Wednesday, February 24, 2010

'Cathy' Was Too Easy

Funny thing about a dialysis catheter: Once you get used to it, grow accustomed to the sight of a plastic tube sticking out of your belly like a garden snake and the ritual of taping it against your body every day, having one becomes second nature.

It's like having a sidekick. Or better yet, a secret weapon. Once a day I unleash it from its hidden location, attach it to a source of power and rejuvenation (in this case, the peritoneal dialysis solution), open the valve and let the healing waters surge through my body. I suppose I should shout something dramatic when the connection takes place, like Billy Batson yelling "Shazam!" when he transformed into Captain Marvel. I can hear it now: "Time... to...DIALYZE!"

So one night at the dinner table, the girls, Emma and Madison, suggest we give it a name. (How do these mealtime conversations start, anyway?) We do some preliminary brainstorming. "Cathy the Catheter" was quickly rejected: too easy, and I didn't think my wife, Karen, would appreciate the name of another woman literally attached to me.

We tried variations of "Man Cub," Karen's pet name for me. (Long story.) Nothing clicked. Maybe some species of snake? I was partial to "Black Mamba" myself, but was fearful of being mistaken for Kobe Bryant.

Several other proposals failed to produce that "Aha!" moment, so I took the request to the people. That is, the 500 or so people who are brave enough to admit to being my friends on my Facebook page.

I received more than a dozen excellent name suggestions – many of which I cannot repeat here in polite company – but one stood out from the rest. Because of my many years as a television critic (a function I still perform for The Metro Times in Detroit; you can read a column here), and because a catheter is such a personal, individual device, it was voted that its name should be:


So YouTube it will be, now and henceforth. I'm expecting a call from the attorneys any day now. I guess you could call it "cath-arsis."

Or not.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Cancel the Tour Guide

I called the Baxter 800 number this week to place my monthly order for dialysis solution and supplies. One of the many new hats one wears as a kidney dialysis patient is shipping and receiving clerk.

Baxter provides you with a handy-dandy order pad, and every month you're supposed to do an inventory count of the cases of "Low Calcium Peritoneal Dialysis Solution With 1.5% Dextrose" and related equipment (like tubes, bags, masks, catheter caps) you have on hand, estimate how many more you'll need over the next 30 days, then phone in your order to Baxter.

I have determined that I am horrible at this. It's really hard to look at 30 cases of anything stacked up against a wall in your home, then call somebody and exclaim, "What the heck – send me 30 more!" But because it takes about two weeks for Baxter to process the order and get that mile-long delivery truck of theirs to your door, you have to think in abstract terms of what won't be there in two weeks, not what you see with your lyin' eyes.

Fortunately, the Baxter operators who take your order have gone through this process a few times before – in the previous 15 minutes, most likely – and are unfailingly helpful, cheerful and experienced. (I know that sounds like a commercial for Baxter, but it's true; believe me, if I ever have to deal with some stereotypical order-processing doodyhead, I will tell you about it.)

At any rate, as I'm going over the supplies in house to confirm this month's order, I glance at the words printed in the corner of one of the boxes: "Baxter Healthcare Corporation, Deerfield, IL."

Deerfield! I'm living currently in Decatur, Ill. says the two cities are only 170 miles apart! (Out here on the prairie, people drive 100-plus miles between towns like they were going to the corner store for a cherry slush.) Maybe I can wangle a tour of Baxter headquarters! Suddenly I have visions of giant vats of "Low Calcium Peritoneal Dialysis Solution" being squeezed into the plastic bags I use when it's time for my kidneys' daily rinse cycle, and sterile tubes carefully being connected to the bags by happy, mask-wearing employees. Look! They're whistling while they work!

The next sound you hear is my thought balloon being popped. "Oh, we don't produce any of the materials here," the cheerful operator informs me. "We just take our customers' orders in this location."

Drat. They probably don't even wear masks while they do it. I'd still like to take a Baxter tour someday, but rows of operators chatting on headsets is not quite the impressive vision I had imagined. As long as I don't find out someday that the solution that rumbles around in my body isn't being manufactured in China or Uzbekistan, I'll still be pretty geeked for a day trip to Deerfield. Did you know the Irish settlers originally wanted to name the village "Erin," but lost out to the "Deerfield" faction by four votes?

No, I didn't think you did.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Washing My Hands of Everything

From the very beginning of this dialysis dance, one is taught that cleanliness is next to healthiness. You quickly learn the difference between "clean" and "sterile." (You can achieve the first; try never to mess up the second.)

The one teaching that stays with you throughout the entire process, however, is what is known as "The DaVita Hand Wash." I assume this means that DaVita invented this particular style of hand sanitizing. Otherwise, why would they put their name on it? DaVita is way too respectable an organization to claim something they didn't originate. (Can you see some emergency room doctor in Newark seeing this and shouting, "Hey, this is the way I wash my hands! Where's my lawyer's number?")

The DVHW is a multi-stage process which I will now proceed to demonstrate electronically through photographs. (Although this might be considered a rather antiseptic way to present it! Get it?)

As it was taught to me by my incomparable nurse, Diane King, first one must wet the hands thoroughly with warm water.

                                     Me, wetting my hands.

Apply antibacterial soap to the palms and rub vigorously.

               Pretend you're rubbing your hands together in wicked glee.

Don't forget the bacteria-filthy backs of your hands.

      When was the last time you ever washed the backs of your hands?

Or that virgin semicircle between the thumbs and forefingers.

                                This part is actually kinda fun.

Between your fingers, too.

                                But this part feels kinda silly.

Now, concentrate on scrubbing each of your 10 cuticles individually.

                   The doctrine of separate but equal, applied to fingers.

Then once around the wrists, the palms and backs of your hands again, and rinse thoroughly.


Use a paper towel – not cloth, too many germs – to remove the excess moisture from your paws.

The tricky part, after all that energetic scrubbing and sanitizing with the DVHW, is not to touch anything on your way from the sink back to the dialysis equipment. If possible, use a faucet you can turn off with your forearm rather than your fingers (see photo above), and hit the light switch with your elbow. It's a skill you can develop. Really.

I am firmly convinced that if every restaurant worker in America adopted the DVHW, we could eat at any fast-food joint in the country – maybe even White Castle – without fear.