Poetic Tongues/Fabu

Poetic Tongues

Blessings to a Village of Miracle Workers

This is one of the happiest columns I have ever written. Although I am a poet, a wordsmith, a woman who joyfully bends and shapes words and sounds, I am more grateful than I can communicate for being the recipient of a kidney transplant. I have been on a ten-year journey with kidney disease resulting from diabetes. As an African American, my people follow Indigenous Americans in having Type 2 Diabetes. People of color are afflicted more with this disease. I have suffered and I deeply regret every glass of sugary drink, my overconsumption of fried food, and never really exercising as a child, teenager, or adult because my face was always in a book.

What I can never regret is my Christian faith that sustained me despite worsening kidneys, through complete kidney failure during COVID, then Peritoneal Dialysis that led to a severe infection. This terrible infection kept me in the hospital numerous times, over six months in 2023, including the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). I started wondering whether I would live, die, or at least ever get out of the hospital and stay out. Next was hemodialysis for almost 4 hours, three days a week. There is a wonderful song, “My soul looks back and wonders how I made it through.” Only I know how I made it through.

My son packed up his entire life and moved back to Madison to care for me. My church family, especially our prayer team, journeyed in prayer and real life to encourage, remind, and help. The women from the African American Health Network, especially retired nurse Hershey Barnett, Dr. Eva Vivian, and Dr. Joann Pritchard (my special advocate) were there for me, just like they have always been for our community. People in the community were too numerous to mention but so worthy of my gratitude flooded me with prayer, flowers, and kindness. All the while, over four years; a work colleague, my only sister, and my Godchildren’s father all tried to give me one of their kidneys, but for several reasons, were rejected.  Lastly my son, who had agreed to be the necessary caregiver, was in the process of trying to give me one of his kidneys. While I was desperately ill, fighting infection, my son spent days and nights with me, but because of his background in research, was the finest bridge between me and providers, as well as a wise advocate being my medical and legal power of attorney. My Pastor, Rev. Dr. Alex Gee, my friends, work colleagues and loving community supported my son so that he would not feel alone.

Dr. Micah Chan took excellent care of me through most of my kidney disease. Not only that, but he knew me. He was aware of who I was in the community, but most of all, I trusted him because he earned it with his kindness and skills. During my hospitalization, there were many nurses, doctors and health care professionals who assisted in my healing. Being sick, I remember some first names, some last names, some teams and forgot others. At Meriter Hospital it was the entire Intermediate Care Team, Drs. Trinity (a wife and husband team), so many Nurses Raya, Ami, Ken and ICU Nurse Bailey.

Only one nurse and one doctor were bad experiences; one nurse unfairly called security on my son to have him removed from my room, and one doctor told me how expensive the infusion medicine was costing when the others did not work. I told her my life was worth every cent. The incident with the nurse was corrected, others apologized, but she never did. Everyone else at Meriter, from the receptionist who greeted me with kind words at the Infusion Center, and all the infusion nurses were exceptional. Without a doubt, it was the UW Infectious Disease Team who literally saved my life and everyone on the team was both kind and professional.  I was happy every time they came into my room.

The UW Home Health Team assisted me in getting stronger when I finally was discharged, and they were another talented team of folks. Next my hemodialysis care was handled by technicians and nurses from Fresenius on American Parkway. Just as I became ill, UW sold its kidney clinic to Fresenius and all the UW staff took jobs elsewhere. These dedicated women and some men at Fresenius, work in life and death situations keeping us alive, while being underpaid with not enough benefits. They were never paid the same wages and benefits as UW technicians and nurses. I thank all of them for being dedicated despite the long hours and poor working conditions. I want more recognition of their fine work, and better salaries because of their value to people with kidney disease.

Most recently I was at UW Transplant Center, and I have only compliments for everyone. From the Transplant coordinators, Grace at the front desk, to Nurses Dave and Greta and all of the nursing team, even the phlebotomists did their best for me.

My kidney surgeon was Carrie Thiessen and her team, Yes, my new kidney continues to do well because of their expertise. There was a medical student, Matt, who has one of the most outstanding bedside manner that I wish I would experience more. He saw me and treated me like a human being. I never did get the name of the one Black woman who was with the team of people who checked on me every day at UW. I will say that I felt immediate comfort at seeing her face, and a different kind of healing began. I am a Black woman who has some inkling of what she has sacrificed and overcome to stand before me. I did not want to embarrass her or single her out in this group, but it is critically important to see people like me, and people of color as part of my health care. Grateful for good doctors of every race, and in this journey, I experienced every racial group, but few immediately understood me and my culture like health professionals of color.

I cannot end this column without thanking my primary Dr. Nimira Jina, who is a rare Geriatrician. I absolutely adore the way she talks to me, listens to me, and helps to keep me healthy. She reminds me and I want to remind my community, keep looking to find the healthcare professional who is best for you.

When you find a problem, advocate for yourself, or take someone with you to give voice to your concerns. Appreciate the ones who are good and yet know there are some in every profession who are not. I share all my health stories with you because I care about your health too; love, faith, diet, exercise and perseverance despite the stresses and strains, will give us longer lives. I end by saying that someone died to give me another chance at life by donating their kidney. I plan to take the best care of this kidney and to write a letter to be given to the donor’s family to thank the family for such a life-giving gift. I am already praying for this family that lost their loved one. All that I have experienced in the past decade with declining kidney function makes me want to be an even better human being. I want all of us to live longer, fuller lives.

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