Monday, April 2, 2012

The Itchy and Scratchy Show

Rob recently asked me when my symptoms first appeared. I usually try to ignore Rob, but there was a good chance he was going to buy me dinner that night, so I played along and continued the conversation. (Oh, kidding! I'm just trying to entertain Nell.)

Kidney disease is known as the silent killer because by the time you realize you have it, lots of damage has already been done. I like to refer to it as the sneaky stealth bastard disease, but that's just a personal preference.

The first alarming symptom was blood in my urine back in June 2005. It was right before I went to Grand Teton National Park, and my test results were due as soon as I got back from vacation. At this point there was no protein, only the blood (microscopic hematuria), and so I was being seen by a urologist who was screening for bladder cancer. I had to be tested every three months, had three invasive procedures, and wasn't having a ton of fun. Then my urologist retired, closed up shop, and mailed me all of my medical records. Since he didn't hand over my case to anyone, I just stopped going to the doctor. Not smart, I know, but I just wanted it to go away.

Within a few years my fatigue started getting progressively worse, and again doctors chased random stuff -- even having me do a sleep study to see if I had sleep apnea. No one was thinking kidneys.

There was also another symptom that appeared around 2007-2008 that baffled me: the itching and scratching. It happened every time I exercised. I'd start running, the blood would begin pumping, and then like clockwork I'd start itching like crazy. I scratched like a crystal meth addict convinced that there are bugs in her skin. The intense itching only subsided when I stopped running. I'm sure I drove friends nuts, because I always had to bail from the workout. Now I know that this was one of 10 common symptoms of kidney disease. It makes sense. My kidneys are not able to clear the waste from my bloodstream, so my blood is filled with toxins that make me itch.

At the time, though, I was looking OUTSIDE my body and was sure it was detergent or body wash that I was somehow allergic to, and I cycled through dozens of products trying to find something that would make me itch less. I swear I tried every bar soap that Target carries.

So my first symptoms were little things that didn't seem to connect:
  • blood I couldn't see
  • fatigue that wouldn't relent
  • itching I couldn't explain
It was out of frustration and desperation that I made a rheumatology appointment at U-M, and it was Dr. Monrad (a total rock star) who very quickly ran all of the key kidney tests and referred me to nephrology. It was the first time someone took the time to look at everything and make sense of it all. She is my hero. 


  1. Your time line brings back memories of the request not to have Dove soap in guest shower bc you were allergic to it. When the broader history is looked at all the subtle symptoms now seem to make sense. Keep educating us!!

  2. Thank you, Dr. Monrad!

  3. Thanks, I love to be amused ;)