One Year Ago Today

Cross-posted from aubreygross.com

One year ago today, our lives were changed forever. My husband called me from work and asked me to pick him up early because he’d been throwing up. Again. Puking was becoming far too “normal” to us at this point, since it had been going on steadily for seven months at least. So I picked him up, and on the way home I told him we were either going to an urgent care clinic or the hospital–his call.

We came home and let the dogs out before re-crating them, not knowing how long this would take. Ultimately, we decided to go to the hospital since they have ALL THE EQUIPMENT. Since it was a Monday afternoon, the ER wasn’t too crowded (thank God), but it still seemed to take forever. After hours of waiting, of lab work and ultrasounds, the ER doctor came into the room we’d been placed in. With a very serious look on his face, he told my husband, “You’re in renal failure.”

I almost had a panic attack right then and there.

Renal failure? What does that even mean?

Obviously, we knew that meant his kidneys were failing. But we didn’t know how bad, until they got some reports back from the nephrologist. Less than 10% renal function.

Oh, fuck.

Again–what does that mean? For us? For my husband? For the future?

phillip with dogs at hospital

A friend brought the dogs up to the hospital so Phillip could see them.

They eventually got him admitted and placed in a room, which would become our “home” for the next week. It was a crash course in renal failure, End Stage Renal Disease, dialysis and transplants. That entire week I felt like I was teetering on a razor’s edge, somehow holding my shit together when all I wanted to do was completely fall apart. I would leave in the evenings for about an hour max, to come home and let the dogs out, feed them, wrap my arms around their necks and cry into their fur as they gave me kisses. Then I would go back up to the hospital, afraid to leave my husband for too long for fear of something happening while I was gone.

Learning that he’d been probably a month or less away from dying was a shock. A shock I really didn’t need, to be honest. But my husband is a curious guy (which is one of the things I love about him) and he wanted to know, so he asked the nephrologist. Phillip accepted the diagnosis much better than I did at first. He just kind of rolled with the punches and decided that he wasn’t going to let a little thing like kidney failure keep him from living life. Were there moments when he was scared? Absolutely. But overall, that week in the hospital he was much more together than I was, even though I was trying so hard to seem like I was together. (Funny story–he’d been out of the hospital for less than a week, and I was still trying to hold it all together even though I knew I needed to let it all out. Something happened to make me snap, he kind of pushed a little more and I just started crying and couldn’t stop. His parents called later that day and asked how we were doing, and he was like, “I finally made Aubrey cry!” And I did feel better afterwards.)

And then it was six months of dialysis, then the transplant, then all of the craziness that’s happened since the transplant–having to take him back into the OR the night of the transplant because he wasn’t producing urine, the wound that wouldn’t close, the suspected rejection that’s shown up twice now, the sometimes wonky lab results. But I also have my husband alive and well, looking better–healthier–than I’ve ever seen him. He’s gained a little weight thanks to a functioning kidney and steroids (steroids are an immunosuppressant, so weight gain is fairly typical), and frankly I think it looks good on him.

phillip post-transplant

Phillip in May, five months post-transplant.

One year ago today, our lives changed more than we could have imagined. Phillip says there are no more bad days. I tell him he’s free to believe that, but I’ll probably always have bad days. 😛 I get what he’s saying, though. I mean, in the grand scheme of things, getting pissed off while sitting in rush hour traffic is a pretty minor bump in the road when you look at the big picture and everything we’ve been through recently.

The past year has also taught us that we can’t keep waiting for the “right” time to do the things we want to do but are scared to do. Like publishing a novel.

After he got out of the hospital I finished Between the Seams. Honestly, I know I used writing as a bit of an escape, but it’s my fallback coping mechanism. Writing is how I got through my childhood and my teenage years, and then through college and beyond. So of course that’s what I turned to this time around.

***Spoiler alert if you haven’t read Between the Seams***

I mentioned this in the comments after the book, but I’d decided long before we knew what was wrong with Phillip that Chase had something wrong with his kidneys as a kid, and that that something was going to impact him as an adult. And then everything happened with Phillip, and I suddenly had more knowledge and information than I knew what to do with. In some ways I was easier on Chase than what reality had been to us–at least Chase had warning. He knew he had bad kidneys and that he was eventually going to experience End Stage Renal Failure (ESRF). In some ways, though, I was also harder on him. When Phillip was diagnosed, we were already married (albeit not for that long in the grand scheme of things) and there was no way I was going to leave or let him push me away. Chase, though? He and Jo were in that new, shiny stage of a relationship where everything’s sunshine and roses and constant hot sex. I couldn’t imagine being in that stage of a relationship and finding out that your health has suddenly taken a turn for the worse, or being in Jo’s shoes and finding out that the man you’re in love with has been sick for a long time and is only going to get worse before he gets better (and that he’s been hiding that information from you).

It’s a lot to take in, no matter who you are or what stage of a relationship you’re in. And I’ll be honest, some of the things that were said between Jo and Chase when all of this came to a head were also said between Phillip and me (if not word for word, the sentiment). Like Chase, my husband didn’t want to put me through all of that. But like I told my husband–when we said our vows, there was that little part about in sickness and in health, ’til death do us part. I meant those words. And those words mean something to Jo, too.

Writers can try to say that our books don’t reflect our real lives, and in some cases we’re definitely telling the truth (I mean, how many of us are really in love with the Billionaire Alpha Bear Shifter? Come on now.). But we all draw from personal experiences, from our own deep well of emotion and memory in order to bring our characters and stories to life. Between the Seams ended up reflecting my life way more than I’d intended it to, but when I finally finished it and then re-read it, I realized that that emotion and experience was what the book had needed. It was what I needed. As much as I write for other people, I write for myself, too. I write to process my thoughts and emotions, even if the subject matter isn’t exactly something I’ve ever dealt with (like in Baseball and Other Lessons–there’s some subject matter that I thankfully have never had to deal with, but writing those emotions was still oddly cathartic).

I want to say that had Phillip not gotten sick and if we hadn’t gone through all of this that I would have still gotten off my ass and finished then published Between the Seams, but I’m not sure if or when that would have happened. Everything happens for a reason, but like I told Phillip the other night, I really don’t think he got sick so that I would publish books. Because, seriously. That just seems silly. It was an impetus, however, and has given both of us a new perspective on life. I still battle fear every day. Fear of the unknown. Fear of what we know for sure will one day happen (we just don’t know when). Fear of rejection (both personally and medically). It still shakes me up a little bit when I think about how close I was to losing him, but knowing that makes me thankful for every day I have with him.

Most of all, though, this whole thing has taught me that life is finite. We never know when our time will be up, so why spend our days scared of chasing our dreams? Why spend our days locked in a cage, just going through the motions? Life is meant to be lived. And yes, that can be scary as hell, but it can also be so worth it in the end. So here I am, chasing my dreams and trying to achieve my goals. We’re working on Phillip’s dreams and goals. My characters are seeing dreams die and others come to life. What about you?