Hardly noticeable. I expect this will be gone in another month. I can roll around, sleep on my stomach or sides. The rest of my body is completely normal, with no sign at all that surgery took place or that we're now operating on one kidney. One kidney is enough! My weight is still down 6 lbs total since before surgery, and my appetite is still less than it was, but that corresponds to my activity level.
Medically, the labs confirm the feeling that one kidney is perfectly adequate and I'm healthy and recovering. The labs at the post-op check were all as expected and I've had no need to re-check everything. My blood pressure was running just a bit low last week so I checked in with the nurse coordinator and with Seth. Both said, no problem, your kidney is getting used to the new normal, and low is better than high. If it gets lower just increase water and add a little salt to food. This week it's been back up just a bit to 110/65 or so most of the time I check it, so that's great. Can't ask for better than that. My resting heart rate is still in the low 50s as it has been since I started bicycling over 10 years ago. Long term prognosis for bloodwork, etc. is no different -- actually, it'll get slightly better over the next year or so as the kidney grows in size to take over 75% or so of my previous kidney function with two. And that is plenty for health.
The last category might be my mental state. That, too, has been a pleasant surprise in how I adjusted to being back and this big mission being completed. Maybe it's that I've done so many military trips, training courses, vacations, physical training certifications -- all have a before (preparation), during (execution), and after phase. Back to life, resuming activities, and looking forward to what comes next. I do get to have neat conversations with people about the whole thing; people who knew about it beforehand, or saw it on the news, or have heard since I returned. Many people have a family member who is on dialysis or has some sort of kidney disease. I'm glad to have some helpful information for them. People relate to me the same; perhaps some are impressed with this thing, but not to such a degree that they treat me any differently, which is good. Everything is normal but there is a bit of inspiration around here and there because of it. That is a neat thing. As for the impact, that is a harder thing to grasp and I think that's going to take a while to sink in. I always love to hear how Dustin is doing and I smile every time I think, "We did it!" and how it's all gone well. Odds have always been greatly in favor of a good outcome, but it's by no means guaranteed, and there are dozens of setbacks that could have happened and haven't. Smooth sailing so far. He's still recovering from surgery also, and the medications are a big deal (and not something I have to deal with), so this second month might be greater health gains than what has occurred in this first month. But the hours saved at dialysis, the ability to move forward in life past the transplant event, the better health and family time... all huge wins. Giving this gift to Dustin and Kenzie's son Bennett was always a huge motivator for me, because I think of Tyler at that age and how much he needed and loved his parents. So I definitely love to see that, and I think that one will sink in more over time. I think as far as impact on people the one that easiest for me to grasp is relative to Dustin's mom, Debbie, because I can imagine what it would feel like for someone to help my only son to become healthy again. I'm really, really happy to be able to give that gift.
I keep saying that I'm so, so glad I did this. Still very grateful for all the help and for the team that pulled this off, both the medical team and everyone on the support team. Very grateful for the support of family and friends and co-workers. I'm grateful for StrongFirst and StrongFirst family, without which this wouldn't have happened (and, I would not be so strong and healthy!). Overall it still feels a bit too soon to summarize what I've gained from the experience, but I can say a lot of it now. First is a whole new appreciation for kidneys and health. Second, and related, a much better understanding of my brother Seth's work as a nephrologist and being forever grateful for his guidance in this process, as I wrote about in a past post. Third, a lot of new knowledge and experience about medical tests and surgery. Forth, new friends Dustin, Kenzie, Beth, Randy, and Jenny, and getting to visit with old friends Lee and Al, as well as seeing and meeting a bunch of other awesome people while I was in Oklahoma. Those times with friends were all priceless! And as far as awesome people, a special mention to Dustin -- as the central figure in this drama, he's been a steady guide throughout, and has taught me so much about mental fortitude, patience, and effectively handling things and learning from them, moving through obstacles to "turn all things to advantage" while fully absorbing reality. "See Clearly; Act Courageously" is lived and demonstrated. What an incredible friend I have now. He's a pretty damn good coach, too! So we get to share some knowledge there as we get back to being strong. Finally, as far as gains, is new knowledge of myself. Taking on hard things is how we grow. Getting out of our comfort zone is how we learn what we're made of. I feel more complete, more developed, and quite a bit wiser as I move into "after."
Thank you for reading... It feels good to celebrate this 1-month milestone and say where we are.
Anna Cannington has offered to be part of this program. As a kidney donor with a nephrologist brother (not to mention next level human) she will be able to provide unique insight into "other side" of the transplant process. It is particularly apt for her to join up as she is Dustin's Donor. To schedule a conversation with either of Anna or Dustin just connect with either of us!
Dustin was diagnosed with IgA nephropathy (Berger's Disease) in early 2007. He and his family know well the struggles that come with suffering kidney failure, dialysis and the transplant processes. Born from these fustrations and Dustin's love of strengths-based coaching (centered on what is best in people) comes the Kidney Koach program. This NO FEE program is for Renal patients, their families and nursing staff that want support, understanding and a little help on the path.