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If you read my first post, you know I’ve had a kidney transplant. Many people seem to think that a transplant is “one and done.” Once you slap that lumpy glob of tissue in, bam, no more problems. Like that Surgeon Simulator video game (Rage Quit, anyone?).
The reality, though, is that I’m living a very different life than most 19-year-olds—from taking a cocktail of daily medications, to going home for blood work, to monthly injections, to dealing with the crippling idea that my days with this kidney are numbered and that someday I will have to go through it all again. But I’ve learned a lot about balancing my normal with everyone else’s idea of normal.
Here are some things that have made a difference for me and might even help you (health-challenged or not):
I sleep. A lot. Because my body is working a lot harder and under a lot more stress than normal, I need a good eight hours each night. That’s not what a lot of people think of when they hear “college.” It took some trial and error, but after I found a routine and settled down a bit, I was better at listening to my body. Like taking a nap through two alarms and 38 texts from my friends because I was late for dinner when my body simply couldn’t go anymore.
Snacks in the Chat.
I’ve found that it’s absolutely necessary to keep extra food in my dorm, no matter what meal plan I have. Not just snacks, either, but food that can work as a meal.
The Dining Hall keeps odd hours, especially on the weekends, and I know bad weather easily discourages me from walking to the Chat on a Sunday afternoon. While it’s important for everyone to stay nourished, it’s especially important for those of us with health challenges. Personally, I can’t eat a lot at once, so keeping a steady supply of (semi) healthy food in my dorm is key. I can grab a string cheese and a handful of pretzels in between classes when I don’t have time to swing by the Chat or Dining Hall, or make a sandwich when I wake up from a nap and it’s 7 p.m. and I don’t feel like putting shoes on.
As tempting as it is to try cutting off all contact with your parents, it’s important to keep them in the loop—even if your friends seem independent. They probably know more about your insurance coverage than you do. I know not everyone’s parents are that involved, but having someone who has your medication list permanently memorized is great. I can’t tell you the number of times my mom has texted me asking if I need more mycophenolate or tacrolimus and, sure enough, I check my supply, and I do. It’s a relief to have someone else handle just one thing while I try and balance the other 900 things that come with being a college student.
As silly as this sounds, I’ve gotten good at writing emails. Communicating with professors, mentors, and other students is key. If something comes up, health-related or otherwise, it’s important to be able to clearly explain what’s up. And short, to-the-point emails with clear structure and clean sentences are going to get you what you need rather than a jumbled and uncapitalized mess without any punctuation.
Heinz Hall, where you'll find Student Health and Counseling services.
Utilizing not only Student Health Services (in Heinz), but Counseling Services (Heinz) and Disability Services (Knight), will help you in ways you don’t even know. SHS is great. They can do all sorts of things for relatively low prices (like blood draws and injections, as well as just general check-ups). Counseling Services is another invaluable resource. Therapists are like common-sense filters, and it’s good to just settle down for 45 minutes every so often (we have a relaxation room—see picture in header). Disability Services is just a good resource to familiarize yourself with in case (God forbid) you have any extended health challenges and need exemption from deadlines or things like that.
I have to work extra hard to take care of myself, but it’s good for all of us to remember: You know your body best. Try to find friends that support and care about you. I’ve received lots of offers for kidney donation from my friends, which is a little odd, but overall appreciated. Now, if only they knew their blood type...