Free drugs

I’m not new to the Scottish National Health Services (NHS), having had my first experience with them about 10 years ago, but I guess that my American upbringing is just so overpowering that I’m still taken aback from time-to-time with the strangeness of socialised health care.

And today just happened to be one of those days.

You see, I have been on medications for my kidneys for nearly a year now because it would seem that this silly polycystic kidney disease thing has decided to play up a bit. (Darn; so much for being invincible!) Before I left the States, I filled a super-sized prescription so that I didn’t have to worry about it straight away. No problem.

Then, way back in November, I finally got around to seeing my local doctor. And he gave me a new prescription for when my American drugs ran dry. When I got home, I tucked the paper away and forgot about it. Until I took my last pill last night.

So this afternoon I took the prescription to Boots to have it filled. I expected to have a bit of paperwork to fill out as this was my first time filling a prescription there. And I expected to have to come back in 15 minutes to an hour to pick up the filled prescription.

But that’s not what happened. No, instead I handed over the prescription, the pharmacist scanned the barcode on the prescription, printed a couple of little stickers, turned around, grabbed a couple of boxes, slapped the sticker on them, asked for my signature, popped the drugs in a bag, handed them to me, and sent me on my way.

Three minutes tops. No money was exchanged. He had all the information he needed on the prescription form so didn’t need to ask me anything further. That was it. Our transaction was over.

It’s strange, because I forgot that they don’t charge for prescriptions in Scotland anymore—though they charge in England, and when I was here 10 years ago they charged in Scotland, too. And then, I was being seen at the hospital instead of a clinic and there was some loophole with getting medications at the hospital that meant I didn’t pay then, either.

I know that this post may seem more random than most, but someone asked that I share more stories about the differences between life in Scotland vs life in America, and the NHS is certainly a pretty big difference!

And it’s still weird for me, this NHS business. I mean, I love the service; I love the care; I love the ease (and cost!) of filling prescriptions. But it comes at a price because I’ve handed over the control (and ownership?) of my medical history to a massive government agency. And that’s scary to me. Really, really scary.

(But I’ll leave my commentary there because 1) I admit I don’t fully understand the politics behind it all and 2) I have a friends who work for the NHS and I don’t want to say the wrong thing here and have them correct me later!)

Why run?

I’m running my first—and last—ever marathon in the morning. I’m pretty excited about it, but at the same time I’m rather dreading it. You see, I don’t actually enjoying running exceedingly long distances. 10Ks and 12Ks are fun. Heck, even the occasional 10-miler or half marathon would be an exciting race to train for. But a marathon is 26.2 miles and is simply too long to enjoy.

Of course, that statement makes one wonder why I’m going through this torture in the first place. So, let me tell you!

I am running a marathon in the morning because Paul didn’t; because Paul can’t; because Paul died about a month before his first marathon.

When we first met, Paul was anything but athletic. Then, shortly after we got married, he decided to join my gym with the caveat that it was a one month trial—and the insistence that he would hate it and quit. In fact, in the first week or so I thought he would! But then he found the treadmill and was pretty excited about that.

A few weeks after finding the treadmill at the gym, Paul set a goal to run a 5K. But he would never run more than that. Then I mentioned the Spokane Bloomsday 12K and he was uninterested (too far, you understand) but eventually he changed his mind and ran that. But he would never run further than that.

Then he ran his first half marathon. And then he started to talk about how he’d like to run a marathon before he was 50. So when he decided—at the age of 47—that he was ready for that first marathon, I smiled. After all, he only ever wanted to run a 5K!

Paul loved running. It became a true passion in his life and he was good at it. And he trained and trained for the marathon—he even ran whilst we were on our last holiday to England.

Paul died a week before what would have been our third run at the Bloomsday 12K—and a month before the Coeur d’Alene (Idaho) Marathon. The Bloomsday 12K took place the day after his funeral, so there was no way I could have done it, but at the time I felt this odd need to run (or at least walk) the marathon for him. But that was silly since I could barely stand on my own two legs for the first few months after he died. In fact, I gave up running all together for quite a while after he died.

Anyhow, I eventually got back into running again and felt the need to run a marathon before what would have been his 50th birthday. And that would be this November, so I needed to get in gear and start training!

Of course, I am not really in shape for this adventure. I don’t have the stamina to run that far. Between my blood condition and kidney disease (and pure laziness), I’ve been struggling with getting the training in and maintaining my health. In fact, often times I can hear Paul yelling at me about how a woman ‘in my condition’ ought not be running a marathon. I can also hear him nagging me about getting my training in and about how I need to be careful not to make myself sick and about how I need to eat my breakfast—especially on training days—and that I need to remember to cross-train.

But, as Paul well knows (knew?) I am stubborn and when I say I’m going to do something, I do it.

So that’s why I’m running. I’m running for Paul. But since running for Paul makes me feel happy, I suppose that I’m running for myself, too.

Oh! And I managed to talk Rebecca into running with me. She’s running for her own reasons as well as for charity. (Don’t be shy you don’t have to know her to sponsor her!)

Paul: I know I won’t enjoy this race as much as you would have. And I know that I won’t make as good of time as you would have. And I know you probably don’t think I should be doing it at all. But I know you’ll be there cheering me on. I love ya, luv! xx

The trouble with Bob and Dave

Bob and Dave* are my kidneys. Bob to my left; Dave to my right. Both are riddled with cysts and are considerably larger than normal kidneys. Bob is nearly double the average kidney size; Dave is a big’un, too, though slightly smaller than Bob.

Bob and Dave are the silent sufferers of polycystic kidney disease (PKD). I’ve known about the condition since I was five years old and am just one of several people in my family with the genetic disease. But I’ve always been lucky in that I’ve not had significant problems with my kidneys. In fact, if it weren’t for the cysts which are present in ultrasounds, you’d never know I had kidney disease at all!

From time to time I will get a kidney infection or a cyst will cause me a bit of pain. But my blood pressure is in the normal range and my microalbumin creatinine levels have always been awesomely normal. Which isn’t normal for someone with kidney disease—especially as they move further and further away from their first birthday—but I’ve never been normal, right?

I’ve long prided myself for my healthy diet and my exercise patterns. And my doctors have all agreed that those lifestyle habits have helped me to maintain my kidney function, blood pressure, and overall health for all of these years.

But then Paul died. And my diet went downhill. And I wasn’t getting any exercise. After all, cooking for two is more enjoyable than cooking for one—that’s what TV dinners are for. And running without your favourite running partner just sucks.

And that means that for nearly two years I’ve just not had my once-healthy lifestyle. I mean, it’s not been completely rubbish, but it’s not been as good as it once was. So it shouldn’t have come as too big a surprise when I was called back to my doctor’s office to discuss the results of my lab work from earlier this week.

Long story short: My Bob and Dave are no longer giving 100% to their task of keeping me healthy. They’ve started to look toward retirement, and it’s really making me sad.

OK, in fairness, I am not in kidney failure—nor do I expect to be in kidney failure in the near future. But for the first time in my life, my microalbumin levels are elevated. And that means that it’s time I realise that I’m not immortal. It’s time I realise that I do, in fact, have a progressive, genetic kidney disease and that I am, in fact, a sicky.

I’m trying not to blame myself for Bob and Dave’s lack of work effort. I mean, they are genetically pre-disposed for part-time work and early retirement. I tried to give them incentives to work hard for 35 years, but for the last two years I’ve not been the best manager. So of course they’re staging a bit of a work slowdown now.

I’ve been trying meaning to get better about managing my health for the last year, and I suppose that now I really do need to grow up and stop pouting. I must get back to my pre-widowed eating and exercise habits before the crew completely walks out on me.

But just in case they up and quit, I’ll give a quick plug for organ donation:**
If you’re not an organ donor already, consider signing up to give the gift of life because, despite the pretty picture I’ve drawn to accompany this story, kidneys do not actually grow on trees.

Now I’m signing off to go feel sorry for myself for a while. But I promise I will snap out of it soon. After all, depression isn’t good for your health!

* Thank you to Layla for providing my kidneys with names. It’s not something I’d considered in the past.
** I don’t need a kidney transplant at this time and likely won’t need one for years and years so please don’t feel the need to offer yours up. I’m naively optimistic that when if I do go into renal failure, they’ll have come up with a fantastically-awesome robot kidney solution! (Robo-Frances at your service!)

Friday eve

Friday eve is here and I’m celebrating with a cold bottle of Pyramid Brewery’s Haywire Hefeweizen and a bowl of pretzels.

It’s strange because, if you didn’t know, I’ve been teetotal since the end of January. Not because I have a drinking problem and should be teetotal, but rather because I’ve been very stressed lately and that stress has made me unhappy. Added to that, I’ve not been sleeping well. And let’s face it: booze + stress + sadness + insomnia does not equal a good idea!

Also, I try to stay away from salty snacks. Having kidney disease means that I need to maintain my blood pressure and salt is not a friend of low blood pressure. (Then again, neither is excessive amounts of alcohol!) And as pretzels are extremely high sodium—even compared to potato chips—they are a rare treat indeed!

So why am I lapping up the beer and salt tonight? Well, because I’ve had a pretty good week that has seen some of my stress [temporarily] melt away. And it’s because for two weeks now, my blood pressure has been around 115/75 which is pretty gosh-darn-good for a woman in her [late?] 30s with kidney disease.

Oh, and I guess I’m also having a mini celebration because I had my dental cleaning and check up today and am cavity free. Not bad for a candy addict, huh?

So—Yay for Friday eve!

100 random things

My friend posted a list of 100 random things her daughter wrote about herself out of boredom and I thought I’d give it a shot and create my own list. So, if you’re not already bored, this should help…

100 Random Things about Just Frances

  1. I am the preantepenultimate Cook Girl.
  2. I enjoy showing off my vocabulary skills.
  3. I cringe when I see incorrect grammar, spelling, and punctuation. But I only correct errors when I’m being paid to do so. [To clarify: I generally correct the errors in my mind, but only tell people of the errors when I’m paid or otherwise requested to do so.]
  4. I think that demonstrating the ability to change a vehicle’s tires and oil should be a compulsory part of passing a drivers’ license test.
  5. I wear glasses and will never get eye surgery because I like that the glasses obscure the fact that I don’t wear makeup.
  6. I’m a distance runner. (Well, I dabble in the sport at least.)
  7. I am Catholic.
  8. I joined the school cross country team because the coach asked me after church in front of my dad and the priest. How could I say no?
  9. I have never felt at home in my hometown.
  10. I am proud of my small town red neck roots.
  11. I found my true place of belonging in Scotland nearly 10 years ago.
  12. I am returning to Scotland later this year!!
  13. I am rubbish at math[s] and I don’t care.
  14. I am correct handed (also known as left handed).
  15. I believe that there is a conspiracy in the works by right-handers who are jealous of us amazing lefties. Even pens are made with righties in mind! (But not all of them!)
  16. I have hazel eyes that are more on the green end of the spectrum, but wish that I had truly green eyes.
  17. I pretend to be happy even when I’m sad.
  18. I can’t fake tears; I’ve tried.
  19. I am dyslexic. (Yet I edit things for a living. Ironic!)
  20. I had speech therapy as a child.
  21. I am the co-inventor of the term SUBS Syndrome and hope that one day the term is widely used to describe the condition of sudden, uncontrollable bursts of sarcasm.
  22. I honestly believe that the media is helping to perpetuate ignorance in our society. The biggest culprit being the “news” media.
  23. My master’s degree will be in media and culture, so I’ll get to do a lot of research on this very issue!
  24. I once sang on stage with Pat Benatar who was opening at the Gorge Amphitheatre for the Steve Miller Band. Really. True story.
  25. I’m a little bit country and a little bit rock-n-roll all at once.
  26. I like candy, but I could live without chocolate.
  27. I love to fly!
  28. I prefer the aisle seat on airplanes.
  29. I say a prayer asking God to guide the hands of the crew and to keep us safe in our journey; and I ask that if His plans don’t include our survival that He comfort our loved ones. I do this for every take off and landing because something compels me to.
  30. I try to order low-sodium meals on the plane and drink lots of water so that I’m refreshed and non-puffy when I arrive. I even wash my face 2-3 times on long flights to/from the UK. I think it helps the jetlag. But that might not be true.
  31. I can’t decide which movies I like better: The Godfather series or the Monty Python movies.
  32. I have polycystic kidney disease. It’s a genetic condition with no cure. But some smart people are working to find a cure!
  33. I have a blood disease called idiopathic thrombocytopenia purpura. Even the haematologists who study it don’t know much about it. Which sucks for me.
  34. Despite my medical maladies, I think I’m mostly healthy.
  35. I dream that my doctor will one day say “To live a long and healthy life you must eat lots of good steak and salty, deep-fried foods, drink lots of wine, and smoke.” Of course, if I hear those words I know it’s time to find a new doctor.
  36. I cry myself to sleep at least once a week.
  37. I recently ended a friendship that I didn’t want to end. I’m sure it will be one of the reasons I cry myself to sleep over the next few weeks.
  38. I haven’t slept through the night since Paul died.
  39. I sometimes wonder if I’ll ever sleep well again.
  40. I thought that I was ugly growing up because one of my sisters told me over and over again that I was. (Funny, we all look alike!)
  41. I thought that I was stupid growing up because a couple of my teachers said I was.
  42. As an adult, I’ve learned to love myself and know that I’m good looking and intelligent.
  43. One of my Paul’s friends told me that I’m a great person and I’ll find someone new when I’m ready—but that I’d have better luck if I’d dumb it down a bit. (Said person has likely never been married for a reason.)
  44. Several of Paul’s friends have become my friends and I don’t think I could have survived the world without him without them.
  45. I didn’t go on my first date until I was 20 years old.
  46. I married my first true love.
  47. We were a month shy of our 4th anniversary when he died.
  48. I try to be happy and enjoy life because I know it’s what Paul wants for me.
  49. I sometimes think that I’ll meet someone new and fall in love and get married again and I know that Paul would be OK with that. But I can’t be bothered to date because no one is good enough for me.
  50. Thinking that no one was good enough for me is what gave me a reputation for being an overly-picky dater in my 20s.
  51. Being an overly-picky dater meant that when I did land a man, I got the best one on the market!
  52. A stupid woman once told me that the reason I can’t have kids is that God thinks I’d be a bad mom.
  53. I have been a foster mom for a little over six months now—so at least the State of Washington thinks I’d be a good mom!
  54. Paul and I planned to adopt two adorable children before he died.
  55. Sometimes I’m heartbroken that I may never get to be someone’s mom.
  56. I have 17 nieces and nephews and 2 great nephews.
  57. It irritates some of my sisters that their children want to be so much like me.
  58. I’ve had green hair. And pink, purple, blue, yellow, orange, jet-black, and bleach-blonde. Sometimes multiple colours all at once!
  59. My favourite colour is green.
  60. My first car was a 1978 Ford Granada.
  61. My friends and I sanded it down, primed it black, and then painted a big yellow smiley face on the hood and flowers and peace signs all over the body. It was awesome.
  62. I passed my driving test on the first try.
  63. I taught Paul how to drive.
  64. I’ve taught some of my nieces and nephews how to shift gears. (But please don’t tell their moms!)
  65. I have a fascination with butterflies and have since I was a young child.
  66. I have a butterfly tattoo.
  67. I played clarinet in the school band.
  68. I am training for the Loch Ness Marathon.
  69. I am a Pisces.
  70. I was born in the Year of the Tiger.
  71. I don’t believe in astrology stuff.
  72. I will be 37 years old on Monday.
  73. I don’t really like to make a fuss about my birthday.
  74. I have read dictionaries and encyclopaedias for entertainment since I was in junior high.
  75. I don’t like romance novels because they make me uncomfortable.
  76. My friends think I am a prude.
  77. I try never to use profanity because I think it’s vulgar and shows a lack of respect. (But sometimes it slips out in a heated moment of upset.)
  78. I taught myself how to knit and crochet but can only make basic things like scarves and afghans.
  79. I like root beer.
  80. I don’t really care for Coke or Pepsi.
  81. When I was in my late-teens and early-20s, I’d hang out at the local 24-hour diner with my friends drinking coffee and eating cheesy fries with ranch dressing. It was awesome!
  82. I am considered a computer and gadget geek by my family and friends.
  83. I love Doctor Who, but I hate SciFi.
  84. I define SciFi as anything I don’t like.
  85. I always like to have the best gadgets in the room. Sadly, some of my new friends are gadget geeks with better incomes so this is hard to do now.
  86. I love my family.
  87. I am going to miss my cat, Schrodie, so much when I move to Scotland.
  88. I am going to miss my family so much when I move to Scotland.
  89. I used to have Mork & Mindy suspenders (braces) when I was a kid and I wish I still had them now.
  90. I loved Weebles as a child. They were awesome they way they weebled and wobbled but didn’t fall down!
  91. I always wanted tassels on my handlebars when I was a kid. But not so much that I got them as an adult.
  92. My favourite toys growing up were a telescope, a microscope, a rocket kit, and an electric circuit board kit.
  93. I don’t like gold-coloured jewellery.
  94. I like dirty martinis with extra olives.
  95. I drink my coffee strong and black with no sugar.
  96. I am excited about starting grad school in September.
  97. I am afraid that I am ruining myself financially by going to grad school.
  98. I am convinced that going to grad school will fix me emotionally and mentally.
  99. I am excited about my future for the first time since Paul died.
  100. I feel guilty for being happy about this new life, even though I know Paul would be happy for me.

Wow! That was hard! Are you still reading? You deserve an award for that!!

Edited to add: Since folks have been asking where/what their award is, I feel it’s fair (OK, not fair but cheap) for me to say the award is knowing me that little bit better. Sorry it’s so lame! (But thanks for reading!)

The gift of life

My aunt received a new(ish) kidney today, courtesy of a very dear friend of the family. (We’ve always said that Jeanne was part of the family – and now she really and truly is!) My aunt was the third family member to receive a kidney transplant. The first was my uncle, who received a kidney from another uncle in March 2002. The second was my mom, who received a kidney from a ‘cadaver donor’ in September 2006. In all three cases, the new kidney means a new lease on life – a chance to live free of dialysis.

But why all the transplants? Because my family has been affected by Polycystic Kidney Disease – one of the most common life-threatening genetic diseases. It affects approximately 1 in every 500 people. It does not skip a generation and parents with the disease have a 50 percent chance of passing the disease on to each of their children.

Over time, the number and size of the cysts will increase, along with the size of the kidneys. Whilst a normal, healthy kidney is the size of a fist, a PKD-riddled kidney can grow to the size of a football, weighing several pounds.

There is no cure. But with proper diet, exercise, and care (including the ever-important issue of keeping blood pressure low) the progression of the disease can be slowed. Ultimately, someone with PKD will need dialysis and/or a transplant at some point.

Four of my parents’ six daughters have the condition – including me. And the next generation of my family is also affected by it. And the odds are that the one after that will be affected, too.

I won’t get on my soapbox about organ donation, because if you know me, you already know my views. But I encourage you to learn as much about organ, tissue, and blood donation as you can and make an informed decision as to if it is right for you. And be certain to let your next-of-kin know your wishes, because they will ultimately make the decision for you should you die.

For more information on becoming a donor please visit the Organ and Tissue Donation and Transplantation service in the USA or the NHS Blood and Transplant service in the UK.

But, back to my aunt and the amazing Jeanne. The entire family is so pleased that such a wonderful woman has done such a wonderful thing. I know that my teenaged cousins are pleased to know that their mom will be up and running around with the vigor and excitement she once had. I know my mom will be pleased to have her sister around for years to come. And I know that everyone will always know that a woman who didn’t have to sacrifice so much did – with nothing to gain other than the knowledge that she’s given the gift of life.

Thank you, Jeanne. We all love you more than you may ever know!

And a thank you to the transplant team at the University of Washington Medical Center. I know I’m a Coug fan, but today, I’m shouting GO DAWGS!

Chili cheese dogs

I love food. Expensive food, cheap food, homemade food, and overly-processed food-like substances. The last is a group that I don’t get to enjoy often, partly because having kidney disease means I need to watch my sodium intake and partly because I’m too cheap to buy a lot of processed food. (It really is cheaper, healthier, and quicker to cook from scratch!)

Sometimes I find myself thinking a particular “processed food meal” sounds good but then I realize that it’s not easy to justify when cooking for one. But when an old friend from high school posted on Facebook that he was making chili cheese dogs for dinner for his family, it got me thinking that I really, really wanted one, too.

Sadly, hotdogs are sold in packs of eight, as are hotdog buns. And I’m only going to eat one – maybe two – then I’m stuck with loads of extra dogs and buns. Oh, and the rest of a can of chili con carne, but at least that can be used for a lunch later in the week.

Because of my “eating for one” dilemma, I find myself taking advantage of times when there are people around to share food with. And since my 11-year-old nephew is here with me all week whilst attending a fun and adventuresome week of day camp at the university, I’m taking the opportunity to cook all of those wonderfully-delicious meals that I’ve longed for – and that every growing boy loves!

Tonight’s dinner? Those chili cheese dogs I’ve been thinking about for two weeks!

Tomorrow we’ll have a picnic dinner at the top of Kamiak Butte and Wednesday we’ll have tacos. We’ve not decided what to do for the rest of the week, but you can bet baked tofu, curried cous cous, and arugula with low-fat goats’ cheese won’t be on the menu!

It’s a good thing the kid’s only here for a week or I’d be running the risk of high blood pressure, kidney failure, and extreme weight gain!