My Near End-of-My-Career Limiting Crisis
Dr. Jim Sellner, PhD., DipC.
Executive leadership coach.
It’s one of those life-career episodes you never anticipate.
I’m coming back.
Just need a new kidney.
I was 69 years old when my health crisis struck. I have a successful international executive leadership coaching business, which I’ve been doing for about 30 years. I am an author and well-respected professional in my community.
It erupted on April 3, 2012, as I was waking up, peeing blood, that my world seemed to collapse.
I had already been stumbling: For that previous four months I felt like I had the flu — feeling lethargic, low energy, food tasting bland, not really wanting to eat.
Lesson #1 — Pay attention to symptoms.
A trip to San Francisco, walking the hills damn near did me in! Then to Toronto to see a sick and dying friend, which did not help my state of affairs.
I’ve always considered myself to be healthy, taking care to be fit and eat well so this sense of ongoing lethargy was puzzling. I was seeing an acupuncturist at the time and taking herbs. I was resisting going to see a doctor (like Steve Jobs sometimes our intellect overwhelms our wisdom).
My memory of arriving at the ER is a fog as the doctors whisked me into a far off dark room, needles being stuck in me, tubes drilled into my back to relieve the toxic build-up in my kidneys, probed and questioned by many doctors and nurses, crammed into a room with the sick and dying.
Renee lovingly by my side the whole time.
I really didn’t know what was going on.
They told Renee they were not sure I would live.
And then I didn’t die.
As I think about it now I had no awareness at all of the imminence of my possible death.
Truly, inside I felt weirdly ok — probably all the drugs.
April 7 — off to St. Paul’s Hospital to start HEAMODIALYSIS- WHAAAT!!!!
Diagnosis? END STAGE RENAL FAILURE (ESRD).
No recovery possible.
Kidneys operating at about 2% (they have recovered to 12% over the three years.)
In January of 2013 I started home peritoneal dialysis — a delightful every-night-for eight-hours from 10pm to 6am, being hooked up to a machine as it pumps special fluids in and out of my abdomen through a catheter, to do the work that my kidneys cannot do — clear my body of toxins.
I have an appreciation-hate relationship with the PD machine.
I appreciate that someone invented it because it means I can be at home and not have to go to the hospital to do hemodialysis — a very scary, tiring, sometimes painful, intrusion into my body. In haemodialysis the blood gets circulated through a machine and one’s body 50 times and hour. Yikes!
I hate the PD machine ( called the cycler) because I get what’s called “drain pain” sometimes excruciating for 15–20 minutes in the middle of the night. Also, very loud alarms go off in the middle of the night when the machine gets stuck.
Not good for full, restful nights sleep.
It will be great to have a new kidney so I do not have to endure that. However, the anti-rejection drugs I’m told come with their own challenges.
I am assured I will live a longer, better life with a new kidney.
For about 18 months I could do no work. My mind was a mush and I could not retain clear thoughts for long. Reading was out of the question.
At about the 19 month mark I could sense my mind beginning to wake up so I decided to start writing as a way of going for writing “jogs” everyday.
A few months later wrote four books — as a more intense exercise to re-sharpen my mind because what I noted in the renal unit was that many people were, it seems, giving up into a fog of passive semi-consciousness — understandable under the circumstances — not for me.
I decided that I was not going to go there if could at all help it.
I am committed to make the most out of this crisis.
Realization: At 72 I have lived more years that I have left to be alive. Carpe Diem.
My mind is fully functioning now — a welcome relief since I put such high value on that capability.
I’m working with clients again, working out five days a week and playing golf.
I feel great and my life is a good as it can be under the circumstances.
Appreciation: For all the health care professionals, particularly the renal nurses who took care of me through this crisis. Fantastic.
What I’ve learned in the process:
1. I am loved — primarily by Renee, he love of my life — and by friends who have been very supportive. In the initial crisis, Rob, Renee’s brother was incredibly, lovingly supportive with Renee when the crisis hit. Rick, my long time friend has been with me all the way.
2. If you’re ever in a health crisis, get an advocate. I was not able to think clearly, nor remember half of what was being said to me in the chaos of the crisis. Another person is more able to take notes, ask doctors and nurses questions. Do, do ask questions!! And question them. They, and the system in which they toil, is over worked and understaffed as well as being under big stresses and strains dealing with very sick people. They also make mistakes so keep a watch.
3. Discipline means freedom. As soon as I was able, I started exercising as I read that exercising counteracts the effects of dialysis. We started a renal diet early on in the experience which is key to being as healthy as possible with this condition.
4. For Renee as my support it is vital that she take care of herself, particularly with exercise and having close support friends herself.
There is always something new. Every visit for check-ups brings new information — usually not that encouraging. For example, we go in for my pre-transplant assessment and one of the doc.’s tells me I have an aneurism on the artery to my spleen. May be nothing. May be serious. I’m having it checked out as I try not to freak out of that new bit of information.
4. Statistics about conditions generally are gross and not very detailed. For example, the average survival rate for a donated kidney is about 10 years. With a diseased donor the kidney survival rate is about 68% and with a living donor 75%. But those stats say nothing about the person who received the kidney — did they have diabetes?, high blood pressure?, what was their age? did they take care of their diet, exercise, stress levels? Don’t know.
5. I am not my dis-ease. I have ESRD but I do not define myself by it.
It is my responsibility — both to my self and the donor — to take the best care of myself in order to be in top physical and mental condition to accept my new kidney.
Died? Not yet.
Dr. Jim Sellner, PhD., DipC.
Executive leadership coach.
Author: Leadership for Einsteins: How Smart Leaders Bring Out the Genius in People
Account-Ability: The Science of Human Performance — The Skill & Will of Getting Things Done
How Men Sabotage Their Relationships With Women — At Home & At Work (summer 2015)
Love, Anger, Guilt & Sex: the Psychology of Intimate Relationships (summer 2015)