The year 1998 was the beginning of a remarkable transformation for my family. My father, Jim Dineen, the always healthy, weightlifting, never-missed-a-day-of-work kind of dad, discovered he had kidney disease. He was 52, and had no symptoms. We don’t really know how he got it — he even guessed that exposure to Agent Orange when he was in Vietnam could have been a factor — and the road to recovery has been long. But in November 2003, my father received a healthy kidney at Christ Hospital in Cincinnati, where my parents live. My mom, Joyce, a year his junior, was his donor. After years of marital ups and downs, multiple surgeries for complications of the disease, and financial challenges by the dozens, our family dynamic changed for all of us in ways we never could have expected.
My parents have certainly had their troubles, and as their child I’ll never know how they made it to 38 years of marriage. They loved each other, but they didn’t seem to like each other very much. Dad was too fond of his beer, and he talked down to Mom a lot. When she tried to stand up to him, a fight would inevitably follow. I remember Mom once coming to visit my sister Leslie and me when we were both attending Miami University of Ohio. She told us she and Dad were splitting. But ultimately, our parents stayed together because of their faith. They believed somehow that God had a reason for them to remain married, and resigned themselves to sharing their lives, however imperfectly.
It was my dad’s disease that began to change things. In the beginning of his illness, he went through hell. In 1999, his electrolytes plummeted so low as a result of diuretics he was taking that he passed out and fell in the bathtub, fracturing both elbows and several ribs and suffering a concussion. He had been put on the steroid prednisone, and initially gained 40 pounds of fluid and almost lived in the bathroom.
Dad was self-conscious about his appearance, waiting until night to go out for groceries, and even then using the drive-through lane. The only time he really appeared in public in two years was at a wedding. Dad wanted to be there so much that he was willing to risk ridicule. (The only clothes he had at home that would fit on his swollen body were a gray sweat suit and slippers.) I don’t know where he found the strength to go on.
During it all, my mother stood by, sympathetic and helpful. She was at his side through six stomach surgeries and 35 more procedures to drain fluid that had collected in his abdomen from the prednisone. He and Mom had to work as a team just to get him through the day.