It wasn’t that long ago that I was living the dream. The perfect job. The perfect life. Nowhere to go but up. Or so it seemed at the time. So when the nightmare emerged and enveloped my dream life, I never saw it coming. Today, my life is dependent on a machine. I’m living on dialysis. While my friends are out there partying their nights away, I have needles in me constantly purifying and detoxifying my blood.
A life on life support really doesn’t feel like much of a life at all. But let me backup a little and start at the beginning.
A few years ago, I was a 32 year old man doing great. I’d just gotten my third promotion and a massive pay rise. I worked hard and partied harder. 30 was definitely the new 20 as far as I was concerned! And then the problems started.
First it was blood in my stool. Then it was intense aches and pains near my kidneys. My doctors thought it was an intestinal problem, and treated it as such. Well, they were right about that. What they didn’t figure out at the time was that the root cause of my intestinal problem was an impending kidney failure.
Two years later, one of my kidneys failed. Well, as catastrophic as that can be, you can live on one kidney. But my second kidney was on the verge of failure as well. The doctors did their best, running me through the whole gamut of medication, but despite their best efforts, they couldn’t stop the degradation. Well, I had no choice but to start with hemodialysis. To begin with, it was three times a week. But the rapidly degrading condition of my kidney necessitated daily cleansing.
So what does life on dialysis feel like?
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Well, it feels like being a caged pigeon. With the cage being comprised of my deteriorating body. I suffer muscle cramps almost 24×7. And then there are the sudden and sharp fluctuations in my blood pressure. My doctors prescribed me pills to deal with those, which I have to take everyday. My kidney failure has also massively increased my risk of osteoporosis. Indeed, my doctor says that I’m just on the verge of been diagnosed with it. To make things worse, there have been a couple of times when I’ve felt like I was about to have a heart attack. This was due to the inflammation of the pericardium – the membrane surrounding the heart. My doctor assured me that it’s a common problem faced by people on dialysis. The physical problems I faced were bad enough. But what being in my condition does to your mind is truly terrifying.
Depression is common among people on dialysis. A fact I’m painfully aware of as I enter my third week on my latest prescription of antidepressants. Living like this has made me an emotional wreck. I’ve been to a counselor a few times. He recommended that I try to get my confidence back up by spending some time revisiting my old hobbies and interests (well, the ones I’m still physically capable of pursuing at any rate).
I’m not sure if I can redevelop my interesting in them with my condition constantly weighing on my mind. But unlike my physical health, my mental health is something that I can definitely work towards improving on my own, through sheer will and perseverance. Getting into a better frame of mind is something worth fighting for. In a small way, it’s given me a reason to live, rather than a reason to just go on living on life support.
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I’ve been on dialysis for a year now. As you may have gathered by this point, there’s been very little good news. But, as the old cliche goes, “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. I don’t feel like the experience has made me stronger. But after all this time, I still have a shred of hope for things to get better. And that itself is a kind of strength, I suppose.
My counselor was the one who encouraged me to write all this down. He feels it’ll help me. And if being better informed about this life, and this condition, can help someone else, that’s certainly something I can take some comfort in.
So if you, or someone you know, are living on dialysis, here are my three pieces of advice.
First and foremost, take care of your body. Secondly, do your best not to succumb to depression, and if you do, work towards fighting it. And last but not the least, find the strength within yourself to not only survive, but to thrive again.
That’s what I’m going to do!