You Wouldn’t Kidney, Would You?

By Ashleigh Brilliant   |   August 30, 2018

Growing up in England – as I did for two-thirds of my early life – I was very familiar with “kidney,” as in “steak and kidney pie,” which in that country is almost a staple, and was certainly among my own favorite entrées. But I took no anatomical interest in either the steak or the kidney, and had only the vaguest awareness that the kidney was an organ (although the exact function of the steak was even more of a mystery.)

Indeed, so abysmal was my ignorance that, apart from loving that pie, the only kidney memory I have from those years was a joke about a man who goes into a butcher’s shop and says, “I want a pound of kiddlies.” The butcher says, “You mean kidneys, don’t you?” – to which the customer responds: “I said kiddlies, diddle I?”

Little did I dream that I would one day be writing here, to you, about kidneys – and only on what we might whimsically call “doctor’s orders.” The explanation takes us back to the 1970s, when I was a relatively new arrival in Santa Barbara, and had, as my first “primary physician,” a doctor named Gerald Marmorstein, who happened to be writing a book about his own medical interests, which included the physical and psychological effects of caffeine upon human functioning. Back then, I’d always disliked coffee, but I had the Englishman’s inherent love for tea (a preference which might have prevailed throughout America to this day, had it not been for a little misunderstanding over taxation, which came to a head in an unfortunate incident known as “The Boston Tea Party”).

I myself drank four or five cups of tea a day, and Dr. Marmorstein advised me to quit it entirely. I did so – but I hadn’t realized just how much of an addict I had become. I suffered shockingly severe withdrawal symptoms, involving violent headaches, which went on for several days.  But from then on, and with the exception of mild chocolates, I have stayed off caffeine. Meanwhile, Dr. M. had finished his book, which he called The Psycho-Metabolic Blues, and he had found a publisher, a local firm called Woodbridge Press.

Knowing about my illustrated epigrams, which, as “Pot-Shots,” were already appearing in the local newspaper, Dr. M. thought that they might serve to brighten up his book, if he used some of them as illustrations. I was happy to agree, and Dr. M. took the idea to Woodbridge, who liked his book, and also liked my work – but thought they could make two books of them, rather than one. So, Dr. M’s book came out, without any illustrations, and my work appeared in what became a whole series, the first one titled I May Not be Totally Perfect, But Parts of Me are Excellent.

And that was how a doctor got me into publishing. But as we become older, more and more of the people we have depended on, retire. (I often feel it’s like being in a battle, and having your horse shot out from under you.) Dr. M. retired, and I needed to get a new doctor, and fortunately, I found one nearby – a young M.D. named Michael Fisher. He practiced general medicine, but he also had a specialized interest in nephrology, i.e., the kidney. His office was, in fact, located right above the Santa Barbara Artificial Kidney center.

Fortunately, I’ve never had need of his specialty, but for many years, Dr. Fisher has been my doctor of first resort. And now he too has published a book, about his own specialty. It’s called Surviving Kidney Disease. For better or worse, he apparently never considered using my work in it – but recently he asked me, in view of what he considers my “vast following,“ to help him publicize the book.

Let me say, then, that if you – or anyone you know – has a kidney problem, this is definitely the book for you. It doesn’t dwell on anatomy, but centers on the uplifting stories of particular patients, and of how, despite their condition, they have been able to live fulfilling lives. It also tells about Dr. Fisher’s own early career as a Peace Corps physician in Bolivia, and his more recent successful struggle with, and recovery from, lung cancer.

Thank you, Vast Following, for tolerating this much of a deviation from the usual tone of this column – which, as you know, tends to be of an entirely different kidney.


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