What Happens in Dialysis

You probably take your kidneys for granted when they’re working properly. Don’t worry, I don’t hold it against you. I used to be like that, too.

In case you were unaware, kidneys have a pretty important job: they act as a filtration system. Blood flows through them, and your kidneys take all the junk floating around in there and filter it into your bladder so you can pee it all out. That way, your own blood’s not poisoning you and you’re not blowing up like a balloon filled with excess fluids. Kidneys also help you make red blood cells and regulate your blood pressure, which is especially helpful if you want to be alive.

So you can see how it could be a gigantic problem if your kidneys stop doing their job like mine did. Amazingly, we have developed machines that can act like kidneys and do their job when yours are slacking off so much that you’re in kidney failure.

First, the doctors surgically placed what’s called a fistula in my arm so that they could have access to my blood vessels. A fistula joins an artery and a vein inside your body and makes it easier to get to your blood. It was a pain. There are all kinds of rules about it: don’t carry anything heavy with that arm, don’t wear clothing that is snug on the fistula, and I constantly had to check it to make sure it wasn’t getting infected and working properly. However, it was necessary in order to get my blood in and out of my body as easily as possible so that I could begin dialysis.

My parents would take me to the dialysis center three times a week. A technician would put two needles into the fistula (this sounds painful, but it was more annoying and uncomfortable than anything). My gross blood would come go through one needle into a tube that lead to a dialyzer – that’s what the machine is called – so that it could do the work my kidneys were too screwed up to do. There is a membrane inside the machine that is similar to what’s in your actual kidney. It filters out little things like urea and creatinine. Blood cells, proteins, and other good stuff are stuck because they’re too big to fit. Everything trapped on that side of the membrane, now squeaky clean, would come back into my body through a tube and into the second needle in my arm.

The whole thing took about four hours. It was pretty boring to just sit there, but I’d do most of my reading assignments for school or watch movies on my laptop while it was happening. Other times, if I wasn’t feeling well, I might fall asleep. It depended on how crappy I felt and how comfortable I was. It took a while to get used to everything. In the beginning, I would get headaches. One time, I even threw up. They had to tweak a few things in order for me to feel better, but eventually I did.

Now that I have a pretty rockin’ kidney, I don’t have to do dialysis anymore. It is amazing all the things that you can accomplish when you have an extra 12 hours in your week to do whatever you want.

While your experiences might be different from mine, I wanted to make the process a little less scary and talk about it in common terms for anybody who might be afraid of what is potentially going to happen to them. Definitely talk to your doctors so you know what to expect, but sometimes they make things sound so complicated! I hope that this post can set peoples’ minds at ease a little.