A Stranger’s Voice – 3rd Place Winner, 13th Annual Essay Contest

by Chris Cala

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No one really understands how it feels after being diagnosed with kidney disease until it has happened to them. When people start dialysis, it’s like they become someone different: a person they don’t recognize, and some might even feel broken beyond repair. Dialysis patients, in a sense, lose their voice and, even worse, their hope of a fabulous life. But that’s where they are wrong. Dialysis patients are more than just a Medicare claim number; they are all human beings with lives worth living.

“Even after a failed transplanted kidney that my mother gave me, I relied on myself to turn a negative into a positive because there was no other option. I simply didn’t give up hope.”

You can say that I’ve become a peer counselor, for lack of a better term, for those who are at my dialysis unit with me. I’m not a renal veteran, but ask my nephrologist and he’ll vouch that I’ve been through heck and back dealing with ESRD for the last 8 years since I was diagnosed at age 25. I won’t joke with you – my own experience seemed like a renal version of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland”. I fell into a dark hole where I just kept on falling until I landed upside down on my head. I had to find my way through a very crazy world called dialysis. Even after a failed transplanted kidney that my mother gave me, I relied on myself to turn a negative into a positive because there was no other option. I simply didn’t give up hope.

At my unit, I talk to everyone because I wholeheartedly believe that adding a touch of brightness to someone’s day will give a glimmer of hope to them with whatever they are dealing with. I know it’s not like I’m feeding the homeless or volunteering at a hospice, but it is the same type of selfless act from a stranger that makes a difference. It makes the people I help feel human again. You are probably thinking, “Why do you care about those strangers you are with three days a week while on dialysis?” Because when I talk with them, I am reminded that I was once in their shoes. I used to be them.

“A simple greeting such as, “How are you? Is everything okay with you?” goes a long way.”

See that young girl who just started dialysis? That look on her face tells me that she is scared and in a state of shock. I remember that feeling and didn’t like it one bit. What do I do? I talk to her, I say hi, I greet her and her Dad. I know they have a million questions so I tell them, “It’s going to be okay.” I offer to be a resource for any questions that they may have because I’ve been there in her place. That reassurance from a stranger, that human kindness is what was needed for this girl to not feel scared and know it’s okay to smile again.

The loving daughter who sits with her mother on dialysis? I greet them all the time and ask how they are doing. In time, I come to find out that the daughter is constantly worried about all the different CKD components that she now has to understand for the sake of her mother. She comes to me with questions and I suggest to her what she needs to do based on my own experiences. I tell her that it’s okay to ask questions, to get a proper explanation from doctors, and to not get pushed around. She needs to realize that she is now the advocate for her mom.

“Perhaps the roller coaster ride of me being a dialysis patient was part of the master plan to turn me into that stranger whose caring voice was what those people needed to reassure them that hope has always been within themselves.”

That mentally handicapped man in a wheelchair who everyone laughs at and tries to forget about? He has emotions too. I befriend him and talk to him just like I do to everyone else. He needs someone who can relate to what he is going through and not shrug him away as if he’s just a number. A simple greeting such as, “How are you? Is everything okay with you?” goes a long way with him. In return, he offers me snacks as his way of thanking me for my attention.

All these people were once strangers to me, but we have dialysis as our common bond. Each of us has our cards to play in this poker game we call life. We win some and we lose some. And from this I can’t help but wonder if God works in mysterious ways, then maybe all this was planned. Perhaps the roller coaster ride of me being a dialysis patient was part of the master plan to turn me into that stranger whose caring voice was what those people needed to reassure them that hope has always been within themselves.

Chris Cala-hope-a-strangers-voiceChris Cala is a busy young professional who loves food & wine, design, tech, travel, writing, cross fit, video games, family, friends, and his puppy, Colt. His motto in life: “To achieve the impossible, you have to believe it is possible!” He receives dialysis DaVita Green Valley Dialysis in Las Vegas, Nevada. 
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