I have often wondered if my kidneys were programmed to fail when I was born, or if they were simply the victim of a rough and tumble world; or maybe a bit of both.
I know, everybody is different, but maybe my case could be useful for others.
I had some kind of blockage that stopped urine from leaving my left kidney, which eventually destroyed it. It happened when I was 19, full of beans, and in the Navy. I was on a training ship cruising Storm Bay in Tasmania (yes, it was stormy) at night in rough seas and I fell off balance against a chart table with sharp edges. Bruised and sore, but thinking no more about it I carried on – until my ailing kidney stopped me in my tracks.
When the damage first revealed itself (as pain, pus and general misery), my doctor said: Well at least you have a spare on the other side. But after looking more closely, I discovered for the first time that my spare was missing –it had failed to grow when I was young, so my problem was bigger than first imagined. Rather than removing my badly damaged kidney and letting the other take over, the surgeon did his best to repair it, but it was obvious I was lining up for dialysis sometime in the near future.
This triggered my first backward glance: if I had known I had only one functioning kidney, maybe I would have lived my early years quite differently: maybe in a safe, non-contact world, spending the odd day wrapped in metaphorical cotton wool, protected from the rough and tumble by notes from my Mum.
If I had known.
But that would have meant quite a different childhood and adolescence: no Robin Hood roughhouse, Samurai swordfights or Ninja jumps from trees and balconies; no defending myself (however lamely) against the current bully, no Aussie Rules football, basketball or Rugby; no boxing. No Navy.
Hmmm. If I had known, maybe I wouldn’t have enjoyed my early years as much as I did.
But then there’s the other side. If I had lived in a cocoon, maybe I’d still have my working kidney. What would I be doing now? Besides not writing this post, I have no idea.
Also, after my kidney failed many good things happened: the best being that I met Julie, who was to be my wife of 41 years (so far). She was the ward nurse looking after me when I woke up from kidney surgery. While my life changed abruptly, it was not all bad. Yes, I was discharged from the navy, which disappointed me greatly; but we also married and I couldn’t imagine a better life than the one we’ve had.
Now years later, here I am alive and kicking, sitting at this keyboard getting philosophical.
So, was my journey down End Stage Renal Failure Alley the result of a high momentum argument with a chart table or was it the result of a glitch at birth, triggered by that argument? (Either way, the chart table was not an innocent bystander.) Then, thinking about my kidney glitch, was it just a random hiccup as my body formed in the womb, or was it a bug in my DNA code?
If it was a random glitch, so be it. But if it was a DNA bug, could it be passed on to my kids (and their kids, and so on)? While I can do sweet nothing to change it, I would still like to know.
DNA analysis is pretty cheap and easy, so why not have my DNA analysed and find out?
How? That was about the time I heard about 23andMe, a company that analyses people’s DNA. Just what the doctor ordered (so to speak).
(I later found that while a DNA profile is an amazing thing, knowledge about causes and effects in our DNA it is still evolving, so not every question is answerable – yet).
So, for a few hundred dollars, I signed up for a journey of exploration around my own DNA.
Part 2, how that worked and what I found about me, my health, my family (including new relatives) and my ancestors will be in my next post.