The Mayo Experience
Last week marked the seven-year check up on my second kidney transplant at the Mayo Clinic. I'm thrilled that my check-up was a successful one. I’m still praising God that my eighth biopsy (number four on the second kidney) showed no signs of rejection!
This report was critical because my body began to reject my first transplant back in 2008. While it's not something that I’ve written about in this forum, my kidney transplant is always in the back of my mind. Without wanting it to do so, the operations have shaped most of my adult life since being diagnosed with End Stage Kidney failure at 28 years-old from undiagnosed high blood pressure.
I have written accounts of my struggles with rejection, dialysis, and a second transplant over the years in other places including my book The QUEST For Vocation, but I've refrained from talking about it here since the appointment as a District Superintendent. I guess part of the reason for the silence on the topic is because I didn't want the transplant to define me publicly, even though it has privately.
I still struggle with balancing how much to share, without reaching the tipping point of triggering people’s sympathy, or their admiration of how I’ve dealt with the ordeal. I'm not looking for either. I'm just an ordinary guy trying to live through an extraordinary health challenge of tricking my body not to do what it's designed to do: reject a foreign object that's the very thing that's keeping me alive.
In my struggle, I also feel compelled to practice what I preach as I’m often telling congregations to highlight their stories of life change. It's funny how life change can look so different from the other side. When we're going through the motions, we're not sure what the outcome will be or if we'll ever be the same. This experience wasn't any different for me.
Every time I visit the Mayo Clinic, I enter a vulnerable state of mind and get mixed emotions of gratitude and fear. Ironically, as I write this, I recognize that I’m stepping into a sensitive space of uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure again. I'm thankful that my wife, Dionne, has walked by my side through the entire fourteen-year journey of zigzags between dialysis, transplant, rejection, dialysis, and a second transplant. Whether it was with me at the countless trips at the University of Alabama Birmingham Hospital or the annual trek to Jacksonville, FL to the Mayo Clinic, her presence helped to ease my uncertainty.
I'm also grateful for the many prayers that people have offered on my behalf over the years, including the most recent prayers last week. And yet, with all of those prayers, I'm still fearful of rejection happening again.
Okay, so I know, that I'm not supposed to have fear or worry, but I do when it comes to my kidney transplant. It shapes my worldview. My diet (including staying away from high sodium, including fried food, pork, beef, deli meats, and so on), the need to exercise as much as I do (thank you Stephen Bostick and LA Fitness), and the constant need for fluid intake or water and hot tea (thank you Starbucks for always carrying Emperor's Cloud and Midst Green Tea).
Reflecting on my most recent visit to the Mayo Clinic, I understand why so many people don’t like hospitals. There's the constant waiting, the poking, and prodding of needles, endless tests that require wearing a hospital gown and facing the unknown. And while it was my seventh check-up, and I was familiar with the process, it still felt a little like wandering in the wilderness for a few moments.
The only solace that I found was in going back to my God Box, the metaphor for where I’ve stuffed all of my religious faith beliefs, experiences of God moving in my life and others, and the Exodus story that has gotten me through the most difficult patches of life.
Last week, especially during the kidney biopsy on the first day, I relied heavily on the Exodus account of wilderness and Promised Land and attempted to apply the 3D Journey of discerning, dreaming, and developing, the model that I’ve prescribed to several congregations as a way of coping with change. I began to go through the three steps of the 3D Journey.
As I waited for the nurse to roll my bed to the exam room in the Radiology Department, I began to discern the stories of the past where I’d dealt with the vulnerable uncertainty of my health. And surprisingly, what came to mind was not experiences, but a song from my home church: I Don’t Feel No Ways Tired by James Cleveland. I clung to the song and sang it to myself.
The next step was to dream of a story for the future, that is to imagine the worst possible outcome and see me on the other side of it, unharmed. There was not a song for this experience, just a simple prayer: “God, hold me in your arms.”
Finally, I practiced the develop phase of the model. Knowing that I'm susceptible to needles (even after all of these vials of blood work, I still close my eyes and turn my head away during the entire procedure). And remembering how painful the lidocaine injection was for the last biopsy, I had to think of a plan.
I explained to the nurse how painful I experienced the lidocaine injection and to my delight she believed me and said that I wasn't the only person who reacted to the burning, stinging effect of the numbing medication. We developed a plan for the doctor to slowly inject the drug and wait a few seconds to allow the burning, stinging sensation to ease. The injection still burned and stung like 1,000 bees on my lower abdomen at the location of my transplanted kidney, but it didn't last as long as I remembered the previous injections. After a couple of doses and two passes of the biopsy needle, the ordeal was over, and I had survived.
This recent experience at the Mayo Clinic and all of the previous ones collectively make up a large part of my story of life-change, of how God's spirit has walked alongside me, convicting, comforting, and strengthening me through the journey of two kidney transplants. What's your story of life-change? Are you willing to be vulnerable and share it with others? With the answered prayers of so many saints in the Atlanta Decatur Oxford District and beyond, I continue to walk my vulnerable journey singing:
I don’t feel noways tired.
I've come too far from where I started from.
Nobody told me that the road would be easy,
I don't believe He brought me this far to leave me.
On the Journey,