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You wouldn't believe where I am. You could guess, if you've seen the gratuitous images of my self-satisfied gurning face in front of an infinity pool on Facebook...otherwise you might find it hard to imagine the paradise in which I currently find myself.

I am in Dubai. Bar Abby Clancey and the cast of TOWIE, is is not everyone's idea of paradise - it actually wasn't mine. It is exciting, exotic and fucking hot, but the skyscrapers and traffic, the desert and cultural  deficiency (not to mention the chavs that clutter up the Ritz Carlton these days, I mean honestly...) suggest you'd be hard-pushed to call it paradise. It is vaulted to utopian heights simply because, four-months after the transplant, I am here.

My nearest and dearest suffered for seven years as I dreamily aired my wanderlust. Yet the reward of a post-transplant holiday seemed too extravagant a prize for which to yearn - wasn't a life free from dialysis enough? Wasn't having a drink when thirsty suitable compensation? I was content that it was; lots of people, for lots of reasons, cannot go on holiday - it is a luxury, not a right. But I desperately pined to travel: to wake up, lie in the sun and know there was nothing I had to might call it freedom. When my father and I first mooted the idea of a Dubai trip a few weeks post-surgery, I worried I wouldn't remember how to 'do holiday'.

Ah, my father, yes. It is because of my donor I can travel but it is because of Pa that I can come to Dubai. He is officially a UAE resident (for work/dodging tax purposes) and his lawyer's salary affords him (in every sense) my company. This is not a package holiday to Xanthe: the staff at the Ritz Carlton know my Pa by name. Even just with my experience so far, I shall have to give him my first born to even try and repay his generosity.

Casually picking up a limo from the airport.

Day One, Breakfast One.
As I write, I have been in Dubai for six days although thanks to an activated strain of my donor's CMV virus and a minor kerfuffle with my passport, I nearly didn't make it at all. Dubai has to be seen to be believed. The best way I can describe it is this: you know those 1960 sci-fi films that depicted the cities of the future (in mythical, unfathomable 2001)? Well Dubai looks just like that. There is desert, then suddenly there is a city that gleams and glistens under the ferocious Arabian sun. Everywhere you turn there are high, HIGH rise towers (Dubai boasts the tallest tower in the world, the Birge Khalifa: it is not dissimilar in shape to a Disney castle) crafted from glass, chrome and recycled plastic bottles (probably). The highways are six lanes wide and imported palm trees line the routes. The sky is perma-blue, although I hear it rained once, on a Thursday in 2009. Pa thinks it may be impossible to register a car here that is over a decade old and it is no longer an event to see a Rolls or a Ferrari cruise past. In fact it wouldn't be surreal to see hover-cars gliding above the roads - Dubai would suit them. Pa finds it hard to listen to Mozart out here because, "his European gloominess just doesn't fit."

The Birge Khalifa

View from the 51st floor.

You can literally get EVERYTHING here.
I shan't bore you with the details of my daily itineraries thus far, but most days have included:
  • a swim in a rooftop pool
  • breakfast outside
  • shopping in the behemoth of a mall
  • standing at the front of the uber-modern, Gold standard metro carriage and pretending I'm driving the train
  • exploring 5* star hotels
  • drinking in 5* hotels
  • eating dinner in 5* hotels
  • laughing at Pa as he endures one of his thrice-weekly personal training sessions
  • putting on weight
  • I was practically swimming with the fishes. So to speak.

    Unclear at this point whether Pa was still alive.
For two particularly special days, I was able to spend time with my beautiful Anna. The possibility of my visiting her in her adopted home has seemed remote for so long, yet on Friday 11th (transplant anniversary, I remembered in retrospect) we looked at each other as we lay in her beautiful garden and did that laugh-cry hybrid thing. A perfect 24 hours in her company included swimming in her outdoor pool with the Birge Khalifa watching over us, dinner and drinks and a 3 am finish. The next day, we ate incredible fish (and an entire bread basket and dessert  - there was also wine) under the sun at a restaurant set at the very end of a pier, so the crystal-clear sea lapped below us. It was perfect.
Incredibly happy hour.

The Birge Al Arab (in the background - I'm the one in front.)
Later that night, I was downing cocktails and ploughing through bowls of nuts (you order a drink here, you get nuts. I have taken to ranking bars by their nut selection. I have never eaten so many nuts in my life. I am returning half a stone heavier because of the nuts) with a gorgeous, glowing Fiona; a few years after we graduated, she followed boyfriend Guy (missed you Guy!) out here and they haven't looked back. We talked for at least an hour about what it's like to live here and I grew increasingly tempted to so do myself. When she said, "You wake up happy," I considered chaining myself to the Birge Khalifa. The sun, the ease of living, the money and social life: they are all enticing draws, negated merely by my family, my boyfriend, my friends, my Masters, my current job, my future career, my lease, my doctors...

Although did I mention the sun? Dubai is pretty big on sun: it has been a balmy 38 degrees today. It is glorious to open the curtains to clear blue sky. However, in the hot climate, heavy clothing is practically a safety hazard and the fashion out here is for burkas or t-shirts, neither of which have been a staple in my wardrobe, primarily because of my disgusting fistula (though not so much the burka. That would prove quite useful to disguise it, actually).

This is a good time to admit I am not actually in Dubai proper at the moment - we have absconded to a resort called Bab Al Shams just outside the city. On our first night, I returned to my room to find a bowl of fresh fruit and a shallow bath run in the cavernous tub and strewn with rose petals. It is a mark of just how quickly I have acclimatised to the luxury lifestyle (read: become spoilt) that I was aghast to find two chocolates were missing from the complimentary box that had been deposited with the fruit. They had simply flipped over into adjacent compartments. Appropriate shame ensued.

Whilst we were in the city, I was surprised that nobody seemed to look twice at my offensive arm as I sauntered through souks or hovered in hotels; however, since we have been at the resort and I have been wearing a bikini for twelve hours a day, I have had my fair share of gawping. A Chinese woman even took a photo with her phone when she thought I wasn't looking; though it is exciting to have my arm officially recognised as a tourist attraction I could do without the sets of eyes that roll in my direction every time I emerge from the pool. I also realised that I caught the sun on the left side of my stomach, and the left side only. Why? Because my kidney bulges out, and to such an extent, apparently, as to warrant it as a sun trap.

Contrary to popular belief, I am wearing a a bikini in this shot.

Casual camels.

Revenge shot of the offending culprit.
And so....the kidney. This bulbous, pulsing, flushing, working kidney that I didn't have four months ago, and now I do. My biggest concern since stepping off the flight last week, aside from picking the best-placed sun lounger and deciding what to have for dinner, has been how to actively demonstrate my gratitude for the fact I am here, on holiday, living out my seven-year dream and a future I had given up on. I hope I have never taken my kidney for granted, but in London - where "lifestyle" simply means not being late for your next appointment - I have come close. I have felt at times like my kidney is the keystone around which the rest of my life is built; it facilitates me to work hard and do what needs to be done. I cannot work, study or really function unless my kidney is working and almost since the day of the transplant itself, my only concern has been to keep my kidney healthy so that the other areas of my life can continue unabated. There is something inherently wrong about this mode of thinking.

It is hard to be actively grateful for more than a few moments. Thanking someone for a birthday gift: that is such a moment. But what if you opened the box and instead of nice shower gel you found, say, a ticket to Australia, enabling you to visit a dying relative? Or a cheque for a kerjillion pounds? Or the last shot of vaccine against the flesh eating virus that had engulfed the country? "Thanks buddy!" is woefully inadequate, even if it was accompanied by oral sex and/or a promise to clean their flat. Saying 'thank you' to my donor is not enough. I have to make the universe understand what it means to me that I could board a plane, fly to Dubai and stay for ten days without once having to dialyse; I have to make the universe know how it feels to live at all without having to dialyse, limit my fluid, limit my diet, limit my ambitions, hopes and desires and generally wither away. I started just after Christmas by getting '49f' - the only details I know about my 49 year-old female donor - tattooed on the back of my neck.

During my stay, I have tried to reflect on the last four months (I like to reflect on stuff, it's the nascent therapist in me) but have been mortified to realise...I can't. Seriously? I berated myself, You can't think back five months and realise how good you've got it now? What a dick. I am a dick, no question, but the problem persists. I have narrowed down the reasons why:

1. Comparing life pre and post-transplant is like comparing light and dark. They bear relation to and inform one another, but essentially they are different at a molecular level. I may as well compare a triangle to a multipack of socks.
2. I appear to have blocked out much of the last seven years. Apart from choice highlights (near-death from hypotension; news that my transplant chances were 9%; the Great Home Dialysis Blood Bath of July 2013) it all blurs into one, grey, relentless fog.
3. This is what is happening now. It is tricky to place yourself anywhere but the present. Memories cannot replace the experience, especially when you have totally abandoned the experience and run in the opposite direction.

After much trial and error, I found the only solution I could make work. Whilst sitting in the infinity pool, with the sun glistening on the aqua water, I decided to think about what I would have been doing at the same moment just last year. Of course it is impossible to remember precisely, but I knew it was about 5pm and, because it was Monday, that I would have been dialysing. Early April, let's see...I had just started doing my own sessions at home; it would have been roughly my tenth go, something like that. I would have been alone and I would have been terrified. I wouldn't have eaten anything bar whatever regulated food I had deemed 'safe' at that point (2 slices of bread and cucumber, at a guess); I also would have had a paper to read for uni the following day, because despite good intentions I would have been too exhausted to do it once on the machine. I would have been thin, sad, lonely, anxious and falling apart.

I returned to the present: I felt the cool water lapping my shoulders and the warm sun on my face. I heard the birds cooing and calling and a couple of kids splashing in the shallows of the baby pool. My mouth wasn't dry, my tongue not arid, because I had drunk at least two litres already. I saw the desert stretch to the horizon and my father reading under the umbrella, G and T in hand. I thought about all my friends and family at home and everyone in my life, past and present, who have helped me get here.

And I felt happy. And I felt grateful.



  1. OK, so I'm crying now! Rosy, you have such skill in writing just the right thing! But more importantly, your honesty is amazing! Enjoy this trip - you deserve it and so does Anthony! Love to you both!

  2. Rosy, it is so refreshingly wonderful to read of your dreams coming true as you deserved them to! I can understand your inability to not analyse all that has happened to you over the last few years, I'm sure I would be the same. The main thing that you have to do and are doing is to enjoy the life you have been given. You are an amazing lady and like when you were so ill and having to take each day one at a time now just take each day as a blessing and live!
    We are so very happy for you and hope to see the new you sometime soon.
    Lots of love as always from Richard and me xxxxxxx


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