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Sunday, January 20, 2013

This Week's Book Excerpt

This part is taken from What Didn't Kill Me Made Me Stronger.  It was in summer, 1992 after I had a vitrectomy.  It's an eye surgery that removes blood inside the eye's vitreous fluid after a hemorrhage.  After that, I never took fireworks for granted again.

The next vitrectomy was five days before my birthday.  On the fifth day after such an eye surgery, the bandages come off permanently.  For me, the most memorable gift that year was getting to take the bandage off my eye.  As before, the world looked extremely bright and out of focus, though it was a big improvement from before the surgery.  As before, I was also confident that my vision would continue to get better over the next couple of weeks.  After that, my vision would remain at that level …at least until something else happened.
I don’t want to make you think I was pessimistic.  The truth is I was as optimistic as ever.  But it was optimism with an underlying foundation of realism.  The jolt of the last eye hemorrhage had driven home an undeniable reality: I could lose my vision at any time, no matter how good it might get in the meantime.  In some tiny, remote part of my brain, I understood that total blindness was a likely outcome in the end.  It wasn’t a matter of if, but a matter of when.  Again, this wasn’t a pessimistic outlook.  It was a survival instinct at work, telling me to be prepared.  I didn’t want to be caught off guard again.
My days were spent taking long walks, watching TV, and listening to books on tape.  But this time, I took more notice of the colors around me.  They were more vibrant.  My vision improved gradually, and I took full advantage of being able to see.  Each day, I could see something that I couldn’t see the day before.  My vision reached a level that I was happy with, even if it wasn’t back to where it was the year before.
Then my parents and I were invited to Don and Ann Williams’ fortieth wedding anniversary party on a riverboat docked on the Arkansas River at Van Buren.  Dinner was served on the boat while we cruised up and down the river between Fort Smith and Van Buren.  It was very enjoyable – the first fun thing I had done in a long time.  Several members of their large extended family stopped by our table to ask me how I was doing and say how glad they were that I was there.  It was good to be out of the house and out of the hospital, and able to look around without a bandage over my eye or a dark spot inside of it.
A music festival was happening on the Fort Smith side of the river while we were on the boat.  After dark, they shot fireworks.  All of us had finished eating, and we gathered at the rail of the boat and watched.  For me, the sight was one of the most spectacular things I’ve ever seen.  The show wasn’t anything out of the ordinary as far as fireworks go.  It didn’t last longer than most.  But I was getting to see it with my newly healed eye, and that changed everything.  The bright colors of the starbursts high above us were clear as they lit up the night.  The river below reflected the brilliant light, broken into hundreds of points of color on the waves.  It was beautiful, and I didn’t take it for granted, even if it wasn’t quite as clear as it would have been a year before.
Tears of joy streamed silently down my face as I stood on the dark boat. 
Just keep quiet.  Don’t draw attention to yourself.  It’s their anniversary, so don’t make this all about you.
Around me, other people made the usual sounds people make when watching fireworks. 
“Can you see them OK?” asked Mom.
“Oh yes, I can see it all just fine.”  I was beside myself.  Something as simple as watching fireworks had filled me with joy.  It may have been Ann and Don’s party, but these fireworks were meant for me.  This was my reward for what I had been through.  This was God.  I just knew it.
That night, I vowed never to miss fireworks if I had a chance to see them.  Never again would I take for granted the ability to look up at the dark sky and see a kaleidoscope of fire and color and smoke.  From then on, it would be sacred.  And since then, that’s exactly how it has been.

Read more excerpts from Jim's book at JimFairbanks.net

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Remembering Another January 12th

Have you ever found yourself on the anniversary of an important occassion in your life and remembered it even more clearly because the weather was just like it was that day?  That's the kind of day I'm having now.  Yesterday, it was a sunny, un-winterlike day, about 70 degrees.  Today, it's cold, dreary, and rainy, just like it was in 1998.  Join me in my little time capsule taken from my book.

It was a cold, dreary, rainy day that January 12.  My parents drove over, picked me up, and off we went to Oklahoma City.  The giant complex of medical buildings loomed ahead of us when we got there.  We parked and found our way through the maze of corridors to the transplant surgeon’s office.
The waiting room was large and crowded. 
Have all these people had transplants?  Are some of them waiting for that important call, just like I am?
I fought the urge to ask each one of them what their story was.  Time dragged slowly until my name was called and a nurse led me to an examining room.  What would this surgeon be like?  I hoped he liked me.  I hoped I would like him. 
Then Dr. Squires entered the room.  He had short, dark hair, wore the usual white physician’s coat, and stood a few inches shorter than myself.  And I’m 5 feet 9 inches in boots.  I don’t want to sound superficial, but it made him seem less threatening and intimidating than some doctors.  It took only a few minutes for me to realize there had never been any reason to be intimidated.  This was the most pleasant, humble doctor I’d ever met.  Weren’t surgeons supposed to be conceited and think they were God?  That was the reputation they had.
“The surgery will take about seven hours,” he told me.  This came as no surprise.   “The pancreas will go in your lower abdomen on the left side.  The kidney will be on the lower right side.  When it’s just a kidney transplant, it goes on the left.”
He explained more of the details to me.  I sat there, in awe of how far medicine had advanced since 1977, when I was diagnosed with diabetes.  What he was describing to me was a miracle.  And the best part of it all was that he never said, “This is what we would do if you were a candidate for this surgery.  But you’re not.  Sorry.”
He continued with details of the surgery. “I’ll perform the pancreas transplant.  Dr. Pennington will do the kidney.  We’re easy to tell apart.  He’s much taller than I am.”  He smiled.  Not only was he easy to talk to, he could laugh about his height – or lack thereof. 
How could anyone not like this guy?
It came as a relief to learn that most of the tests I had undergone to be listed for the kidney at Hillcrest could be used for this surgery.  I wouldn’t have to repeat them.
After the meeting, I practically ran to the waiting room to tell my parents all that I had learned.  We walked to the elevator and I repeated it all, word for word when I could remember it, as breathless and excited as a kid.  They both grinned.  It had been a very long time since I’d seen them smile like that.  We stopped at the Cracker Barrel in Edmond on the way back to Tulsa, where I ate fried shrimp, wondering how long it would be until I could walk into a restaurant and order dessert.  Dr. Squires said I could expect a wait of six months to a year.  This didn’t seem terribly long.  I had already been on dialysis a little over nine months.  He told me that being listed for two organs would mean that I racked up points on the waiting list twice as fast as when I was listed for one.

The rest of the way home, I peered out the window into the soggy landscape, trying to see the future in it as if it were a crystal ball.  It was still a big mystery, but now it was much less frightening.  It may have been a cold, grey day outside.  But, inside, I was all warmth and sunshine.  I had just received the best news of my life.     

Read more excerpts from What Didn't Kill Me Made Me Stronger: How I Found Hope While Surviving Diabetes, Vision Loss, and Organ Transplant at Jim's site JimFairbanks.net

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Hurry Up and Wait, Wait and Hurry Up

 As publication of my book, What Didn't Kill Me Made Me Stronger: How I Found Hope While Surviving Diabetes, Vision Loss, and Organ Transplant, gets closer, I will be posting excerpts here.  They're glimpses into the ever-changing life of someone with diabetic complications.  I'll explore subjects like sudden vision loss, deprression, waiting for an organ transplant, rejection, and hope.  I'm going to start with a short one.  Please leave comments and share with anyone who might relate to this.

Hurry Up and Wait, Wait and Hurry Up
     Hurry up and wait.  It’s a figure of speech describing what it feels like to be rushed into moving quickly, usually to satisfy someone else or a tight schedule, only to be forced to stop.  It’s hard to switch gears at that point.  If the same person who rushed us is the one making us wait, it can cause resentment.  In our culture, hurrying is good and often expected, but waiting is bad.
     Sometimes it’s the other way around.  Wait and hurry up.  If you’re waiting for an organ transplant, time moves in slow motion.  It’s probably faster than time moves in prison.  I know for a fact it’s faster than time moves when you’re in the hospital.  But it’s waiting.  It’s not like waiting in line, when you can see it moving forward and you can tell when it’s almost your turn.  This kind of waiting is like gazing up at the midnight sky at the millions of stars out there.  There’s no telling just how distant it all is.
     Suddenly a shooting star speeds through the dark sky.  It’s much closer than the other pinpoints of light.  It’s much brighter and it’s moving faster.  Your heart quickens.  Now that vast, barely-moving backdrop of distant stars and galaxies is more in perspective.  None of them are important anymore.  That bright streak of light in front of you is all that matters.

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