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"why Me?" Is Not An Option

Editor's Note: This article is reprinted from Voice of the Diabetic, Winter, 2004: http://www.nfb.org/vod/

"Why not you? What makes you more special than anyone else, that you should be spared pain and suffering?" As the pastor spoke, his message shocked some members of the congregation. Many had never heard such words. The missive changed some lives forever. It was my good fortune to be a member of the congregation that Sunday morning. His straightforward, unforgettable message has served me well.

Diagnosed with type 1 in 1957, my clearest memory is of wailing, while running through a hospital hall. As the other pediatric patients celebrated one child's birthday, the nurses denied me the delight of a scoop of chocolate ice cream. No matter what the situation, "No" is difficult for any four year old to accept. Denial of treats at a birthday party feels just plain wrong in a child's eyes. I don't remember what happened once I reached the comfort of my bed, but I'm sure I must have thought, why me?

It was another 28 years before the pastor's wise words reached out to me. In the meantime, I was diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy, had a heart attack, and underwent quadruple coronary bypass surgery. "Why me?" was most certainly on my mind, as I faced blindness and heart disease before the age of 30. But the pastor's message helped me realize that I'm no different than anyone else. Everyone is faced with adversity of some sort. The key to our survival is how we choose to react to our circumstances. It's a matter of attitude.

Wallowing in self-pity gets us nowhere. Oh, sure, it feels good at first--then what? Our physical health is affected by our mental condition, and before we know it, our overall health has deteriorated, tossing us into the eye of a downward spiral. Conversely, by choosing to confront our plight, we develop coping skills and, in the end, gain strength and confidence to face future health issues. At least that's the theory while life is flowing smoothly. But do we lose this lesson when the pressure is on?

My reality, end-stage renal disease and dialysis, soon put me to the test. I will admit to a period of denial. In the beginning, I wanted nothing to do with any part of dialysis. I was confident a renal transplant was forthcoming. However, I quickly realized the hopelessness of that approach. After adding my name to the lengthy transplant waiting list at UCSD Medical Center in San Diego, Calif., I waited.

With time, I accepted my circumstance. I took as much control of my body as possible, and began complying with the rules and regs of dialysis--proper nutrition, fluid regulation, and exercise. The support I received from the medical staff and from my family and friends was invaluable.

I lived the reality of the pastor's words. Never one to join diabetes support groups, I had lived a diabetic's life alone. Suddenly, I found myself surrounded by people with similar health concerns, many struggling with more serious issues than my own. A "why me?" mindset would have been self-centred. The experience taught me compassion, leaving me grateful for having heard the pastor's message.

Once I learned that valuable lesson, I was put to the test again. The wait was finally over. UCSD Transplant Center called me at 7:00 a.m., December 2, 1996. By 8 o'clock that evening, I was on my way to the operating room. Through warped time and fuzzy mind, I heard someone tell me the kidney was not functioning. Still, the doctors were optimistic. More than a test of my attitude, this had become the final exam of my fortitude. I almost failed.

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After three and a half months of immunosuppressants, dialysis, biopsies, and an intense course of antibiotics for cyto-megalo virus, the kidney struck liquid gold. That may have been the happiest day of my life.

Seven years after that joyful experience, the kidney is still functioning, but the tests continue. Through cataract surgery--one successful, one not--and amputation of the toes on my left foot, I have seen no point in saying, "why me?"

From each health crisis, I emerge, equipped with stronger coping skills. By avoiding the "why me?" mindset, I rapidly recover from crises that, at their onset, seemed irreparable. That good attitude is one of the most valuable coping skills in my medicine cabinet. It has allowed me to move forward toward a more fulfilling life, to realize dreams I previously thought impossible.

Give serious thought to your options. Choose an attitude that is health-promoting in the long run. Whether you have many or few options, avoid the "why me?" mindset. Ultimately, if you strive to prevail, the "why me?" attitude is not an option.