I began dialysis on January 3, 2005. It wasn’t the way that I had planned on ringing in the New Year but when they say you have to go on dialysis, it is more than a suggestion. It’s been a little more than three years now and sometimes it feels like it’s been forever. But my life actually changed in the fall of 2004.
Prior to starting dialysis, I was a wife and mother and one of those college students who go back to school later in life to get their degree. I was also a caregiver to my mother who was a dialysis patient. I was a very busy person but still managed to graduate with a 3.7 college GPA. I was looking forward to graduation and finding a job in my field. At the time I was studying business and I was ready to make and contribute money to my household and pay off that mountain of student loans.
There were days when I felt tired, but as I mentioned, I had a lot of things going on. I had some high blood pressure issues but was on medication and overall, although I didn’t feel great, I thought I was just worn out. One day during a regular doctor’s visit, my doctor began questioning me about the kidney disease that was hereditary in my family, PKD (or Polycystic Kidney Disease). I think right at that moment, before I even saw the nephrologist; I knew that I was going to need to start dialysis.
In August of 2004, after seeing the nephrologist, I was referred to a surgeon and I was given an appointment to begin the process of dialysis. I had a graft put into my arm and within four months, I began dialysis. People usually go on dialysis due to their kidneys shutting down and other health issues such as diabetes, and high blood pressure. The National Kidney Foundation estimates that about 20 million adults in the U.S. have some degree of chronic kidney disease.
As I mentioned, Polycystic Kidney Disease is the name of the disease that I have. My grandfather, my mother and two of my uncles all suffered from this disease and were on dialysis. And like myself, I have an uncle that is currently on dialysis and at the same unit that I am at. I have lost many family members to PKD but I know that with the help of dialysis, years were also added to their lives.
Dialysis not only saves my life but it changed my life as well. Of course there’s the negative aspects of it: being poked with needles, having to watch my fluid intake, cramps, cramps and more cramps as well as sitting in the same spot for three and a half hours, three days a week. There’s no question that it’s not an easy thing to go through but dialysis patients find a strength and resilience that others may never experience. I have immense respect for all dialysis patients because more often than not, they are dealing with additional health issues.
At my dialysis unit the patients that I have met are people that are smart and funny and lead interesting lives. My husband has struck up a friendship with a patient, who in his younger years actually shook Babe Ruth’s hand. I find that fascinating. There are so many faces of dialysis. They are mothers, fathers, grandparents, sons, daughters, aunts and uncles. They’re very kind, helpful and caring people, who, like me, lived productive, busy lives before their lives changed due to kidney disease.
The actual treatment of dialysis is a joint effort. It takes the cooperation of caregivers, the people that provide transportation and the staff, both on and off the floor. The dialysis staff is like a family and for many of us, we see these people more than we see our friends and relatives. I can’t say enough about the dialysis techs and nurses. They are true caregivers and I believe that they understand that we are people and not just lab work, blood pressures and Kt over V’s.
To sum up my experience having and dealing with kidney disease, it has made me look at my health and myself in a different way. I now work at taking better care of myself. I also appreciate my life and the people in it more than I ever have before and I’ve met people that I probably would have never met in my other life. And yes, I think of my life in two parts, BK (before kidney disease) and now. I expect my life will change again when I receive a kidney transplant.
For now though, I am educating myself on my disease and dialysis because it’s important to be aware of what is happening to my body. I see myself as a positive person and one day, in my reading about dialysis, I came across something that I decided to adopt as my motto. It’s a phrase that I think should hang on the wall in every dialysis unit. It simply states, “Don’t live to dialyze, dialyze to live!”