“You never really know what’s coming. A small wave, or maybe a big one. All you can really do is hope that when it comes, you can surf over it, instead of drown in its monstrosity.” – Alysha Speer
My mobile phone rang at about 4.30pm on Tuesday 2 January 2007. “Brenda, it’s Dr Ciara from Newbridge Family Practice. I have your blood results.”
I had been dozing on the couch so it was rather a rude awakening.
OK I said, what’s the diagnosis?
“It’s not good”, she said. “Your bloods are very poor. Your creatinine is five times the normal level and I need you to go to hospital”. [Here comes a science bit: A normal creatinine for me should be between 53 and 97 and mine was elevated at 420.]
Can you repeat that? I asked, very much wide awake.
“Brenda, your kidneys are in trouble. Your creatinine is five times higher than it should be. You are in renal failure”.
Kidney failure? WHAT?
I looked across at my kids on the couch watching a Christmas movie. Emma was 9 and Cathal was 2 and I was trying to remain calm so as not to alarm them.
I got up and left the room, thankful that the Shrek movie had their attention.
“Brenda are you there?”, Dr Ciara asked.
Yes! OK. I said again. Can I go to hospital in the morning, it’s so late now? I asked
“No, you need to go to hospital today.”
Can I go to the local hospital, the one in Naas?
“No, Brenda, we need you to go to one of the major hospitals in Dublin. So can you come into see me now so as I can give you your letter of referral and so as I can phone ahead?”
OK I said again as I hung up the phone.
I closed the door to the living room where the kids were and took some deep breaths. I knew that kidney failure was bad. My friend had been in the same situation and I knew what she has gone through with transplants.
I rang my husband Bryan who was in work in Dublin and I told him that he needed to come home. I told him not to be too nice to me as it was taking all my self-control to stay calm.
I drove in to the surgery to collect the letter – I cried the whole way there. Dr Ciara saw me briefly and handed me the letter. She was kind and gentle with me and I knew that while she was trying not to scare me, she was also trying to impress upon me the urgency of getting to the hospital as soon as possible.
I cried the whole way home and then tried to hide it from the kids. I’m not good at hiding the tears as my face gets all red and puffy after crying. So I took Emma to one side and told her I had been asked to go to hospital for some tests. I asked her to keep Cathal busy while I put some stuff together.
I called a friend who said yes to looking after Cathal for us. While I waited for Bryan to get home from Dublin, I ironed some clothes, emptied the dishwasher and made a snack for the kids – as you do when you are in kidney failure!
If I am honest, I wasn’t surprised that I was being shipped off to hospital as I knew I was ill but I had honestly no idea it was as serious as kidney failure.
I had been vomiting for about a month on and off and had lost some weight. I had hidden how bad I was feeling over Christmas from my family and carried on with being a busy working Mum. I had been to the doctor in early December and he diagnosed a stomach flu or food poisoning.
Our Christmas holidays had consisted of me sleeping a lot, eating like a bird and throwing up whatever I ate. It was a pretty grim Christmas. Things had come to a head the day before when I had almost fainted before throwing up in the middle of a shopping mall. Bryan said enough was enough and that I had to go to the GP.
Dr Ciara saw me early on the morning of 2 Janaury. She said I looked awful and I laughed it off. She gave me some stomach flu tablets and told me to drink plenty of fluids. She gave me an anti-sickness injection and took bloods.
Later that night as we drove up to the accident and emergency room of Tallaght hospital in Dublin I was feeling weak. I had a plastic bag with me in the car in case I was sick. By the time we arrived to the emergency room I had deteriorated further. I needed to visit the toilet immediately where I dry retched and had really awful diarrhoea.
The triage nurse saw me and she said I was going to be seen as a priority but it was still a couple of hours before I was finally taken into a cubicle. I had been to the toilet so many times that I had lost count. There was a man dressed in a very sharp suit going from patient to patient telling them how long they were going to have to wait to be seen. He was so polite and sweet to everyone but I was in a very bad place and I really wanted to just stand up and shout HELP ME NOW!
I sent Bryan and Emma home as it was close to midnight. I had more bloods taken, a urine sample taken and a physical exam done which was inconclusive at that stage.
I was vomiting and having diarrhoea every 10 to 15 minutes ..
I saw a doctor from the medical team and he asked me more of the same questions I had already been asked and and I had more tests done. Eventually I was moved to a ward off A & E. I was put on a drip as I was badly dehydrated. My haemoglobin was just under 7. Here comes another science bit. A normal haemoglobin level for me would be 12 to 18. This was another bad marker that something was wrong. At the time I wasn’t panicking and I wasn’t feeling that scared. I had a lot more questions than answers at that stage and I think it was the same for the medical team.
The medicine and hydration started to work in the early hours of the morning and I started to feel a bit better. I eventually drifted off to sleep with a feeling of relief at having finally given in and of being in the right place to deal with whatever it was that I was suffering from.