My life is a series of numbers.
That's how many medications I take daily. For high blood pressure, tremors, excessive fatigue pain.
Numbers of times I've been admitted to the hospital since Dec. 1, 2017.
Numbers of doctors I currently see.
Total number of hours I tend to sleep in a 24-hour period, give or take.
Current percentage of kidney function.
Number of times I thought I was going to die since the New Year.
Number of doctors who have been there through it all.
When I first began experiencing nighttime nausea in mid- to late-2014, I chalked it up to my sugar being high.
I was diagnosed with Type II diabetes just two years earlier, and while my sugars were never exceedingly high, I did have moments where they would spike in the 300s, which would make me feel significantly ill.
In April 2016, I couldn’t ignore the issue any longer. I had been sick an entire weekend. That January, I had started working out in earnest, and I’d lost about 50 pounds on top of about 40 I’d lost the year before.
After that entire weekend of being sick, my friends made me go back to the doctor.
She recommended a colonoscopy and an endoscopy, but also decided to send me back to my kidney doctor, whom I had not seen in four years. I had a kidney doctor, you see, because I had an acute kidney injury in 2009 after taking a prescribed medication that caused more problems than it fixed.
That first appointment, I certainly didn’t expect to be told my kidneys were failing.
Actually, they told me that over the phone, later that day after some tests were run. While in the room, Dr. Cain with Carolina Diabetes and Kidney Center and Sumter Medical Specialists ran through a checklist of kidney disease symptoms.
Nausea. Check. Vomiting. Check.Cold spells. Check. Foggy brain. Check. Burping. Check. Itching. Check.
When he asked me about the hiccups, Leigh Ann was with me. She said it was like one of those “record-skipping” moments in an 1980s teen movie.
Dr. Cain made Leigh Ann and the nurse leave the room. Before I knew it, I was on the examining table, and he was poking and prodding and asking more questions.
Hiccups apparently were a sign of imminent renal failure. Who knew? Who knew that nausea and vomiting had anything to do with your kidneys?
Dr. Cain was very patient with me over the next two weeks. I went to see him three times a week to work on my blood pressure – which was averaging about 220/150 (normal is 120/80), another symptom of renal failure. Five blood pressure medications later, and we brought it down to a still high, but more comfortable 140/92.
Throughout the summer, Dr. Cain helped me reconstruct my diet. No potatoes. No tomatoes. No ketchup. It was hell. He started me on peritoneal dialysis in November. They say it takes about two to three months to notice a difference, but I noticed changes within just a couple of weeks.
Namely, the shakes I’d had for at least a year were slowly fading away.
By January 2017, the only symptom I had left were the hiccups.
Most of 2017 was uneventful, until November. I began to have shortness of breath and terrible upper back pain. I would walk across a room a be winded.
A visit to Palmetto Health Tuomey's emergency room led to hospital stay No. 1, where it was determined I had the early stages of arthritis and low hemoglobin. They also found my potassium to be so high that I was ready to have a heart attack at any moment. Dr. Cain and his staff determined that my peritoneal dialysis wasn't working properly, so we tweaked it.
I made it through Christmas and New Year's, but I caught what I thought was just a cold. I couldn't shake it for anything.
On Jan. 15, I got up and couldn't move most of my body. Everything hurt. I managed to go to work for about two hours. I drove to Dr. Cain's office and had to call inside to get someone to help me out of the car.
Dr. Cain found an irregularity in my heart beat from an EKG. He sent me to the hospital for stay No. 2. They monitored my heart for three days to make sure it was fine and sent me home.
I went home on a Wednesday. That Sunday, I was back after I had trouble holding my balance and catching my breath. I also had some intense chest pain.
During stay No. 3, I was told I had an enlarged spleen, sepsis, peritonitis, flu, pneumonia, MRSA (in my nose), hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and hyperkalemia (high potassium).
I was there for nearly two weeks.
And Dr. Cain came just about every single day. I'd say he maybe sent another doctor twice. But those other doctors, like Dr. Suchinda, are just as capable.
Stay No. 4 was just recently. In fact, I got out Wednesday, if you're reading this on a Thursday.
I woke up the Wednesday before and couldn't get my breath. I began to have a panic attack and then it was like I was suffocating.
Dr. Cain and other medical staff discovered that I had fluid on my lungs. They were almost full. Dialysis wasn't pulling enough off. Everything is adjusted now and we're pushing forward looking into the reasons my body doesn't want to make hemoglobin.
So, I can’t say enough about Dr. Cain and the staff at Carolina Diabetes and Kidney Center. I wish that I had went to him back in 2014 when I was supposed to have a checkup. They might have caught my kidneys at 40 or 50 percent instead of 22 and, ultimately, 4 percent.