Other than some intense scarring, my time in the hospital left me with mostly internal injuries. While the damage was initially very visible, like most things over time, it began to fade. I don't walk with a limp, which is both a blessing and a curse, and tend to exert any lingering medical curiosities through strenuous internet research.
The research has, in fact, come to some avail, as I managed to find a photo of my own kidney about a year ago.
Technically, I had been looking for it. But it still caught me off guard. I still let it catch me off guard.
I saved the photograph to my phone and have since gotten into the habit of opening up the picture and staring at it, before tracing the contours of the tumor with my fingers, mapping the proximity of it all. The only way that I can even begin to describe the red and black mush in the photograph is with the words "fetal parrot." As to what that actually looks like, I don't know, but in my mind it appears exactly like my kidney. My dead, cancerous kidney.
When the doctors first told me that my kidney needed to be removed, I assumed that it would be returned to me post-surgery, in a jar filled with some type of Frankenstein-esque liquid preservative. It would be green, and I would keep it on my bedside table — as simple as that.
I suppose that this suggests that I've always had a fascination for the strange and wonderful, that things deemed "gross" have always provided a certain allure to me. While this morbid disposition could have quite possibly been there since birth, the devotion that I have to the abnormal facets of life has certainly become apparent.
I didn't find my kidney on the black market in some corner of the dark net; it was on a very professional and very accessible website. But still, reading about this seemingly random seven-year-old girl with a desmoplastic small round cell tumor in her kidney was strange, like replaying some of my most memorable childhood years from the perspective of someone completely unattached, unaffected.
There were other photos, too — a photomicrograph and a CT scan — but there was something about the kidney that stayed with me. I'd never seen anything like it. I knew other researchers and doctors had read it, seen the studies including my statistic, and felt at ease. They understood, they'd seen the photograph.
I've always been under the impression that there is something fundamentally wrong with me, some dark seed that was planted all those years ago when I learned that one of my kidneys would lose its partner. But it's more of a confusion in regards to my inability to function. For example, I have severe trouble working at restaurants because my shaking hands tend to be a bit problematic when it comes to carrying trays of food and pouring drinks. Or there's my occasional inability to do simple arithmetic, where instructors stare at me dumbfounded and inquire about any potential concussions.
My attempt to explain myself to people usually consists of something along the lines of: "Things just don't... add up." And when I see the confusion in their eyes — and, oh no, a glimpse of pity — I whip out the kidney photo in an attempt to communicate the sentiment that I am, in fact, OK.
My mother paled when I first showed her the picture, before zooming in and whispering, "Good job, little guy."
It wasn't necessarily the answer that I was anticipating, but at the same time, how the hell was she supposed to react? What exactly was I looking for when I showed the image to people? Parents, friends, teachers — most had the same horrified reaction, which quickly morphed into a sympathy that I wasn't seeking. A few were immediately intrigued, leaning forward so that they could get a closer look at me, and one even asked for a copy. That time I was the one caught off-guard and mildly horrified.
I can't delete the photo from my phone. But now, I don't know if I even really want to. I've managed to control the impulse to show others the picture, and instead keep it to myself, only stealing glances from time to time. After a while it's almost OK. After a while you sort of don't mind carrying it around with you. After a while, it isn't so heavy, almost like a photograph instead of the real thing.