Oh hey, here’s a thing you probably don’t know about me: I only have one adrenal gland.
Now, if you’re like most people, you just went: “Hold on. How many adrenal glands are we supposed to have?”
Two. The answer is: two.
This brings us to another thing that you likely don’t know about me: Once upon a time, I had a tumor the size of a grapefruit atop my left adrenal gland (which, for the sake of comparison, is about the size of a large almond). It was a surpassing rare thing called a pheochromocytoma (or “pheo” for short, which: Cute?).
Pheos are pretty dang deadly, particularly if you are a pregnant person who goes into labor — but bizarrely, I never went into labor with either child, because the pheo created medical crises that quickly led to two emergency C-sections (and don’t you dare tell me that it was my body or my babies being wise because that’s just stupid and yes, I’ve heard it a lot).
No one really understood why I’d had these medical crises, though, until six months after the girl was born and I had a sudden renewal of acute symptoms that scared the poop out of everyone, including a long list of medical professionals (many of whom had missed the pheo during the roughly 10 years that we now presume it was growing & making me vaguely-to-very-unwell in ways no one could figure out), but then I got the correct diagnosis within days, and was immediately scheduled for surgery.
The surgery itself is dangerous (lots of blood vessels on a pheo), but we got through that ok, and upon extraction, learned that my pheo was, ahem, “benign” (I much prefer the term “non-cancerous,” because honestly, does any of the foregoing sound “benign” to you?) — and, well, that adrenal gland on which my pheo sat and which had to also be removed? Who really gave much thought to that? After all, I have another one, sitting right there, pheo-less, just above the other kidney (in case you wondered where your adrenal glands are situated).
Well guess what? That extra adrenal gland isn’t like the spare heart that it turned out Worf had in Next Gen — it’s not, actually, “extra” at all! You need it. Your body actually needs its organs and removing any of them, even if it saves your life, is still rather traumatic for the whole. And not only that, but the adrenals are absolutely critical to the functioning of the entire endocrine system. So, you know: ripples upon ripples.
As a result, after my March 2004 surgery, I spent a few years in a hazy state of not-quite-right-ness, saddled with a daily cycle of exhaustion that I couldn’t make sense of but could track on the clock. Eventually, through a variety of small fixes and efforts at fixes, I found my way to a naturopath who has since worked marvels and wonders for me, through cold hard scientific testing of my body’s functions and slow-but-sure tinkering with a variety of supplements and herbs. I am so, so much better than I was when I first hove up on Lisa’s doorstep that I can’t rightly put my gratitude into words. Everything is better. Every. thing. is. better.
And yet — I am still, as Lisa says, “down an organ.”
If I have to expend an unusual amount of energy for any reason — say, cleaning for Passover, or traveling across the globe — it tends to knock me flat, the minute I can let down my guard. I know this, and tend to plan for it, carving out as much “I will be sub-functional” space as I can on the day after some big event has passed — but on a very real level, even though I “know” it, I realized today that I’ve never truly taken it in. Here’s what finally dawned on me today, as I left Lisa’s office after talking (again) about how hard my lonely little adrenal gland has to work:
I’m an amputee.
You can’t see it, but I am, in fact, an amputee.
If disease or disaster had led to, say, the amputation of one of my limbs, or (better analogy) part of limb, say: My lower left leg, below the knee — no one on earth would expect that amputation to have no impact on my ability to function in the world. Least of all me.
I could get the best prosthesis on the market, the one with all the bells and whistles — and it still wouldn’t be a leg. I would still have rough days, certain aches and pains would nag, particular activities might well stop all together (pogoing at concerts, for instance. Maybe? I don’t know. Can you pogo with a prosthesis?). My life would be full and active, with all the joys and sorrows — but I would be half a leg down.
I am an organ down — and yet something inside the very deepest recesses of my brain seems to think that if Lisa and I tinker enough, my body will magically act as if that’s not the case. As if my wee, singular adrenal can shoulder double the workload, no prob Rob!
I think that this dawning realization is wrapped up in the other dawning realization I’ve had this summer — the understanding that I have to (at the very least) change my relationship with writing, self-promotion, my career. That when I try to do an enormous amount of time-consuming work that is also emotionally draining, I wear myself down to a little nubbin, and only in part because I’m weak/wimpy/a crybaby, whatevs.
My body literally doesn’t have what it takes to do that anymore.
So anyway. There’s that. Don’t know that I have any grand and/or pithy conclusions, but I thought I’d share. Peace out. And be nice to your adrenals. Both of them.