At the age of 57 years, the author was diagnosed with terminal chronic renal insufficiency. He had to decide: kidney transplant or dialysis. The author decided against both. He investigated the causes and interrelations between the disease and his life. Which way he went and how he went it, he does not describe drily, scientifically and matter-of-factly, but in a lively, humorous, exciting and thrilling way as in a novel, so that everyone can understand what it means to work yourself out of the deepest crisis of your life, that it is worthwhile to fight, that you can change habits, that you can change your life and how important it is to have the right woman by your side. Incidentally the reader does not only learn basic knowledge about kidneys and nutrition, but also a unique view on life itself.
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I dedicate this book to my wife Beate, who supported me in every situation unselfishly and without limitation.
In the end
Literary references and Internet sites
My ‘story’ is true and has happened as I have written it down here.
In order to substantiate its validity, I have disclosed the lab values regarding creatinine in the appendix. Besides, these were two different laboratories, on the one hand commissioned by the family doctor and on the other hand by two different dialysis centres. These, but also the names of the doctors are known to the publishing company. The names of the doctors in my story are fictitious.
From my health history one cannot, of course, deduce other illness courses. I have made this way alone and in my own responsibility.
It may have been a radical and risky way in many people’s views. But it was my way and I am glad to have made it as I did.
I deliberately do not want to give any medical advice or suggest therapies and certainly not advise against medical consultations.
My aim was only to indicate which way I went, and that it is worthwhile to think about it.
Do you have a comfortable armchair? If not, a sofa will also do, if all else fails, a bed; a chair is least suitable. The seat should be comfortable. And then you need rest, a lot of rest. I am sitting in the kitchen, on a chair because I am not reading, but writing. In front of me there is an old, but usable laptop. The radio is quiet. My wife is in the sitting room, she wanted to iron a few things, and the television is running aside, but so quietly that I hear nothing. Our children moved out long ago. Strictly speaking, these are her children. I married my wife with two small children. The older one was in the second, the younger in the first school year. I had taken them to my heart from the outset.
I have rest. I also do not belong to the generation which lingers through the streets with earbuds and always runs the risk of being run over. I am nearly fifty-eight years old and it is my first book, at least it should become one. And if you read this, it has indeed become one.
But why do I recommend you to make yourselves at home and to provide for rest? It was rest that helped me to become healthier again.
It has been less than five months. It was the 7th of September, 2010, when I also was sitting at home and sitting and sitting and sitting.
‘I want to tell her directly, as she is used to from me, frankly, straight up. How do I start? She knows me too well.’
She asks just by her looks.
Three days before I had gone to the family doctor, and also on this day I went to see him to fetch the lab values.
My wife had asked me to conclude a life insurance policy. We are not so well off, and if anything should happen to me sometime, she wanted to be secured, understandably.
But at my age one has to go to the doctor. I was always healthy, though, and actually had no discomfort. Or did I? Yes, in autumn of last year, in Majorca. I had completely blocked this out; my stomach had ached, even quite violently. There was a dragging pain in the stomach and over the chest, sometimes even in the back. I stopped while taking a walk and bent over forward. This lasted a few seconds. Then it went off again.
And when we went for a walk in Palma, in the harbour, past many boats of ‘welfare recipients’, we stopped at a harbour café, and I ordered first of all a Canya, a beer, and then another one, until the pain subsided. Stress. Occupational stress well into the holidays. This was my diagnosis then. Alcohol is good. And for the evening, since I really like cooking, I still had to buy some wine. In the morning I already thought of it, so that I would not forget in the course of the day. Yes, so it was, and by the end of those fourteen days I did not have that pain anymore. So it had to have been the stress. Fourteen days are also too short.
So I was sitting there, in the sitting room, no television was on, the radio quiet, and I was thinking. Actually, I still had to write some letters to customers, calculations of construction costs, answer emails. The answering machine – had I switched it on at all? I did not know anymore. My mobile phone was also still off. At the doctor’s I had turned it off.
I was accessible to no-one. I had rest. It was quiet around me, very quiet, almost unbearably quiet. Only yesterday I would have cracked a bottle of wine, would have found something in the fridge with my usual security and would have conjured up some delicacies.
For I am very creative in the kitchen. My potato salad is even said to be addictive. I had exactly paid attention to how my granny had prepared it. This granny was the mother of my father, from Upper Silesia. She had even whipped the mayonnaise herself, with yolk and olive oil. But now I am sitting in silence and thinking. Funnily enough, I even feel like eating, but I cannot move, have no motivation to go to the kitchen. I will just tell her that everything is not so bad, and things are never as bad as they seem.
I felt my tears. I began to cry. Immediately I wiped my tears from my face with the sleeve. I did not want to lower my guard towards my wife. But she will notice anyway. Did she know, actually, what creatinine values are? I did not know it quite exactly myself, at that time. But I already had dealt with them.
It was approximately one and a half years ago. I was still with my old family doctor then. I am still to fetch my old medical records from him as well. The new family doctor wanted to look whether there had not been any problem with my values earlier on already. The cause was still absolutely unclear. And I, I had no idea about anything, not the faintest notion. This is additionally frightening.
One and a half years ago, that is meanwhile two years ago, my former family doctor had sent me to a specialist, to a good acquaintance of his, a nephrologist. I heard about this field for the first time then. This is a doctor for the kidneys. I still know exactly how I was sitting in front of my old family doctor, in front of the big black desk; he was behind it, completely in white, even his hair was white, and his easy chair seemed very comfortable and stopped luffing when he looked directly into my eyes and said in a quiet voice:
‘You are actually in good health appropriate to your age, only one value worries me...’
‘The best thing is if I just send you to a specialist. I have some good acquaintance...’
I did not hear the rest anymore at all. The doctor’s receptionist, too, suddenly looked round-eyed and was quite serious, somehow mysterious. She pressed a note in my hand, no prescription, just a name with an address. The long hallway of the doctor’s office endlessly stretched. I left the doctor’s office in a daze. My self-assuredness was gone. Knees, legs, somehow all rubber. I walked through the hall, down the stairs, some people came towards me, I did not perceive them at all. Automatically like a robot, I drove my car, I did not notice that the traffic light went from red to green and I drove off. At that time I had to go directly from the doctor’s to the office. I listened to my answering machine. My professional problems had come back to me, and the note with the name of the specialist was well hidden in my purse. I called him from the office. With his assistant I arranged an appointment.
Then, a few days later, I went there. A good half an hour from home in a small place in the country. A plain office, a few elderly ladies in the waiting room. Naturally I immediately went through to the reception and was also, after the collection of my data, sent on when I told her that I am a private patient. A doctor or assistant pressed a big plastic bottle in my hand.
‘From 6 or 7 o’clock tonight until the next morning please collect your urine. The first stream, however, is to go into the toilet.’
The fact that you feel funny in this is understandable, so direct and somehow unpleasant. But the instruction was clear and unmistakable. I was just not used to it, and it was a little embarrassing for me, am I also blocked in this regard? In any case, I did not want to show any emotion, took the bottle and said goodbye until tomorrow. I stowed away the big two litre bottle in my briefcase and went home. Once arrived in the flat, I went directly to the bathroom with the briefcase and stowed away, one can probably rather say, I hid the bottle in the little white cupboard under the washbasin.
One day later. Compliant with the demands, I went back to the medical office in the country with the almost full bottle. While driving, I did not listen to any music. I did not want to expose myself to this blaring and stupid drivel, and over and over again these commercials. I am not taken in by these stupid commercials on the radio anyway. Moreover, I turn the radio down if the commercial is announced, or I change the radio station. At my age you prefer listening to WDR or NDR 2; I am sick and tired of the private stations: superficial, commonplaces, childish and kitsch beyond all measure. This has never been my thing. Protected by an opaque Aldi bag avoiding any content, the bottle came into the hands of the assistant. In one week the lab values would be there. After one week I called and also got an appointment with the doctor himself. And then I stood in front of him. He, a true Westphalian, at the sight of whom the Romans would already have fled from the Teutoburg wood, and I, with my 176 cm looking up to him, certainly made a funny impression, and he then laid his big hands on my shoulders and gasped:
‘You do look quite healthy. Is anything hurting you?’
I only shook my head timidly and could think of nothing at all. What else he said then, I have forgotten. Two weeks later I received a bill for the amount of 186 euros. I had instantly got the lab values, and they offered nothing new to me either. Somehow then they went yellow in the desk. I never found the note again either. Suppression had completely struck. I have not consulted my former family doctor anymore. What was this nephritic value called again? I had already forgotten the word. And here now I am sitting. Should I blame myself? Whose fault is it then that I thought of everything for nearly two years, just not my lab values? The door lock snapped, steps on the hallway.
‘I am here’, I shouted.
When she entered the sitting room, I got up and looked into her green-blue eyes. In these eyes I saw, at the same time, the eyes of the doctor, his face in outlines and his sombre expression as a whole, and everything at the same time. I turned away irritated and steered towards the hallway in the direction of the bathroom.
‘I’ll be right back’, I shouted and locked behind myself. My face had red spots, and my eyes were dim and moist. I put on my reading glasses and thought I would recognise something yellow. With cold water I moistened my face, dried it up and walked slowly through the narrow, dark hallway full of cupboards to the kitchen. There she was sitting on her usual place at the big wooden table.
‘My kidneys are out of order.’
‘Do the kidneys not detoxify properly anymore?’
‘Somehow. But the values are so bad that Dr von Rothenburg transferred me to the dialysis centre.’
‘You will, however, definitely go there. Promised?’
‘Such things must not be taken lightly.’
‘I know. So I will go there.’
‘Did the doctor say anything about what is the cause?’
‘This is inexplicable to him as well. He has really examined everything. Only the lab values showed that the kidneys are not in order, and my blood pressure is probably too high as well, cholesterol is also dramatic.’
My voice became weak and shaky. I lowered my head, felt devastated. She got up, laid one hand on my head and said:
‘We’ll make it all right. Just go there for the time being, and then we’ll see what’s going to happen.’
‘He also gave me pills, for the high blood pressure, among other things, and something for the cholesterol. I also told him about my professional stress.’
My voice failed. All problems with the customers, authorities and open invoices, the last decades squeezed my head together like in a vice. I would have liked very much to burst out crying. Stress, stress and over and over again stress.
In the evening, after the news broadcast, while we were sitting side by side, her on the daybed, me in the wicker chair, legs stretched out to another wicker chair a little aside of myself, the sound became quieter. Before the sound was completely gone, I heard her voice:
‘Good you’re not drinking anything now, you have always been drinking too much, and lately it had become more and more. I warned you often enough. You know, this will take revenge sometime. You do know the cases of illness in the circle of acquaintances of our parents. Many are...’
Not only had I heard all that only too well, I knew, meanwhile, every single one with their illness, whether and how he or she was still alive, who had which tumour, only half a bowel left etc. However, if you were never ill yourself, then the others just exaggerated things. I did not see myself as an alcoholic. Last spring I drank no beer or wine for four weeks. I was convinced that no alcoholic is capable of this, and if I have one thing, it is self-restraint.
I still know exactly how I stopped smoking. I had fallen in love with Beate. A ‘single’ mother with two children, six and seven years old. After a few weeks these were my children, and their mother was the woman of my dreams. At that time I was still smoking. But if I get into this family, I must be a model. As a studied pedagogue, I know that education is useless, because the children will copy everything anyway.
After a temporary contract as a teacher, my employment was not continued, so after a few other unsuccessful attempts at a profession, I went to a building society. At that time I was 41 and meanwhile was a building society representative. An older colleague, to whom I maintained a very amicable contact, was a raw food eater. The first one which I had got to know. Everybody liked him, even though he always stank of garlic. At that time he had recommended me to start with therapeutical fasting and then to begin a new diet with grains, roots and raw vegetables. Moreover, I would then automatically stop smoking. I admired the point about raw food, but it was out of the question for me, did not,. literally, bear any fruit for me. However, I had still kept the thing about therapeutical fasting and not smoking anymore in mind. I still know it exactly.
I smoked my last cigarette on Friday evening, drank a bottle of beer and went for a walk with Dicki, my wire-haired dachshund at that time, but this evening without any detour to the Lenzig or Wolters inn, where I was known and estimated as an interlocutor. No, I had firmly decided to fast now for 36 hours and to drink only mineral water – without carbonic acid, to be sure.
Almost sober, I lay in bed, on my back. Headache. No. I hated headaches. They always went from the inside through my forehead to my eyes. I always got a headache when I had drunk too much. A headache as I hated. My stomach started to rumble. I began to observe myself carefully. I had the feeling that my hunger decreased a little, and my stomach contracted. I concentrated on my stomach.
I lay on the back, stared at the ceiling and listened to my stomach. This was the situation then in which the headache took a break. Then I felt something like a chill. I pulled the duvet up to the neck and tried to distract myself mentally. At some point, I must probably have fallen asleep. I woke late. It was already after ten. As usual, I went under the shower. This was good. When I take a shower, I inevitably remember my time as a sportsman. At that time, at home, when I was still a child, we would always bathe only on Saturdays. After the sport, however - I started playing volleyball in the school team when I was fourteen -, we were allowed to take a shower. This was always awfully good. I really enjoyed this.
After showering and casual dressing, I went to the kitchen. I sat down at the small plastic table and looked out of the window, lost in thought. I was not hungry at all. The cigarette box, still half-full, caught my eye; I looked away in disgust. If I smoke one now, I thought to myself, I will have lost. I let the thought go on. I imagined smoking a cigarette. I wanted to explore how I felt. I took a cigarette, put it between my lips and left it cold. I took a drag on it and pretended to smoke, even removed the inexistent ash and thoroughly looked at the cigarette. Then I pushed it back into the box – for a possible relapse.
I remained seated and again looked out of the window. It was spring, the blackbirds were trilling, and Dicki came sneaking around the door frame, curved his back like a cat, pushed his hind legs far back and yawned. Coffee, no thanks. The first temptation with the cigarette was overcome, I could more readily renounce the coffee. I dressed and left the flat with the dog. In front of the door, I met my future significant other. She still knew nothing about my starvation diet. She remained aloof and probably wanted to say something, refrained from it, but I asked her:
‘Is anything the matter?’
‘Haven’t you taken a shower, have you been up all night?’
‘Humph, I? Quite the contrary, I’m doing therapeutical fasting.’ There was pride in my voice.
‘Oh, that’s why you stink so much.’
This was more than unpleasant to me.
‘You stink like a rotten fish’, she capped it all off.
‘I must fetch the children from school.’
‘OK, and I’ll take the dog out.’
At noon I did not go to her and the children. First of all, I had to get rid of the stench again. Even another shower did not help. I had to eat something. But I had no desire at all to eat anything. I remembered that one should ‘break’ the fasting best of all with fruit. At home I bit into an apple, and I became almost sick. My stomach cramped, I almost vomited. I became a little dizzy, and I lay down on the bed.
Then, in the course of the day, I resumed to eat something, bread, cheese, ham, in the evening spaghetti and a chill rosé. The next day, I did not have so much of an odour any more and visited my new flame.
All that writing is arduous. Months later I am sitting in front of my old laptop again, thinking. I made myself comfortable on the couch in my own room. Opposite of me there is an aquarium, 1,50 metres large, with a black lid and a black base cabinet. Milan, our new hybrid dog, half a dachshund, half a Jack Russel, is lying relaxedly beside me in his full length and is guarding the computer mouse, which, by the way, even works on the couch. The writing is arduous because I want to remember, and at the same time feel that my brain is struggling against it.
And thus it went on:
Three days later, it was the 9th of September, 2010. I had to go to the family doctor again to fetch the lab values, many lab values. The value, that certain value, the creatinine level was at 3.6, the word which I had completely blocked out, there it was again. It was not remotely clear to me then how dramatic this value was. I had fetched the old medical records from the successor of my former family doctor and had browsed them in a hurry. There it was written in black on white, creatinine value 2.8. With that value my then family doctor had sent me to this common-or-garden doctor, this Teuton.
After that, I had not been to the doctor anymore for ten years, until the Indian summer of 2010, because of the life insurance. Dr von Rothenburg, my new family doctor, had examined everything, even with ultrasound. I sat in front of him in his office, and my whole body was trembling. He sent me to the dialysis centre, precisely not just to any specialist. The value 3.6 was enough of an alarm signal, but he had still spoken of other values too, including:
‘Your prostate gland is also a little bigger. However, this is not so dramatic.’
Not dramatic? I can think logically, after all. So the other value is dramatic. Thank you, doctor, very sensitive, but now at least I know where I am. The thought struck my head that I am a dialysis patient. I had to swallow, my lips were bursting with dryness, I trembled internally, the blood withdrew from my fingers. I felt how they became colder and colder.
‘Here’, he said, ‘I’ll write down the address for you.’
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Mikka liest das Leben...
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