Saturday, February 4, 2012

Liquid Courage, or The Rinse Cycle

Last month we celebrated the life and legacy of that immortal American and civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by purchasing a gleaming white new Speed Queen washer and dryer at a local appliance store in Champaign. Gotta love those MLK Day sales!

Because I have taken on the role of househusband during my two years of dialysis treatments and subsequent kidney transplant, Karen's excitement over our new acquisition made me feel a little like a character out of The Help: "Look, Jimmy, we bought you a brand-new washer and dryer so you can do more loads of wash for us than ev-ah!"

Oh, joy.

Truth to tell, I love doing laundry. There's a certain zen tranquility for me in making dirty things clean again and folding them with the precision of origami. What I didn't love even a tiny bit was schlepping pounds of clothes to the laundromat every couple of weeks, hoarding quarters and surrounded by strange smelly people.

But the laundromat was a necessity, because (and here's the tie-in to my kidneys, in case you were wondering) up until the transplant, we had to use the utility room in our apartment to hold all the cases of my dialysis solution.

In the way that life works, two days before we received "the call" that a donor kidney was available for me, the company that made my dialysis supplies dropped off its monthly shipment of 32 boxes of Peritoneal Dialysis fluid, about 2x2 feet each, with two five-liter bags of liquid in each box. I had used exactly one case before the transplant team called.

When we returned from Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis with my gleaming new kidney, we called the dialysis company and explained the situation.

"I'm sorry, sir, but we can't take the cases back."

"But they're unopened. Maybe someone else could use them."

"I'm sorry, but there's the possibility of contamination."

"Contamination? The boxes have the original factory tape on them! The bags of fluid are sealed in a second plastic bag to keep them secure! How on earth could they get contaminated?"

I'm sorry, sir, but that's our policy."

Somebody please, tell me again why the cost of health care in America is so high?

We called my dialysis nurses at DaVita Champaign. Same story. I never fashioned myself as the sadistic poisoner of Peritoneal Dialysis bags, but I must look that way to a sizable group of people. We're still looking for takers for the drainage bags, extension tubes and other paraphernalia that accompany the PD process. No questions asked. Just come get 'em! We'll even deliver!

So, discouraged by having no other option, Karen and I staged our own Seven Percent Solution at our kitchen sink: the Great Dialysis Juice Dump. Each of us armed with a tiny Olfa Touch-Knife (that I extolled in a December 2010 blog titled "Flashes From the Frontline"), we attacked the cases – slicing open the cardboard boxes, flattening them, cutting open the hard plastic coverings and piercing each five-liter bag, letting the dialysis liquid goosh into the sink. What emotional release!

It was a true team effort; even with both of us working shoulder-to-shoulder and focused on the task, the process took almost two hours to complete.

We ended up with a stack of cardboard boxes nearly three feet high and an overflowing pile of plastic bags. Being the dedicated recycler I am, I personally carried every box and bag outside to the nearest appropriate bin.

Karen applauded my effort.

We were both tremendously saddened to destroy so much lifesaving fluid in such a wasteful manner. However, in a very real way, our new washer and dryer represent far more than timesaving appliances that allow Jimmy to do more loads more often. They stand as constant reminders that the Peritoneal Dialysis that required their space and dominated so much of our daily lives is no more. Hallelujah!

All because of a new appliance of mine that's washing my blood every second. Oh, what a lucky man am I.