Thursday, October 22, 2009

What's Happening with Us

I'm sitting here typing in my netbook while Rick has his first dialysis.
First I must thank everyone for all the love, support, prayers, and good wishes sent our way the last few weeks. We have felt upheld and loved, and we appreciate all of that.
Thank you.
It would be difficult to write about anything other than what we're going through now. It's as if someone has slammed us both between the eyes with a two by four. Wham! Life as you knew it is over, and renal failure is what is important to you now. You cannot argue with this.
You may wonder why Rick's kidneys have failed. If you think you know, tell his doctors, because so far they haven't been able to pin down a cause.
We think it's life. Life can cause of kidney failure.
It's a shock to have everything stop suddenly and realize that your life is in danger, or your spouse's life. Really gets your attention. At the same time, you start hanging around people and places that make you realize that you are not special – there are a lot of people fighting for their lives at any given time, which is a humbling realization. It's a part of life that is usually out of the public eye.
Watching medical shows on TV is not going to tell you anything about what it's like to have a medical crisis. Those people are actors, those situations are scripted, and as Rick's nephrologist says, those shows are phony.
A nephrologist, by the way, is a kidney doctor, and nephrology has nothing to do either with Egypt or having sex with dead people. I know how you people think.
I observed the difference between reality and TV the first night Rick went in to the ER. He was given a blood pressure medicine which may have worked a little too well, and every time he made a rash move like, say, raising his head slightly, his blood pressure would plummet down to, oh, 49 over 29.
If you watch “House” you know that at least once in every show, someone cries out, “He's crashing!” and then three or four doctors are running around the bed like a Chinese fire drill, yelling at each other to do this, do that, and then someone delivers a shot of epinephrine, or shocks the person back to life with paddles, and then the show goes on with the temporarily dead person revived to suffer more camera-friendly, viewer-manipulating drama.
That is not how it happens. The spouse (me in this case) notes the patient is looking punky, goes out in the hall and grabs Jeff, the nurse, and says, “He's not looking good,” and then Jeff calls for help and a contingent of nurses, aides, and one (count him, one) doctor come in and they move swiftly, quietly, intensely, professionally, and efficiently, to take care of the problem, because, guess what, this has happened before and they have a protocol.
So they pulled Rick's blood pressure out of the basement a couple of times, and by the next morning the drug he'd been given had cleared his system, and they went to a less drastic blood pressure medication.
That was the first and only time I'd ever seen a nurse wrap a blood pressure cuff around an IV bag and pump up the cuff so the fluid would flow faster. I wish I'd taken a picture to send to the “There, I fixed it” website, but I didn't. Still, if you want that IV to drip faster, there's your methodology.
Rick made it through a week in the hospital with the doctors and nurses keeping him alive and watching him for signs that his kidneys would kick back in, but alas, his kidneys are done. Renal function has left the building.
So here we are at the Northwest Kidney Center, with Rick starting dialysis. This is what we'll be doing for three days a week for the foreseeable future.
We are walking a well-worn path. Many before us, many with us, and many after us will be dealing with this particular medical crisis. We are hanging in there together, with the support of friends and family, taking one step at a time, one day and sometimes one minute at a time. One of the paradoxes is that there is nothing like having mortality stare you right in the eye and breathe on you with breath more fetid than that of a 12-year-old black Lab to let you know you are fully, completely alive.
Funny, that.
We're still here, still fully, completely alive, still cracking wise and thanking God. Stay tuned for further developments.
Photo: that's Rick in the dialysis chair, with his nurse, Jean, looking on. Rick says he's getting pretty fed up with pictures of himself laid out in bed. Don't blame him. You can send him a get well card at: Rick Tuel, P O Box 238, Vashon WA 98070.

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