My name is Marijana. Marijana Novakov. Marijana Novakov Popović. Just like Mr Bond, James Bond. And, not to make this just a silly joke, just like 007, I’ve been hanging on to dear life by the fingernails, rising from my ashes like a phoenix. My nephew called me a medical cockroach, indestructible.
I was born in Novi Sad, where I’ve stayed for my whole life, despite being told that, when I was first ill at the age of 12, Novi Sad isn’t a good place for me. Nevertheless, I love Novi Sad, everyone I hold dear is here: my mother, my sister, my nephews, and my husband. My family.
When I was twelve years old, I’ve been diagnosed with a streptococcus allergy. First I had a swelling on one of my ankles, the other one soon followed, as have bloody spots on both of them. The disease I had been diagnosed with was called Henoch-Schönlein purpura. It is treatable. The two people I shared a hospital room with had the disease as well, and have been cured. I was not. The disease can spread to the brain, heart, or kidneys. In my case, it was the kidneys. At that point, I’m prescribed corticosteroids, and the disease is brought to a halt. Unfortunately, during puberty, the kidney insufficiency continues, and, at the age of twenty-one, on the second year of university, both of my kidneys failed. In the early 1990s, I start with dialysis. Nothing was in order (apart from the quality of the doctors and the well-meaning nature of the nurses), from the antiquated and inadequate dialysis machines, to the lack of cleaning agents causing filthy floors. I’ve spent thirty months on dialysis, two and a half years of my life. During this time, I explored options of transplantation abroad, but to no avail. In the summer of 1994, I’m told that my mother and father are suitable donors, which was incredibly fortunate. Surreal, even. The procedure is performed at The Clinic For Urology and Nephrology in Belgrade, in the waking eye of my beloved godmother, doctor Radmila Blagojević. For the last quarter of a century, she has been one of the most important people in my life, not many people came close to her.
For twenty-four years I’ve lived with dad’s kidney. Twenty-four years of ups and downs, happiness and joy, illness and kidney rejection, paragliding, a seven-day coma after having been bitten by a mosquito infected with the West Nile Virus, climbing volcanoes, scaling up mountains. And travel. Travel, which is the thing that brings me the most joy. Travel, the love of my life.
Dad passed on in 2009. He spent half his life worrying that I would reject the kidney, a fear that stayed with him until the very end.
Last year, in early November, dad’s kidney failed. I took it to its limits, down to anorexia and uraemia. I have used the gift my father had given me completely.
And then dialysis, again. Familiar, but different this time around. I’m 49, I can travel, I work. While I’m waiting for another gift of life, another kidney, I have this immense wish to transfer my knowledge and my experiences to people in a situation similar to mine. That is why I am writing this blog, and that is why I’m reaching out, to share our experiences, and make our journey easier and a little more colourful.