“A New Year, a New Crisis”
Our blogger confronts a health scare – as if the anxiety and uncertainty of attention deficit weren’t enough. Life stories from adults with ADHD.
Trouble surfaced just as the year began, this time in the form of blood. A few days before the New Year I noticed the Kool-Aid colored pee. At first I wondered if it was the cherry-colored energy drinks or the carrots-for-breakfast diet I’d had over the past month.
The panic was a good thing because it spurred me to the hospital to get it checked out. The aunt came with me. She was huffy and puffy because she’d been in the same place before maybe a year ago when I was convinced a sesame seed-sized mole was skin cancer. And at first she wondered if this was just me being a hypochondriac again, until I emerged from the restroom with a sample of the Kool-Aid colored pee. The color was electrifying. It would have been pretty if it were a Shirley Temple.
Since being diagnosed with ADHD seven years ago, I tell myself that little surprises me anymore. ADHD adults are so used to curveballs, changes, shifts, to being thrown off the horse and swiftly getting on again. Lately the uncertainty of my future — the end of the contract in June, the applications for graduate school, the questions and constant fretting over whether to stay in this part of the world or return to my homeland — have left my brain churning at a high rate. All I want is a break.
And now this new turn of events. Indeed the little sample showed that the pee was abnormal. The family doctor a guy who looked like an Asian Doogie Howser (did they churn them out of medical school that young?) rang at about 10 PM, and told me he was referring me to a specialist because the red cells way outnumbered the whites. (“Well, duh, I could tell by the color,” I wanted to tell him.) He said, “Frankly, who knows? It could be anything from cancer to kidney failure.”
I cried the whole night and told the aunt the next day. For the first time she was silent when I shared the news. Usually she will say something sarcastic/borderline funny like “Come on, you’re such a worry wart,” but this time only silence. This was serious. (“I’ll do everything I can to book an appointment with the specialist,” she finally said.)
The specialist, whom I shall called Dr. Specialist, was a middle-aged hybrid of doctor and professor. He seemed strangely friendly and human for a doctor. “Oh, please sit down, do you smoke, do you drink, what do you do for a living?” Harmless ice-breaker questions, perhaps to ease the nerves. After maybe 10 minutes he started a mini-lecture in his professor voice, nice and chill. He drew what looked like a kidney (North America) and the bladder (South America), and he was talking about how kidneys were like filtering systems.
Yep, yep, I was nodding and getting it all. Everything was cool, and then he turned to the results of the urine sample and said, “The numbers show that you have an extraordinaruly high and abnormal number of red blood cells.” Yes, I get it, I do. He was saying that he wanted to run a battery to tests to confirm things, but he suspected that it was an inflammation of the kidney, something chronic.
And then my mind sort of wandered off as I heard him say, “We need to check out percentage of functioning…” “Maybe do a biopsy…” “See what causes, could be hereditary, a tumor…” This can’t be for real, I thought. Although this was not a death sentence, the sort where the doctor says, “Hey sorry to tell you you have another three years of life left,” this initial diagnosis was so fraught with uncertainty. I was reading the tea leaves. This could possibly get worse.
“So you’re saying I have kidney damage,” I said.
“Well, indeed the cells damaged from inflammation don’t tend to regenerate.” He is a nice doctor, an excellent specialist. I burst into tears.
In a season that was already tough as nails, the last thing I needed was this new curveball, this red alarm that threatens to not only shake my sanity, but in many ways decide my fate going forward — whether I need to stay or leave, where I will work (since the place where I’m working has zero health insurance). I am already paying for the pseudo-shrink from my own pocket, and unlike the locals here I’m not qualified to head to the public hospital system. The specialist was excellent in that he most likely identified the monster. This came at the rate of $200 an hour.
My mind did figure eights as we made a follow up appointment for the battery of tests. How exactly did this happen, when did this start? And then in a quiet moment when I stopped sobbing, I asked if there was a God. Weren’t the ADHD and my rollercoaster of a life enough? Maybe God had retired, I thought, and then I laughed. The life of an ADHDer. My life. Never a dull moment.