Friday, October 22, 2010

The Holy Halloween Candle Story

My cousin Charlotte called last night. She said she and Nancy were talking and she remembered the story of the holy Halloween candle, and the two of them decided that she should tell me. So she called, and here is the story, as close as I can make it to Charlotte's telling:
“I don't think you ever went to my house in Tracy. It's an ordinary three-bedroom one-story wood framed house, and it's on a tree-lined street. The whole street is lined with Modesto ash trees.
“Tracy was just a small town when I moved there back in 1977, only about twenty-five thousand people, but now it's grown so much, with condos and shopping malls. There are about 100,000 people there now.
“Around the corner from my house was the Parker Avenue Market, a little mom and pop store. When Nancy and I were kids visiting at Grandma's she'd give us each a nickel and we'd walk to a mom and pop store a couple of blocks from her house for a Popsicle, so we have good memories and we're so fond of mom and pop stores.
“The house had a small front porch, just the tiniest porch, and every Halloween I got the biggest pumpkin I could find and carved it and put it out on that porch where the kids came to trick or treat.
“Well, this one year I went and got this huge pumpkin and I got it all carved and put it out on the porch and then I went to get a candle, and I couldn't find one! So I went to the Parker Avenue Market for a candle.
Parker's Market had every little thing you might need – light bulbs and milk and everything else, but when I got there they only had one candle left, and you know what it was? It was a holy candle. One of the ones in the glass holder.
“Well, here I am, this Christian Baptist Catholic Pentecostal girl looking at this holy candle, and what am I going to do? This is the only candle Parker's has left. So I made the sign of the cross, and I said, “Oh, Lord, please forgive me for this sacrilege.” Then I bought the candle and went back home and put the holy candle inside the pumpkin.
“Pretty soon kids started coming for candy. The little ones came early with their parents, and then as time went on the older kids came. There were a lot of trick or treaters in those days. I think I had close to a hundred and fifty of them.
“It got later, after 8:30, and they weren't coming any more so I decided to turn off the porch light and close up shop. I was getting ready for bed when all of a sudden I remembered the candle.
“Now you know I'm very safety minded, and I was careful with candles because it was a wood frame house with a tree hanging over it, so I didn't want to leave that candle out. So I went out to get the candle to put it away, and it was gone! It had been stolen!
“I never figured out who stole it or why – was it kids being pranksters because it was Halloween? Did someone need a candle? Did they take it because they thought using it in the pumpkin was a sacrilege? Were they just thieves?”
Whatever the reason, that's the only candle that was ever stolen from one of Charlotte's Halloween pumpkins. We'll never know why.
So that, dear hearts, is the story of the holy Halloween candle. Wishing you all a good Halloween however you observe it, and a blessed All Saints' Day on November 1, when we remember all who have passed from us this year and in the years past.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Miracles Have Their Downsides

Photo: Rick at his first dialysis session one year ago. That's Jean, the RN, reading dialysis educational material to him. Jean experienced acute renal failure and was on dialysis herself a few years ago. She recovered. Many of the people who work with dialysis patients have experienced renal disease themselves or in loved ones.

It is miraculous what medical, scientific, and engineering geniuses have been able to do for people with kidney failure. Millions of lives have been saved by dialysis.
But what is it like to be saved? Fact is, the only reason anyone would do dialysis is to stay alive.
Think about it: your kidneys work every minute of your life, waking and sleeping, filtering out toxins, removing excess fluid (urine) from your body, keeping your body in chemical balance. Dialysis tries to do all that in 12 hours a week – three sessions of four hours each. Your blood gets sucked into tubes, run through filters, treated with various additives. You are tested to monitor blood composition and chemical balances so that kidney techs can do by hand what your kidneys used to do without you having to give it a thought. You have endless medical appointments, exams, tests, and surgical procedures. The medical community is constantly tweaking you, trying to keep you in balance and alive. Fistulas develop aneurysms; you get headaches; you pass out from low blood pressure (the Aid Car is called to the Kidney Center almost every day for a crashing patient); infection is a constant threat; your diet consists of chicken and white bread and not much else.
My husband Rick would go in for dialysis three days a week, and spend the other four days of the week exhausted and recovering from dialysis. When he went on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, his favorite day of the week was Sunday. By then he was somewhat recovered from his Friday dialysis and he didn't have to go anywhere.
Like him, most people who are on dialysis are not able to work. Like him, most have to go on disability, or retire.
Sometimes the techs who hook you up to the dialysis machines don't hit your fistula on the first poke with the size 16 needles. Sometimes they get it wrong and cause an “infiltration” of blood into the tissues of your arm. This happened to Rick early in his dialysis experience, and his entire left forearm turned the color of a ripe plum. We have pictures.

Photo: Rick shows off his fistula

The dialysis techs work hard and have to move fast. They dismantle used tubing and filters after a dialysis session, clean the chair with antiseptic solution, and set up the new, clean, sterile filters, tubing, IV bags, iron and other supplements that are added to the patient's blood. They hook the patient up and monitor the patient – actually, they monitor several patients at a time - during dialysis. They are the foot troops in the battle against kidney failure. I read that they are paid on average $20 to 30 thousand dollars a year.
Have you tried to live on or raise a family on $20 to 30 thousand dollars a year lately? Granted it sounds like a lot of money to me right now, but that's from our perspective here in disability land. I'm saying that it's a shame that people who work so hard and are necessary for the survival of renal patients are paid so poorly. It's part of that inverse economic model we live in where the more important your work is, for example raising children, the less pay and respect you get.
Still, the techs do their jobs as quickly and efficiently as they can, while the patients sit in their individual worlds, reading, watching TV while wearing earphones, or sleeping, while time goes by in an eerie silence broken only by the alarms and beeps of the dialysis machines. Most patients are grateful to be alive. Patients are told that the more you dialyze, the longer you'll live. Dialysis is a miracle.
One day while Rick was waiting for his chair at the Kidney Center a frail lady in a wheel chair who had finished her dialysis was parked next to him. She reached a bony pale hand over and rested it on his arm. “How do you stand it?” she whispered to him. “How do you stand it?”
It's a valid question.
Maybe next time we'll talk about kidney transplants.