Tuesday, November 8, 2011

In Which My Mother Faces Homelessness at the Onset of a New England Winter

On June 29th, 2010, I had a kidney transplant.
I spent the following seven months at my mother’s house, working part time and being largely miserable and emotionally unstable, due to the difficulty of adjusting to a brutal daily pill regimen that includes heavy doses of immunosuppressants (to prevent rejection of the transplanted organ), and to the migraines and insomnia that come with this adjustment. I was supposed to feel like I had been given a second lease on life, but I was more depressed than ever, and I felt like my body was dying.
The one thing that sustained me for those seven months was the promise of getting my shoulders rubbed in the evening, after I spent eight hours toiling at a local department store, organizing dusty, recycled clothes for eight dollars an hour.

I would come home from work and eat a chicken pot pie every night.

Then I would retreat to my mother’s room. She would be sitting up in bed, always reading the bible or stories of people who’d briefly died, only to return to life with grand stories of the heaven they’d experienced on the other side.
I felt persistent hostility towards the books on my mother’s bed, and hostility at my mother for reading them. I remember reading an excerpt about the music in heaven, about how incredible it was, and I openly made fun of the book to my mother, asking her how she could possibly believe in this crap, and silently wondering how she could possibly believe in a god that gave her daughter chronic kidney disease at four years old, and then, total kidney failure at the age of twenty-three.

Today, I sense that the hostility I felt towards her was actually a kind of misunderstood jealousy. Jealousy of her capacity for any kind of belief or hope, religious or otherwise, in the face of great adversity. Today, that jealousy is tinged with admiration. Because I have learned to recognize and be unashamed of that admiration, I am working towards it: a belief in hope. Regardless of the source of her hope and whether or not I approve of that source, I can’t deny that I have reaped all the benefits from it.

My mother was my rock in my time of recovery, because her strength and patience never faltered. She would rub my sore, tense shoulders every night, oftentimes while I made fun of her and her bedtime reading material. In the year after the transplant I became a hypochondriac because of the constant threat of illness caused by the immunosuppressants, which lower your immune system’s defenses and make you much more vulnerable to sickness than a person with a fully-functioning immune system. I would fully convince myself that my migraine was a tumor, my chest pain was heart disease, and oftentimes I felt like my entire waking life was a near death experience.
While my mother rubbed my shoulders she would say: “You don’t have a brain tumor. You don’t have heart disease.” I would answer back with grim statistics about the rates of cancer and heart disease in people with suppressed immune systems. I would go on and on about my statistically shortened lifespan, but she always calmly maintained that I would be ok. I was reluctant to hear her reassurance at first; I had convinced myself that I would be a statistic, and that this pessimism was actually realism.

But after a while, I started to believe her words. They began to soothe me, and with my mother’s emotional support I was able to return to school to finish my degree.

During spring break of this year, I learned that the disease that caused my own kidneys to fail had returned in the transplanted kidney. I moved home to receive plasmapheresis treatments three times a week in Boston. I had a catheter inserted into my chest, with the plastic ports (tubes) hanging out of my skin. These ports were hooked up to a machine that eliminated the plasma from my red blood cells.
Three times a week I would do this for three hours. My mother would sit with me patiently as I received this treatment, and then we would drive home in the rush hour traffic. When we got home, she would wash my hair in the kitchen sink, since I was unable to take a proper shower for three months (I couldn’t get the catheter wet or else I would risk contracting a blood infection that could spread to my heart, since the inserted catheter ended in the vein just above my heart.).

During this time, she was waiting to receive her green card from Homeland Security, which she had recently applied to renew so she could continue to work legally in the United States as a hospice worker. She was told that this process would take six months, but it took nine.

Which brings me to the present moment, in which my mother faces eviction from her modest home in a mobile home park in the small town of Carver, Massachusetts, because she has been legally unable to work for the past three months.

You might be wondering why I’ve given all this seemingly unrelated back story about how my mother took care of me during the most terrifying time of my life. It is because my mother is now facing the terrifying possibility of homelessness, and at the beginning of a New England winter. It is because I wish I were able to soothe my mother’s fears in the same way she did mine, but I can’t. Because I don’t have $2,295. Because I am like millions of other Americans who struggle every month to make rent, who live paycheck to paycheck, who work incredibly hard and have next to nothing to show for it. Because I called my mother this morning to see how she was holding up, and I can hear in her voice that she has lost the hope that so compassionately sustained me in my time of need. Because, ironically, now that my mother is ready to go back to work, putting her in a position to be able to afford her house, she faces losing that house and being forced to start at square one at fifty-six years old. Because of $2,295.

There are millions of other people and organizations in need who deserve your attention. There are so many people in need that our brains sometimes lump these people together as a homogenous “lost cause,” and this allows us to become desensitized to a very real need. This desensitization helps us to justify our apathy. I do not intend for this to sound like a bunch of self-righteous condescension; I think everyone is guilty of this apathy, myself included. I’m sure this apathy is in part a natural response to the helplessness that is felt in the face of overwhelming circumstances. I am writing this to provide the story behind one of those people in need; my mother is not just a faceless part of a group of “lost causes.” I am writing this because my mother is too embarrassed to admit that she needs help, but I am not.

If you are reading this story and would like to help my mother, please email me at hgardine@student.umass.edu, call me at 774.273.1401, use the PayPal link in the upper right hand corner of this blog, or send donations to:

Hilary Gardiner
11 Marks Way
Carver, MA

All donations are appreciated beyond words, and if people do donate, I will post when the goal has been reached so donations will stop. Please include your return address if you mail a donation, so that I can return the donation to you if the goal has already been met.
My mother needs this money by the second week of December if she is going to keep her house. If you are reading this after then, please do not send donations.
If you don’t have the means to help, that’s okay too. Thank you for reading this.


  1. I've landed here from Reclusive Leftist. You and your mother are both unimaginably brave and strong, dealing with so much, all at once. My mother had kidney disease and a transplant. I've seen how hard that is on the body. I really hope things work out for you both. I'll send what I can.

  2. Here from Avedon Carol's The Sideshow. This just breaks my heart. All best wishes to you and your mother.

  3. Good luck Hilary - I contributed something - I hope you can collect what is needed in time!!