Search This Blog

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


It seems like a lifetime ago.  At twenty-two years, I suppose it is a lifetime.  The anniversary almost slipped up on me this year.  But, this uncanny and often irritating ability I have to remember dates and even days of the week they happened—always pops up sooner or later.  This year, September 25th falls on a Wednesday, just as it did in 1991.

The week before, I’d had a dye test where they photographed the blood vessels in back of my eye after a yellow dye was injected into a vein in one of my arms.  Then I nervously waited for them to call with the results.

They called me at work that Wednesday morning.  “You have diabetic retinopathy.  If you don’t have laser treatments right away you could lose all your vision.” 

Outside my office, my co-workers went about their business.  If someone’s world comes crashing down around them and nobody else hears it, did it really happen?  Apparently so. 

I needed air.  I needed space.  My office was closer to the back of the building.  The next thing I knew, I was standing in the alley, trying to catch my breath.  The intense Austin sun felt like it would cook me alive.

Home.  Just get home.  Now.

I found my way to the front parking lot, got in my truck, and drove to my apartment.

What am I going to do now? 

I had only been there a few months.  My health insurance wasn’t due to start until October 1st.  Just a couple of months earlier, I discovered my kidneys were failing.  This news was like a hammer driving a nail all the way in.  Any pretense I had that maybe, just maybe I could stay in Austin and make it all work was gone.  After Tampa, Kansas City, and Dallas, I’d finally a place—the place—I wanted to stay.  It was so much like the quirky college town where I grew up but with big city amenities.  My paychecks were increasing.  After laying the groundwork, the accounts I’d opened were really starting to produce sales.  Life was on a steady upswing.  Well, except for failing kidneys.

My parents were anxiously waiting to find out the results of the test.  I called them and we made plans for them to drive to Austin the first weekend in October to help me pack up and move back in with them.  Life as I knew was coming to an end, but at least I wouldn't have to face it alone.  Still, as the oldest kid, I felt guilt at being a burden on them.

Since then, some of my worst nightmares came true.  Some amazing blessings rescued me.  I’ve had to pick myself up and go forward countless times.

When I want to torture myself, I try to imagine what life would have been like if my health hadn’t failed and I’d been able to stay in Austin.  I’ve been back twice—in 1996 and 2001.  Each time, it was so much bigger than before.  From what I hear, it’s much more expensive and resembles Dallas and Houston more than the place I remember.

There are two things I was good at then and, thanks to professional guidance and practice, am even better at now.  Writing and visual art.  There are some gifts that vision loss can dull, but never take completely away as long as there’s some vision left. 

In the months that followed me leaving my job, selling most of my things, and returning to Arkansas, I had plenty of time to sit around my parents’ house and ponder the future.  There was one thing I vowed to do over and over again: surpass the expectations of people who thought I wasn’t capable of much anymore.  I approached my new reality with the same tenacity I’d used to support myself in college and graduate in four years, even after changing majors and watching some of my friends give up. 

I run into trouble when I expect things to be as easy as they are for people who can see fine.  Sometimes it turns to resentment, which is as unproductive and unhealthy as guilt—another emotion that invades my mind when I remember the mistakes I made as a young diabetic in my teens and twenties.

On this day in 1991, the sense of fear and loss had me wondering if I would ever accomplish anything.  I assumed that my skills and abilities would be frozen where they were then, as a 27 year-old who had no idea what he really wanted to do with his life.

Back in 1991, it would have helped me to know that before I was halfway through my forties, it would be the most productive decade of my life (so far).

In 1991 it would have given me such relief to know that by the end of that decade, I would no longer be diabetic.

In 1991 I would have been overjoyed to know that ten years later, after eye hemorrhages, invasive procedures and procedures, I would create a large piece of art like this.  

 Visit Jim's web site

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

On A Lovely Day in September

For the past few weeks, I’ve been posting YouTube videos of obscure and forgotten hits from previous decades on my personal Facebook page.  This week’s selection, Lovely Day by Bill Withers, deserves some explanation.  It’s the twelfth anniversary of 9/11, which started out as a lovely day in Little Rock, where I lived in 2001.  It’s rare for the weather in New York and Little Rock to be exactly the same, but it was a cloudless day there as well.  The stiffling, sticky heat of summer was gone.  It made the air feel lighter.  People want to get out on a day like that, but instead I sat in front of the TV, just like most Americans did.  Such an ugly thing wasn't supposed to happen on such a lovely day.  

At lunchtime, I needed to be around other people, so I walked a couple of blocks to the River Market, which was a small food court in a restored old building.  I took my lunch outside to one of the tables under a big pavillion where a farmers market is held on Saturdays.  On a sunny day like this, all the tourists and office workers out there would sound like a flock of birds chattering.  But there were only a few tables occupied by small groups of people with stunned expressions, speaking quietly.  I wondered if my face looked like that and I thought, "This is all wrong.  It should be cold and cloudy on a day like this.  The weather should match everyone's mood."

I worked in the Stephens Building.  At 40+ stories, it’s the second-tallest building in Arkansas.  It was evacuated and I had an unpaid day off.  That night was cool enough to have the windows open in my loft apartment at a busy intersection downtown, where the Main Street Bridge crosses the Arkansas River.  The quiet that night on the normally busy street was surreal.  A car passed once every fifteen or twenty minutes.  Remember, this was before Facebook and Twitter.  If you wanted to know what was going on, you had to watch TV.  CNN and all the major networks had live coverage.  We were all joined together by the common experience of watching and worrying.  

Fast forward to the Concert for New York City.  It was a fund-raising event for New York and a much-needed pep rally for everyone, featuring performances by musicians and speeches by New York’s finest and bravest.  The nation was united in a way I haven’t seen before and certainly not since.  The anger and sadness were palpable.  Some of the performances touched my soul.

They showed a video that I’ve thought of countless times since then.  It showed New Yorkers going about their day.  Some of them were smiling.  It showed the diversity and character of the city.  Watching it that night, I was lifted up by it.  I realized New York was going to be OK.  The country would be OK, too.  I thought the choice of Lovely Day was perfect for it.  I was in junior high in the late 70s when it was a hit.  At the time, I thought it was just OK, with no strong opinion of it.  Thanks to that video, I love the song.  

I invite you to stop what you’re doing and watch this.  Turn off all the TV, the stereo, and ignore all the noises from your smart phone.  Yes!  You can do this for the five minutes and 28 seconds it takes to watch this video.  Pay attention to it.  Let yourself be uplifted by it.  

UPDATE:  The video I wanted to share is now blocked, which is a sad thing because it could have uplifted so many.  I could view it a few days ago when I wrote this post and embedded the video, so the decision to block it was made in the past few days.  Here's another video of Lovely Day so you can at least hear it.  Maybe they will make the other vedeo available again in the future.

Want updates on new posts?  Become a follower.  It's easy.
More about Jim at JimFairbanks.net

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

10 Years!

Ten years ago right about now I was in surgery and so was my kidney donor.  After months of tests, she was found to be a suitable donor.  Her offer to give me a kidney literally came out of nowhere.  Well, that’s how it seemed.  Actually, it came from God.  Only a few weeks after finding out my first transplanted kidney failed and I started hemodialysis (a date with misery three times a week), someone I’d never met was offering to give me a kidney.

First there was the jolt of losing the kidney.  Then there was the joyful jolt of a possible way out of that nightmare.  My emotions were like a pinball being bounced all over the place.
But, first we had to find out what her blood type was.
Over the next several months, one hurdle after another was cleared.  An infection in the dialysis port under my collarbone delayed the surgery for several weeks.

I’ve been under general anesthesia for more surgeries and procedures than I can (or want to) count.  Coming out of it, reality swims into focus much more gradually than when you wake up in the morning.  It seeps into your head as, one by one, your senses come back to life.  From there, it spreads lower to your arms and legs.  They can feel the blanket covering them and the temperature in the room, but they are too heavy to move.  At this point, you’re not sure you want to wake up further, because the place the surgeon cut and stitched is about to hurt, if it doesn’t already.

Then a post-op nurse says your name and asks how you feel.  All you can do is mumble or groan because your tongue feels thick from all the drugs.  Your throat is scratchy from being intubated for hours.  You want to say, “I feel like I was hit by a freight train.”  They spoon feed you ice chips, which melt on your tongue, waking it up.  The cool water soothes your throat.  

All of that happened that day ten years ago.  But this time, I woke up feeling more joy than I thought anyone could feel when they’re that groggy.  I joked with the nurses—something I’ve never done before or since at that stage of recovery.  Maybe the difference was having an organ from a living donor.  Maybe it had something to do with the lively, spirited nature of my donor.  It’s a question I’ll never be able to answer with any certainty.

In almost every living donor transplant, the kidney starts working immediately.  Somehow, I knew it had this time, even before the doctor confirmed it.

Over the past ten years, I’ve had cancer, gall bladder surgery, a major hernia surgery where they put a big sheet of mesh under all my abdominal muscles, and last year the Type 1 diabetes made an unwelcome return.  

The kidney held up through all of it.  It still works as well as it did in 2003.  At ten years, it has lasted twice as long as the first one from a deceased donor did.  

Just after the transplant, the additional vision loss put a damper on the post-transplant euphoria I normally would have had.  It has made my life much more of a challenge than it’s ever been.  Only recently have I realized that without her stepping forward so quickly to give me a kidney, I would have waited much longer. That means I would have been on dialysis much longer and my eyesight would have kept getting worse.  I might have ended up losing all of it.

I admit that too often, with all the hassles of being a middle-aged, legally blind guy adjusting to diabetes again, I forget that I’ve been given a miracle.

My resolution at this major milestone is to remind myself of that fact more often—especially when life is stressful and scary.  The kidney, in addition to keeping me alive and off a dialysis machine, is living proof that God loves me and wants me to be happy.

Read Jim's other blog ConfessionsOfABornAgainDiabetic.Wordpress.com

Follow this blog for updates on new posts.