Teflon kidneys

A photo taken from a window overlooking a river. There is a stone building on the left bank of the river and a row of trees along the right riverbank.
The view from the hospital during my kidney related stay.

You almost died. Words ringing in my ears as I order coffee and search for a seat. I don’t remember the walk from the hospital to here. What I do remember is nodding, smiling and trying to carry on my appointment like being told I almost died is the commonest thing in the world.

It took a while, but antibiotics worked and my kidneys recovered because as the consultant said that day while sitting on my hospital bed “they are worth saving.”

I phone P, blurt the news of my almost death out so fast that he asks me to repeat it. “Well, I’m glad I didn’t know it was that serious at the time.” he says. My thoughts exactly. My thoughts exactly.


“It can’t be a kidney stone. You would be doubled over in pain if it was.”

I’m sitting across from the general surgeon who disagrees with the assessment of the radiologist. A second x-ray is ordered. A referral to another doctor is written. No surprise there. Being passed from doctor to doctor is a special power of mine. I’m not worried. Besides, I don’t have any corresponding symptoms. I’m only here because my rheumatologist saw something in my urine analysis and announced “kidneys aren’t my speciality, so we should get that check.”

It’s probably nothing. If it’s nothing, then it’s not something. Nothing is better than something.


I reel off my chronic illnesses and their corresponding medications. Mentioning that I had kidney trouble as a child leads to questions I struggle to answer.

I was three when I had surgery, so I have no memory of it. I do know they needed to do the procedure on my left kidney twice. I can see doctors doing the sums in their head. Some double check my date of birth before asking what procedure it was exactly. I tell them, mentioning the children’s hospital I attended. Before I’ve finished, they ask whether I know which doctor I saw. I watch their eyes light up. Turns out it’s a big deal to have been operated on by the guy who pioneered the technique that turned major open surgery into an endoscopic procedure carried out in day care.

30 years later the procedure is still the same, but some of the materials used have changed. They no longer use teflon. The fact that I have teflon in my body always fascinates and amuses me. I’ve never fully understood why. Teflon kidneys has a certain ring to it.

This essay first appeared in my Wednesday Letters, a newsletter about feminism, activism and figuring out who I am. Sign up here.