I had an interesting conversation with a man who is currently a pre-dialysis patient. He had been talking to various people who were on dialysis in an effort to understand what to expect and to decide what treatment modality he thought would be best. When I told him that I had been an in-center hemodialysis patient for almost 8 years, he reacted with sympathy in his voice, as though I had been through a terrible ordeal. As he asked questions about my experience, I knew that I had to mention something positive about going to a dialysis unit. As I skimmed my mind, he presented the question, “Can you tell me anything positive about in-center hemodialysis?” I could tell that he wasn’t hopeful that I would be able to give an answer, or better yet, that I would be able to give a pleasing answer. Thinking it through, I knew that I did have an answer to his question.
So often I find myself surprised by the interesting and exciting experiences people have despite living on dialysis.
The Social Life
As I reflected on all the years I’ve done dialysis treatment, I realized that socializing with other patients at the dialysis unit has been my most positive experience. I have always enjoyed getting to know a new person, intrigued to discover our similarities as much as our differences. However, combine the idea of a dialysis treatment with the idea of “social benefits,” and being able to socialize with others ends up on the top of the “Least Likely To Do List.” Most people don’t enter a dialysis unit with enthusiasm and a plan for fun!
Although this lack of enthusiasm can be common among dialysis patients, I often find myself wondering how other patients cope with the demands of kidney disease, and I believe every dialysis patient at least wonders how the person next to them arrived in that chair. For me, I discovered there are five benefits in socializing with other dialysis patients in the dialysis unit.
Sometimes opening the line of communication can be uncomfortable and even frightening for some people. In most cases, I often “take a chance” by beginning a conversation with the person next to me. This is usually the easiest because they are the person nearest and the most likely to have seen me on a regular basis. I start with a simple smile or “hello”. By doing this, most people are glad you have simply acknowledged their presence. So the first benefit of socializing with other patients usually occurs the moment you open dialogue with the person. When you open a conversation or just give the person a smile that is the moment they transform from the “pod person” next to you into a human being. This is the moment the person becomes less a mystery.
The second benefit of socializing with patients is what you learn. Kidney disease does not occur the same way for everyone. When a patient shares their story, you realize that dialysis treatment is a common reason you both come to the dialysis unit, but sometimes the cause of kidney disease may be different for you both. For example, I developed kidney disease because I have lupus. The person who sits next to me developed kidney disease as a result of diabetes while another’s resulted from high blood pressure.
Variety of Lives
I believe everyone has at least one fascinating aspect about their life. This discovery is not only enjoyable, but is the third benefit of knowing another patient. I have observed that kidney disease affects people from all walks of life—young, old, male, female, black, white, rich, poor, and so on. People with kidney disease can be as different as the colors in a rainbow. I was amazed to learn that the man sitting next to me was a retired pilot who did hang gliding almost every weekend! Another person shared her story of raising 10 children—successfully. So often I find myself surprised by the interesting and exciting experiences people have despite living on dialysis.
Even if you feel that you have nothing in common with a fellow dialysis patient, encouragement is the fourth benefit in socializing with other patients. Whether you give it or receive it, I believe this can be one of the most valuable benefits in knowing another patient. Different people use different methods to cope with the challenges they face, especially challenges that may arise with kidney disease. Encouragement is something you don’t have to be an expert to give and it is an effortless act to receive it. Encouragement is something every kidney patient needs.
When patients connect with one another they are developing a support system. This connection is the final benefit of socializing with patients in the dialysis unit. You realize that you are not in this situation alone. This makes a huge difference in how you view the future. Having a connection with another patient can make entering the dialysis unit a little more pleasant, sitting in the chair for treatment easier to endure, and help you face another day with an attitude of hope.
Do you know who is sitting next to you? I encourage you to find out and embrace the benefits of knowing that person.
About the Author
Wendy Rodgers was diagnosed with systemic lupus in 2000. A former Math & Science teacher, she currently resides in Torrance, CA. Wendy holds a B.S. in Biology and a Masters’ in Education which she completed while on dialysis. As a member of the Renal Support Network, Wendy is a PEPP speaker and weKAN patient activist. She is currently writing a book about her experiences with Lupus, and is active with the Center for Lupus Care, facilitating support groups and working with individual patients.
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