By Rev. Ron R. Jones
May is a very special month for me. I was six years old on May 9th! My actual date of birth is December 4, 1940, but due to the vagaries of time and circumstances, I got a new lease on life six years ago.
This happened as a result of a kidney transplant I received at Commonwealth University Medical College of Virginia Hospital (MCV). With state-of-the-art techniques being employed at the time and top flight surgical teams, I was able to return to my home just six days after the surgery. My living donor, my wife, Lois, came home in just three days!
The events leading up to my rebirth began playing out several years ago when I was a child. There were indications of kidney failure, though at the time it was not recognized by anyone. Through my teen years I suffered from severe leg cramps and outer ear pain which I now know are indications of impending gouty arthritis which results from poor kidney function.
As an adult I suffered from hip and knee pain and at age 40 I developed full-blown gout which disabled me at times. Severe foot pain, especially in the first joint of the great toe usually on only the right foot, required the use of a cane and soft topped shoes.
Ultimately in 1989, when I came to the Northern Neck to become pastor of White Stone United Methodist Church, I chose a personal physician who discovered during a general physical examination that I was suffering from “significant kidney failure”. Specifically, he said I was suffering from End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD). He predicted that I would require dialysis within a year.
This was a terrible blow to my mental and emotional life, but because I have a personal faith that allows me to know that no matter what happens to this body, I can live triumphantly. My wife and I made a pact to fight the disease with all our might. Accordingly, we changed our life style beginning with diet and exercise. The result was that within a year I had lowered my cholesterol count to 150 (good for me), had dropped about twenty pounds and we were walking about three miles four or more times a week.
Quarterly visits to the Nelson Clinic at MCV revealed that my blood counts had stabilized and the progress of the disease was slowed, but after a little more than three years the counts became dangerously high and in late June 1993, I began undergoing dialysis. I decided to utilize a method known as peritoneal dialysis (PD) in which hypostatic fluid (high concentration sugar/saline solution) is introduced through a permanently implanted catheter at least three times a day into the abdomen around the intestines. The wastes normally collected by the kidneys are absorbed from the small blood vessels in the intestinal walls. I used this system very effectively until May 9, 1995, when my wife made good on the decision she had made several months before by donating a kidney to me.
This transplant has been totally successful with no indications of rejection for the six years, and we commemorated that on May 9, 2001.
Now when I have the time, I visit a local dialysis clinic and talk to the patients and counsel with those who are on the waiting list for transplants or who may be weighing the decision about going on the waiting list. I also am able to teach the use of the PD system, since it is usually done by the patient at home.
That’s one fabulous memory, but I want to submit a second great memory, the anniversary of which is May 7th.
My wife found an old leather-bound diary while assisting a newly appointed principal of a school in northeastern West Virginia as they prepared to open school in the fall of 1965. Thinking it was “just an old diary”, the principal suggested she could keep it. That evening she and I investigated her one 100-year-old treasure and found, to our great joy, that it was the personal field diary of Cornelius Gandy, Captain, 15th West Virginia Infantry Volunteers. He was born and reared in the region of West Virginia near where she and I grew up.
This was the third of three such diaries the captain had written while on active duty with the Union Army. He and his corps had joined with the Union forces under the command of General Ulysses Grant in April 1865, and helped in the pursuit of the Army of Northern Virginia under the command of General Robert E. Lee as he tried to outrun his pursuers and turn south for supplies.
We all know that on the morning of April 9th the final battle of the Civil War was waged. Here in his own words is the entry for that day from Capt. Gandy’s diary:
“Marched at 3 a.m. We march 2 miles and camp for breakfast. Clear nice
morning. Resumed our march at 8 a.m. Commenced to fight at 8. General Lee
surrenders at 9 a.m., his whole forces consisting of some 30,000 men. We
incamp (sic) tonight near the surrender of Gen. Lee.”
After repeated efforts to put the old diary into the hands of some family member or a museum only to meet with repeated rebuffs, I stored the rather fragile book in a plastic baggie and kept it close at hand in my desk drawer.
We moved to Virginia in 1966,and I thought we would always have the Captain’s
diary in our home. As a matter of fact, it afforded a kind of presence,
as if the spirit of the Captain was always with us. I had often commented
that he was like a member of the family. My mother remembered his family
lived near her when she was a school girl walking to class past his house
and had some insight into the family’s personality.
After a couple of phone conversations, on May 7, 1999, I met Mr. W. T. “Tom” Williams in a restaurant in Colonial Beach and handed the 134-year-old document to him. He had retrieved the 1864 diary, but to date, the 1863 diary has not been located, much to our dismay. It turned out that the diaries had been in the possession of his mother’s sister who had taught history in that West Virginia school. We believe she accidentally left the diary behind.
This was a very stirring moment for me and I suspect that every year when May 7th comes around I will think of Tom Williams and that very special day.
There is yet another series of reasons why May stirs memories. My wife’s birthday is May 6th, a niece’s birthday is May 7th, my son’s birthday is May 21st and then in the year when the transplant occurred, each of our daughters presented us with grandsons, one born on May 25th and the other just eight hours later on May 26th.
I will be going on disability leave this July and one final event is stirring me right now. Our retirement home is being completed as I write this article. Isn’t it easy to see why the month of May is such a wonderful month for me?
© 2001 Rev. Ron R. Jones All Rights Reserved.
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