When it was confirmed that I had Chronic Kidney Disease ("CKD" for those in the know), I began to feel inordinately guilty about my life-style, certain that I have been the main agent responsible for my condition. Now you may say, “Kidneys tend to fail for everyone; the older they get, the less functionality they have.” Yes, that is true, but I had been indulging myself in a way that I consciously knew was damaging to my kidneys.
In 1960 I came in contact with the writings of Dr. John A. Widtsoe, and as part of my study, I read of his considered opinion regarding the negative effects of chocolate on the human body, particularly on the kidneys. In his view, theobromine, a caffeine-like alkaloid, had a negative effect on the kidneys. As a result of reading his book, I decided that I would forego any further consumption of chocolate. For nearly 25 years I was a confirmed rider on the non-chocolate bandwagon, only occasionally eating carob bars as a substitute.
In 1984, however, at farewell party being held for our family in West Lafayette, Indiana, our hostess produced a velvet, double-chocolate, German chocolate cake baked especially in my honor. I am not certain why she did it; I was notorious for my not eating chocolate. I thought that discretion was the better part of valor and I was persuaded to consume a rather large piece.
I had fallen off the non-chocolate bandwagon in a rather dramatic fashion, bouncing three times, and then slipping under the wheels. For the next 25 years, I allowed the bandwagon to roll over the top of me, over and over again, until I was buying huge sacks of Reisens (the best chocolate confection on the planet) to put next to my computer in the den. I enjoyed every minute of every hour, of every day of those 25 years. So when the announcement came that my kidneys were turning in to shriveled lumps of coal, I really thought that I had caused the problem.
When our local organ grinder, Dr. Wurlitzer, allowed me to ask a question or two during the June visit, I specifically asked about the effects of chocolate on my kidneys. He immediately dismissed the whole notion, suggesting that dark chocolate would be good for me. “Buy a couple of bags of Reisens and put them next to your computer. They will do you good!” I gave him a rather whithering look. I was willing enough to take his advice (my saliva glands were working overtime), but I thought to myself that just maybe he was not completely in touch with the facts. As a result, I ignored the serpent's hiss and turned my back on the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil Chocolate. I pursued my determination to knock out chocolate altogether. I told Trillium that just maybe this abstinence would cause my kidneys to get all fluffy and functional again. She gave me a jaded look and took another bite out of her Butterfingers bar.
Well, yesterday I received a little booklet from the American Association of Kidney Patients called “Kidney Beginnings: A Patient’s Guide to Living with Reduced Kidney Function”. I thought to myself that this was rather a quick response to my first blog on my renal problems. Everyone is reading this thing! Then I remembered that the first bills from Dr. Wurlitzer had just cleared DMBA. Those guys have probably been reading my blog and have set the AAKP on me. In any event, I want to share a few tidbits from the publication with you.
On page two the authors present “Kidneys 101”, a guide to show my kidneys are supposed to work. I quote, “Kidneys are like a 24-hour cleaning machine for your blood”. I was immediately reminded of an article that I had just read in the newspaper about a new telescopic eye implant. “Hummm! A seeing machine. At what point does a person become the Terminator? Does the telescope glow red? What next? Bionic knees, shoulders, hips, and toes? I then pictured Alice Krige’s character in "Star Trek: First Contact". Nothing left but the brain stem.
Needless to say, with all of these bizarre associations going on, I was losing focus on the text of the pamphlet. The next sentence read, “Kidneys are twin organs shaped like kidney beans.” At that point I wanted to know which came first, the kidneys or the kidney beans. Which was shaped like the other. I had a deep and abiding compulsion to go on the internet to find out who was sillier, the authors of this ridiculous pamphlet or me... I controlled myself; I kept reading. I was happy to learn at the end of the first paragraph that “People can live a near normal life with as little as 20 percent of their total kidney function.” Hooray for me, I have a 17 percent margin.
I raced ahead in the booklet to find out if there was anything I could do to help out poor Bob and Tom. The next part of the pamphlet, however, was directed at those things that I could do to help the medical profession make it through the current economic slump. Then, and only then, did the authors gave me a few hints:
1. Keep your blood pressure down, lower than 120/80. I just put on the cuff and my current blood pressure is 43/2. I guess I’m okay on that one.
2. You may need iron supplements to avoid anemia. Frankly, with hemochromatosis that does not seem to be an issue.
3. Avoid Alka Seltzer, Milk of Magnesia, and Enemas, or any combination thereof. Ew!
4. Avoid herbal medicines, folk remedies, witch doctors, and chiropractors. Well, there goes my whole health program!
5. Take it easy on protein. They suggest eating a deck of cards instead of a three ounce steak…. Or something like that… Maybe it was that a three-ounce steak is about the size of a deck of cards… Whatever…. They’re all insane.
6. Exercise appropriately. I get out of bed in the morning and I climb back in at night. That’s enough aerobic exercise for me.
7. Limit phosphorus. I have to anyway. If I don’t, I glow in the dark.
8. Watch your potassium. Bummer! I like French-fried potassium. It’s the best!
9. Be careful about fluids. Quoting the manual, “Remember fluid is found in such unexpected things as jello, watermelon, gravy, sherbet, and many other places like outdoor ponds, irrigation systems, swimming pools, and kitchen faucets.” Wow! Everywhere you turn!
Trillium tells me that I ought to avoid magnesium, too, in addition to the “Milk of” recommended in #3. How does this all affect my diet? Where would I acquire vasty amounts of magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium?
CHOCOLATE! Saith the deponents.
So… no Reisens; no velvet, double-chocolate, German chocolate cake; no licking my wife’s fingers after she eats a Butterfingers candy bar; and, horror of horrors, no tri-tip steak, double-dipped in hot fudge sauce. Life has just ground to a halt.
Oh! And by the bye. I just received the report on the ferritin check that I had a week ago. I am now at 45.7, a drop of 1.1. This is without any phlebotomies for three months. According to “nutitiondata.com”, an ounce of chocolate contains six times the amount of iron that an ounce of sirloin has. Hmmmm! Have we discovered a ….