Everyone knows me as Maggie, but in an annoying quirk of my hospitalization, my medical records and wristband all bear my legal name, Frances. “One name for each grandmother,” my mom reasoned when my parents decided to christen me Frances Margaret. An unintended consequence of their thoughtfulness is that I have spent much of my life correcting people who called me Frances. “It’s Maggie, short for Margaret, my middle name,” I said.
But in the hospital, it helped to have a second persona. Frances put on a brave face during the hours of treatment in sterilized facilities, while Maggie drew inward, refusing books and music or anything else that reminded me of who I was outside the hospital walls. From where I sat, pinned to machines by the needles in my veins, in a body I hardly recognized, and with a label on my wrist displaying a name that wasn’t mine, I couldn’t be sure that it was me this was really happening to. I listened patiently as doctors and nurses and technicians came into my room to offer Frances their well wishes, draw blood, or discuss what medications she should take or what procedures might make her body strong once more.
[An Arizona farm has been blamed for part of the large, nationwide E.Coli outbreak. Read more here]
During my first week of hospitalization, the kidney doctors debated whether to begin the dialysis process, sticking to the typical “wait-and-see” approach. But by the end of the week there was no question. I had gained 30 pounds from all the excess fluid and could hardly stand up and walk on my own. I began my first of many three-hour-long dialysis treatments, where they siphoned off the liquid, doing the work of my kidneys that I had so long taken for granted.
I had mostly avoided social media since getting sick, but one day, I logged onto Facebook to see that across the country, people I knew and people I didn’t — a pair of girls I once babysat for, a football team in Rhode Island — were praying for Maggie, hoping Maggie pulled through. The more people that worried about me, the sicker I must be, I thought.
The dialysis continued for three weeks with tiny but measurable results. My platelet counts began to climb, and I started to pee again. But it wasn’t enough to impress the nephrologists, who decided to surgically place a catheter in my chest, to both drain and administer fluids.