Torturous kidneys, empty hospital rooms, and love

My kidneys don’t like me.

And I can’t say that I’m their biggest fan, either.

Last Thursday, I found myself in the ER yet again for another kidney stone. It was a bad one—at one point, I was crawling on the floor of the waiting room like an infant, then on my knees and keeled over while moaning and writhing loudly, and finally in the fetal position trying not to cry. Yes, we’re in a global pandemic, and I was on the floor of a public place. Judge me all you want. If you’ve never felt the pain that a kidney stone causes, then you can’t understand my behavior. I will apologize zero amount of times.

Not my best day ever

When I finally got to a room and had some morphine and other drugs I don’t recall pumping through my veins, I looked around the very empty and quiet space, and for a brief moment, I felt sad. (I definitely don’t remember all of my thoughts or things I said that day once I was drugged up, but I distinctly remember this.) It wasn’t the first time that I had been in a hospital room all by myself because of my kidneys, but something felt different.

I didn’t call anyone. I eventually texted my sister, and apparently I later posted an Instagram story, but part of me didn’t want to reach out to anyone. I didn’t want to ask for help. I didn’t want anyone to feel obligated to offer to be there with me. I didn’t want to feel like I was a burden for anyone. (Plus, with the whole COVID thing, I knew that a hospital is probably the last place anyone would want to be.)

While I know that those thoughts are toxic and that I have enough genuine people in my life who would have been there in a heartbeat for me, it’s simply how I felt in that moment. I didn’t let myself sit in that pity party for long, though, because even if it did hurt my heart a little, one of my life creeds took over.

You are valued. You are loved. And you matter.

I may not have a boyfriend or husband or a date for any Saturday night ever, and I may have met guys who have deceived me and told me lies, but that doesn’t mean that my life is like a lonely hospital room. No one person is going to meet all of our needs, anyway.

And even though I know those things—and I don’t want to be a complainer—it’s not always easy being single. I’m a strong independent woman, and I get really pumped up when I hear Beyoncé, Kelly, and Michelle preaching the lyrics in “Survivor,” but I completely understand what Selena Gomez means when she reminds us that “The Heart Wants What It Wants.” (I’m aware that I talk about being single a lot, but I was once in a writing class in which the teacher told me to write what I know—and I know a heck of a lot about being single, so I write about it.)

I realize that life is going to be difficult sometimes, and our plans don’t always pan out the way we would prefer that they would. Duh. That solo hospital excursion likely isn’t the last one I’ll have. It’s OK—Destiny’s Child, remember? But I don’t want people to think the same things I thought that day. Your people care about you, and they would be upset if you didn’t reach out to them while you were lying in a hospital bed all by yourself. They love you.

Even when your kidneys don’t.

Strangers aren’t always so strange

It’s typically not wise to get in a car with a stranger.

But it might be acceptable if it’s a parked car with the promise of warmth and Destiny’s Child.

We have the opportunity to meet a lot of people in life, but some of them we won’t ever talk to. In some cases, that might be for the best. In others, though, we might miss out on moments we truly need in life.

When we’re little kids, we’re usually taught not to talk to strangers, which is probably a good thing because of all of the dangers that are out there in the world. It’s a sad reality. But when we get older, how far does the “stranger danger” belief have to go? Personally, I like talking to people I know and people I don’t know. I like to hear their stories and learn interesting tidbits about life from them—like when a mountain man I met while I was taking a break on a ski trip in my college years told me that mittens actually keep your hands much warmer than gloves do. To this day, I think about that conversation every time I put on gloves or mittens. I think one thing I love most about meeting new people is being reminded that every single person matters, and so many of them can quickly show you that there’s still a lot of good in this world.

One day last week, I went with my coworker/friend Michelle during our lunch break to grab ice for an event later that day. When we got in her car to head back to the office, the car didn’t start. She kept turning the key, and the car would sound like it was trying to start, but it just wouldn’t. I told her to pop the hood (as if I actually knew what I was doing), and I went to look in the engine while she kept trying to start it. I had zero clue what I was even looking for, but thankfully some guy came over to try to help. He thought it was the battery, but he couldn’t get the battery cover to pop off, so he suggested we call Triple A. I kept flagging strangers down to ask if they had jumper cables, and I was baffled at how many people don’t carry those around with them (or maybe they do).

Thankfully, some high school baseball players were happy to help and happened to have the cables. Their efforts failed (it turns out it wasn’t a battery issue at all, and her car had to be towed), but we were grateful for their willingness to help, and I was glad to learn how to hook up cables to jump-start a car. We didn’t know those young guys, and we will likely never see them again, but they helped us out when we felt helpless.

Then came Saturday, which was full of strangers all over the place. It was the annual Dallas St. Patrick’s Parade & Festival, which means more than 120,000 people were roaming around Greenville. Even though the previous weekend gave us 80-degree weather and time at the pool, Saturday’s high was barely 60 with morning temps in the low 40s. And it was windy, which means it felt like it was about 17 degrees out, give or take a few.

St. Patty's Parade
We are not in a stranger’s car anymore.

When my coworker/friend Fred (her real name is Emily, but I don’t call her that) and I arrived to watch the 5K race, I wondered why the weather had to hate us that day—I was wearing two pairs of pants and boots and had three layers on underneath my snowboarding jacket, and I was still cold. After the race ended, we went to go meet our coworkers so that we could stand another two-and-a-half hours IN THE COLD before the parade was set to begin. We were standing at a corner waiting to hear back from them on where they were exactly, and I’m guessing it was pretty obvious we were freezing our tails off, because the next thing we knew, some lady parked right by us opened her door and asked if we wanted to get in her car to stay warm. Fred looked at me questionably, but I made the call and hopped in the back seat of the woman’s car. She introduced herself as Shannon, and boy was she a firecracker!

Shannon apologized for the smoke smell (it was slightly suffocating), and she told us about her husband who “works with NFL teams” (not sure what exactly he does) and began chatting about a variety of things. She even handed us a CD book to pick out some tunes to dance to. Homegirl can dance. While I didn’t mind the LL Cool J she had playing, when I spotted her Destiny’s Child CD, I handed it to her, and she was delighted. That car was hopping as soon as “Bootylicious” was fired up. I wasn’t sure how Fred felt about this situation, but she looked a little uncomfortable, so I thanked Shannon and told her it was time for us to go find our group—even though it was much warmer in her car. We didn’t know that woman, and we may never see her again, but she helped us when we were feeling helpless.

I encountered many more people I didn’t know that day: There was the woman who let me cut in front of her in the line for the Porta Potty, the little girl who helped me get warmer by making me play “Ring around the Rosie” until I was dizzy, the Harley Davidson guy who gave me a new perspective on why burgers and sunshine can often overshadow the bad things in life, the woman who complimented my hair after a coworker’s kid said it looked like an octopus, and so many other people who probably have incredible stories and insights into life. They help us when we feel helpless.

I know you shouldn’t necessarily talk to every single person out there. There are certainly people who have cruel motives, but sometimes you simply have to trust that the right people have been put in your path at the right time. They might be there to help you in some way, or perhaps you’re helping them out somehow.

We really all need each other—strangers don’t always have to remain strange to us.