Liver Transplant

by Domingo

When you are on dialysis you live a double life. You are like a bat who goes flying around for a while and then you return to the dark quiet cave where your blood is recycled, away from the eyes of those who know you. It is like keeping a secret. Some people regard you as a mysterious entity, not quiet human, because you spend a lot of time hooked to a machine in order to survive, and that makes you a little subterranean: a little subaquatic, rather. Those on dialysis are like a school of fish, emerging into the light after a stay in the cold chill water at bottom of the sea.

When I lay in the metal bed with the tubes driving the blood slowly into and out of my veins through long needles, the deep, monotonous gargling sound of the machine cleansing the blood in my ears, I fall into a sort of trance. My mind wanders. It frees itself from the flesh, somehow, and travels places and sees things from the past, and sometimes from the future. People like to think of disease as a physical state, yet it is largely a journey of the mind, the spirit. At all times the mind dances on the tight rope and senses the possibility of death. It is not impossible to perceive, as if out of the corner of one´s eye, flowing of specters nearby.

The supernatural is involved in everything that happens to a person. We refuse to admit it, for the sake of solidity in life, for the sake of sanity, but then there are those moments when a fleeting shadow crosses before our eyes and leaves us trembling with an undefinable sadness, a fear, because we have been tapped on the shoulder by a cold hand, the hand of someone no longer in the physical world, or when we have dream which cannot be explained by any form of reasoning. For some weeks before I was diagnosed with end stage kidney failure, I had a reoccurring dream, in which I saw a large, very healthy looking vampire bat sucking the blood from a cow with a sort of dumb relish. Its fur had an amazing copper luster. I know now that the beast was a symbol for the machine which would soon be ingesting and regurgitating my altered blood, my treacherous blood.


Give the fear back
to the sun

give the fear back to the man,
to the earth and to the god,
give the fear back
to the teacher
to the doctor
and the shrink

back to whom put it in you.
to the father, to the mother
and the door you could not open,
and the house of the suicide
and the dog
foaming at the mouth

hold nobody´s hand when walking,
love no one and hate nobody.

be alone.

be alone through life and death
and fear nothing
give the fear back to your blood,
give the fear back to your mind,
to the man who gave it to you
long ago

give the fear back to the book
to the knowledge in the book
which is nothing,
to the temple and the truth
which is a lie, give the fear
and remain empty,
empty of thought or expectation,
empty of guilt and of redemption,
turn away from shades of angels
and be alone,
be alone until the wind
that comes out of the great sea
may for nothingness mistake you

and upon its currents take you
to the End

give your fear away forever

It was a beautiful day, I had a little energy, and was way behind in the garden so I called in and asked if I could come to dialysis late. Normally I go in at 3 PM but got permission to come in at 5 PM instead. Normally by 3 I am exhausted and that time works  for me but that day 5 could happen.

One thing I did with the extra time was to clip a few sprigs of Daphne odorata an extremely fragrant shrub that throws its scent even when cut.  I took it to dialysis to suck up to the nurses. Sucking up to people who have large needles is in my own best interest IMHO.

There are 16 chairs in the dialysis unit 8 on each side separated by a  low wall.   I was at one end of the room and the nurses station was at the other. After 7 PM the 3 o’clock shift of patients had left and I was by myself  on one side of the room.

Then, though I couldn’t see it behind me, the nurses noted that a puddle was forming. They called maintenance who came promptly. They cleared the clog but as it is a two story building, there came a rush of sewage smell water that formed a small lake around me. The maintenance men asked if I could be moved but the answer was no.

Each patient has a card, larger than a credit card, with a chip on it. All your info is stored on that like what size needles to use, history of your weigh ins and weigh outs, what medicines to administer through the IV etc. It records each session . They said that the computers on each machine don’t talk to each other so once you start a session with one you can’t be moved.

So there I was in the middle of sewage smell.  They pulled me as far from the wall as my cords would stretch but that was it.

The nurses were all huddled at the far end of the room. They said they were grateful I had brought  the flowers because that scent was masking the malodorous. They also repeatedly expressed their regret I was stuck in the middle of it. It took about a half an hour to clean it up.

In the meantime I assured them that this wasn’t the worst I had smelled. While the list is long, here are a couple of examples.

Sonny Neibergall had built a small hog confinement facility on a farm next to us.  They lived on concrete and their manure fell into a pit below and he washed the floors with a hose so the waste was a liquid. He had an 800 gallon tank for spreading it that took him 15 minutes to fill. At that time we aslo dealt with our cow manure as a liquid so we had a 2000 gallon tank I could fill in 7 minutes.

As he realized he wasn’t going to be able to keep up spreading we cut a deal, I would spread his manure in exchange for keeping half of it. Calculating out the value of the plant nutrients in the pig manure, it was profitable for me to do so. Eventually as he didn’t have enough land to absorb all his manure, I ended up getting the greater portion of it.

But pig manure stinks, much more so than the sewage at dialysis. The nose is merciful and after about 30 minutes it says screw this I am leaving and you don’t smell it anymore but it is bad for a while.

Another scent adventure I had was over at old Nandagram  while disking some corn ground. As I was doing rounds on the field I was getting the full range of experience in the material world.  At one end  there was an autumn olive blooming which throws its scent and is heavenly, like you are bathing in it.

At the other end of the field was something dead and in the worst state of putrefaction. I had too much ground to cover and too little daylight so I didn’t venture into the woods to see what it was but based on the volume of reekage it had to have been a deer.

It made me contemplate how while there is some enjoyment in the material world, you also have to take the unpleasant along with it. This is motivation to do right things and accept the mercy of the great souls so we can escape the samsara, the cycle of birth and death, and go back home, back to Godhead where we can get the autumn olive without the corpse.

Anyway, I assured the nurses  I had been through worse, I could cope with a little sewage and soon it was over so permanent damage done and hey, something to write about.

T0day I crossed 108 miles in my journey to Daytona Beach in my imagination on my exercise bike at dialysis.  That leaves 921 miles to go.

My hemoglobin is 10.5 so I have some energy to do stuff which is nice, as Ilots of gardening to do and the  Green Builders workshop is in full swing.

This is running from today until Friday. We need participants so workshop fees have been waived so please show up if you can, even to pound one tire will help.

They dropped my hemoglobin level and it takes weeks to bring it up again so don’t have the energy to keep up in the garden though have been planting, weeding and working some beds. I guess one thing that was a casualty is writing about what I have been doing.

One big thing that happened is that  my fistua matured enough that they let me take the catheter out of my jugular vein.  While I got used to a tube hanging out of my neck, I don’t miss it. One practical benefit is I can take regular showers again. Before I couldn’t let the dressing get wet which turned showers into a complex dance.

They were using 17 gauge needles until my fistula got stronger and wouldn’t let me use the exercise bike because they were afraid they might blow out but today they finally went to 16 gauge so I was allowed back on.

I set the resistance a little lower and went from 70 to 60 RPM as I wasn’t sure how well I would do but it was OK and I just went longer and still covered 4 miles. Which puts me right in Pittsburgh.

When I took my real trip to Florida I would always stop before any city of any size. I always made sure I could easily make it well past the city and its suburbs by evening. I was mostly camping and felt much safer in the country than in any city and its environs.

In a virtual trip it doesn’t matter I still sleep in my own bed at night.

Being  strung out on meth required funding much of which came from sales of LSD. As LSD was only a couple of dollars a hit at that time in Long Beach, but was still $10 in Minneapolis, I soon arranged a trip back there. My partner was sending me the drugs and I was selling both retail and wholesale until I got busted.

I actually got busted twice. The first time I was walking down the street after having done some retail sales and the cops grabbed me up. Searching they found meth and LSD. They said there had been a robbery in the neighborhood and that the perp was wearing clothes like mine.

After spending a couple week in jail I had my public defender get the charges dropped on the basis of illegal search and seizure. At that point I should have left town but was too covered over to realize the cops once on a scent weren’t going to just shrug their shoulders and move on.

A few weeks after getting out I was sitting with my girlfriend in our kitchen rolling a joint to take the edge off the side effects of speed when the front door was kicked in and several cops with guns pointed at us burst in. A second or two later the kitchen door was kicked in as well. I don’t know if no knock warrants were legal then but that is how this one was executed.

Looking back it is interesting how your life ‘s course can be dramatically changed by a split second decision and reaction. My girlfriend, hearing the first crash, grabbed the marijuana and leapt towards the toilet and got it flushed using the one second delay before the second crash to get it done.

This mattered because at that time in Minnesota possession of LSD and meth were still only misdemeanors. Later the law caught up and changed them to felonies as they maybe should be but at the time they were a lesser crime.

Marijuana on the other hand was a felony carrying 20 years, hence a much more serious  crime and  life changing. Not just a stone changing the course of a river but a landslide of boulders completely altering the range of options available henceforth.

This time I was a guest of the Hennepin County Jail for 80 days. That experience will be another post.

I was eventually offered a plea deal referred to in jail house parlance as a floater. If I plead guilty and agreed to go back home to the farm in North Dakota they would give me probation for a year. If I behaved for a year they would drop the charges. Which happened.

As my friend Bobo in jail would often recite, “Always cop to the misdemeanors”  I took the deal. At the sentencing the judge said,”You hate me now but later you will thank me.” He was right on both counts.

When I would recounted this story to my sister and pointed out that if I hadn’t been busted I would have been dead. The poster and widely circulated saying at the time “Speed kills.” Which even though you could see it happening around you, you didn’t care. And it is killing me, 45 years later through the effects of hepatitis C.

I told her God saved me by getting me busted and she said how my family had been praying for me the prodigal son.

What was one thing I learned from this? The following most likely will shock you but within the context of my demographic at the time was quite romantic.  If you want to give your girlfriend a gold plated 26 gauge needle for her 18th birthday, don’t buy a used one and don’t share it. Needle sharing is a known transmission vector for hep C.

Not that that was only needle I shared but certainly the most memorable. Needle sharing was not at that time known to be dangerous and even the AMA, the medical establishment, didn’t know and reused needles which was why such things existed to be gold plated.

I would also like to note that my girlfriend was strung out before I met her — I didn’t drag her down.

Going back home to the farm and a loving Christian family did give me the perspective to realize there was no future in meth and I have never gone back to it. Although I still had a substance abuse problem with marijuana that would take joining the Hare Krishnas to kick at least a future with possible options was now open to me.

I did a freshman year in high school in North Dakota then got a scholarship to the Phillips Exeter Academy, a boarding school in New Hampshire where I attended 2 and one half years. I connected to the scholarship through a program run by the Minneapolis Tribune, a newspaper I delivered.

Exeter has a lot of famous alumni, probably the most well known to the younger generation would be Mark Zuckerberg who got the idea for Facebook at Exeter.

When I went to Exeter I repeated the grade. The cut off in ND at that time for what grade you were in was Nov. 1st and I was just a few days shy of that so young for my grade and I had taken Shop and an Agricultural course  which didn’t translate well into Exeter academics hence the repeat.

Which meant that the kids I grew up with were graduating in 1967 while I was Exeter ’68. That wasn’t the only reason I dropped out, there was also a lot of teenage angst going on, as well as the fact that at that time Exeter was still an all boys school. I was also starting to realize that the war in Vietnam was a huge mistake.

I went back home mid year and by the following fall I was in Concordia College. Needless to say, after 2 1/2 years of living in a dorm , college life wasn’t as exciting to me as it was to a lot of the wide eyed incoming freshman. As a matter of fact, I found myself hazing them like I had been hazed years before.

The academics weren’t as challenging as I was used to  and I basically put little effort into them.

That summer I took a job in Minneapolis at a Whirlpool factory assembling ice cube making machines. We built them for 6 different companies, including Sears brand Kenmore, the only difference being which tag we put on at the end of the line.

By mid summer I had tired of that and quit. I then met Duke. Duke was a 30 something from Harlem who had a cool convertible and  made his living hustling, a character right out of some novel.  He would go out at night and come back with a pocketful of dollars. He had been a pimp in San Fransisco but got into some trouble there and was looking for a port in a storm. We gave him a place to stay until he go on his feet which he did quickly.

My roommate and I were smoking pot thus already on the illegal side of the law so when he introduced us to meth  it wasn’t a hard sell. Once started  meth quickly became the dominant feature of my life and the very reason for existing.

After about a month Duke hooked up with another tough and robbed a gas station for money to travel back to the West Coast. We read about the robbery in the newspaper.

We gave up the apartment so I traveled to SF to find Duke. I never did find him and somehow ended up living in Long Beach, California. I used to travel a lot and considered if I had spent a month or more in a single place that I had lived there.

While there I took a day trip to LA and ended up in Griffith Park on a week end day. Music was going on in three different areas. One was a bunch of guitars jamming and another was about 40-50 drummers doing a drum circle, quite impressive.

The third was devotees doing hari nama. Fortunately for me, I must have had some small attraction. After I got out of jail later, I remember going music store to music store, trying to find karatals, the small hand cymbals devotees use. No one had them of course and I didn’t hear them again until years later. Somehow or another the crystal clear sound penetrated the cloak of ignorance I was tightly wrapped in and connected with my soul.

So some attraction was there, maybe not for the Holy Name itself but for some portion of the sound vibration. Of course I was so strung out, and probably on the 3rd or 4th day of not sleeping so I was incapable of just leaving that behind and joining the movement at that point but the seed had been planted.

I think Krishna saw the predicament I was in and that I had even a nano amount of attraction and interest and set in motion the events that would save me.

So any devotee who reads this and was in Griffith Park fourth quarter of 1968 doing hari nama, public chanting of God’s names, thank you.

After spending weeks of being wasted, breathless and coughing, I finally got an inhaler from my family physician and a prescription for antibiotics. I usually avoid antibiotics  but this was getting ridiculous. He hooked me up with a specialist who seeing the first antibiotics weren’t working after a week changed the prescription and switched me from an inhaler to a nebulizer after which I started getting better.

That worked and soon I was able to walk the 3 meters to the bathroom without panting and trips to the kitchen also became pant free. I had about 50 % capacity of deep inhaling before having to cough but now I am at about 95%. No coughing without deep inhaling but it still lingers there.

The other thing he did was put me on prednisone, a steroid to combat inflammation in my lungs. Which it seemed to do that but it had side effects.  Reading from a long list of them the two that really nailed me were elation and insomnia. Which also happen to be two effects of meth. Back in 1968 I fell in with the wrong crowd one thing led to another and the next thing was injecting methadrine.

While the prednisone wasn’t quite as bad as the meth, it was close enough that I couldn’t help but be forced to deal with the memories. 1968-69 I spent 9 months on the needle. On meth you don’t need to sleep. I have gone 9 days without sleeping as a matter of fact. We soon learned  that wasn’t a good thing because after about 4 days of not sleeping you start to have your dreams even while you are awake and the longer you go the harder it is to distinguish them from reality. So every 4 days we would hit up some Seconal and crash for 24 hours until we woke up and took off on another run.

With the prednisone I was having nights where I was only able to sleep one hour, hour and a half, 3 hours. Every few nights I would get some more but napping was a luxury. I was also wired up like on meth when you are able to really focus and get a lot of work done. As I had just  had a month where nothing got accomplished due to being too wasted, I was behind on a lot of projects and I did spend the extra waking hours being productive at least.

Though I am now clean and sober closing in on 40 years, and don’t even use caffeine, I’m still a meth addict.  I like it. I liked being strung out on the prednisone but as I told my doctor I wanted it to end. Not that I am worried I will take up shooting meth again, I am more mature in my sobriety than that, but how easy would it be to slip into a caffeine addiction if I got too used to being hyper?

The prednisone prescription I had was 6 pills a day for 3 days, then 5 for 3 days, stepping down one pill every 3 days until done, then a few days before the effects wore off so I am now back to my regularly scheduled kidneys have failed insomnia with no desire to get back on stimulants so out of the woods on that account.

How did I get off meth? I will recount that in a post another day but spoiler alert it includes being prayed for by my Christian family, 80 days in the Hennepin County jail and running into the Hare Krishnas in Griffin Park, Los Angeles in 1969.

Next Page »