The dialysis centre becomes a big part of your universe and it is a universe on its own.
My dialysis centre was in the same hospital where I was treated. Initially, it was all new. None of us knew how to deal with those four hours – what to expect and the things we needed to keep in mind. Sadly, nobody prepares you for something like this. Even doctors do not give you a clear picture.
When I started with the process, I was still not in my senses as I was being carried there. So, the first weeks were hazy. Patients are supposed to carry food with them. As dialysis is all about removing fluids and toxins from your body, which a kidney cannot do anymore, it has impact on your blood pressure and sugar levels. In the beginning, we were not aware of it and didn’t carry any food. Not eating resulted in a sharp drop in my blood sugar levels, leading to hypoglycemia and I became unconscious. Thankfully, the lab technicians realized this and luckily, I had my nurse and sister with me, so they could run around to find something to eat. Some of the fellow patients offered me food and everything calmed down. Such is the camaraderie of the dialysis centre.
Apart from low blood sugar levels, patients get severe cramps. Even if your kidneys fail, your body still needs water and a dialysis patient is constantly dehydrated, causing severe cramps. I have had those cramps a few times and they were so severe that I was literally screaming. At one time the lab assistants were massaging me a lot, but the cramp refused to go. While you are screaming, the rest of the patients continue to be calm, watch and try to pacify you. “You will be ok! It happens!” They have been there and done that.
You get to experience the good, bad and ugly of life in that centre. You are not exactly gravely ill but not your healthiest either. Many patients would turn up before or after their work hours. One of the patients was a doctor himself. So, during the day he would treat patients, and, in the evening, he would become a patient. The hardest part for me was watching very young patients coming there. I have seen a 10-year-old and 4-year-old coming for dialysis and I would feel bad for them. Sheer horror to watch young kids to go through this.
I have seen few people dying there too. A 75-year-old man suffered a heart attack on the dialysis bed and a code blue message was announced. The hospital staff ran to our centre and they tried to revive him but there was no luck. It felt like watching a scene from the movies, where they try to revive the heart with electric shock. The other sad story was of a patient who got so depressed that he just stopped coming for dialysis and when the centre called up to find out why he was not coming, they were told he had passed away.
I have met some interesting characters too. There was a bank employee who would come after his office hours. He was undergoing dialysis for 6 years. His wife was pretty and pleasant to talk to. She was ready to donate a kidney to him. Their kidneys had matched but the guy refused to have a transplant. When I asked him for the reason why, he said he was not sure what will his life would be like after the transplant. He would be normal and then at office, he’d have to work hard. The lazy bum was fine with this life and would flirt with lady lab assistants to the extent that the centre head assigned only male lab assistants to him! Now I don’t know if this is the true story, but he was pretty convincing. Maybe he had his reasons!
A 70-year-old man would come, and he used to behave worse than a baby. He had to be carried to the dialysis centre and 15 minutes into the dialysis he would start screaming, pleading with the assistants to take the needles off. He would cry, saying he wanted to go home. The only way to keep him occupied was to give him a bed with a working TV. On his TV, he would play a channel which ran cheap and vulgar Marathi songs. Once those ladies started dancing on his screen, he would be happy and kept quiet. His wife used to be so embarrassed!
For patients like me, it was compulsory to have an attendant as our health could go on the edge anytime and they needed someone to make further medical decisions. The attendants have to sit in the waiting room for four hours. Even their life gets impacted. They end up making friends with the other attendants. The morbidity situation doesn’t escape them either. Mamata, Dinesh and Apeksha all used to accompany me in the beginning but once the process was set and I got little better, it was Apeksha who was with me all the time. Having them with me was very morale boosting though. They would come to talk to me and feed me food. On many occasions, Mamata has been asked to leave the room as we would talk too much. Attendants aren’t allowed to sit inside, so they have to stand the whole time. They can’t even sit on the bed with the patient!
Apeksha came in very handy as she has a way with people, and she would get me a good bed in the centre. A good bed is where you have a good AC and a working TV. TV was very important, as passing 4 hours would be a torture due to the bad internet signal there. It was compulsory to carry headphones to watch TV, as the silence had to be maintained. Some beds had a working TV, and some didn’t. Finally, most of them stopped working and few common TVs were organized. For some strange reason, the dialysis centre manager decided to play only Animal Planet on the common TV. Animal Planet is obsessed with crocodiles and birds. After watching so much crocodile coverage, I started getting nightmares of my skin turning into crocodile skin and a bird sitting on my back. No animal planet for me since I escaped the dialysis centre!
However, it’s not all somber there. One tends to adjust to life there and tries to maintain specks of normalcy. Patients birthdays were celebrated, and there would be a small treat on festival days. The lab assistants were very nice and friendly and would talk to us and keep us motivated. Gossip sessions, sharing personal stuff and pulling each other’s leg was quite common. The major excitement, though, came once someone’s kidney transplant was planned. Once I entered the centre and was told about a patient getting a cadaver transplant in the night, there was such palpable excitement and happiness in the centre that one of us got freedom and better life!