Rachel Cluthe’s day starts early, often before the sun rises. As her husband, Jason, leaves for work, she stays busy raising her two daughters, Emma and Elissa. Meeting the needs of a 4-year-old while home-schooling a 10-year-old is in itself a full-time job, but Rachel also holds down a demanding full-time job in the oil and gas industry. Fortunate to be able to work from home, the 33-year-old mother strikes a delicate balance between family life and professional responsibilities.
Sundays are for planning the week ahead – preparing meals that her husband Jason can heat up during the week if need be, and keeping a calendar of her family’s social activities, like Emma’s girl scout activities and homework assignments, and Jason’s night-time performance gigs that he fits in after working a full time job. Being a drummer in a band, it’s important that he not miss a beat. Not missing a beat is Rachel’s responsibility too, but in a different way.
Back in March 2018, Rachel had been on her new job as an accounting assistant for only two weeks when she was admitted to the hospital. The fluids she was retaining made it almost impossible for her to walk. She was diagnosed with AKI (acute kidney injury) and learned that her coronary artery was blocked by 85 percent. She was told to see a cardiologist. After doctors put a stent in her heart, she began to feel better. But a few months later the swelling was back, and she ended up in the hospital for a month. Doctors inserted a catheter in her chest and started dialysis to eliminate the excess fluids. “My new employer was very supportive,” she said. “They gave me a laptop so I could work from my hospital bed. I barely got out of the hospital in time to trick-or-treat with my kids,” she says.
Prior to her hospitalization, it was all she could do to feed her kids. “I’d get take-out and have Emma feed Elissa.”
She wanted to resume her active lifestyle. “I didn’t want to be on disability,” she said. With Emma in school and Elissa in daycare, she started dialysis sessions. Determined to not miss a beat, she had dialysis treatments at the clinic from 5 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. three times a week and was at work by 10 a.m. And then, in January 2019, Doctors inserted a fistula, which moved her toward her goal of home dialysis. She began self-cannulation at the center in April and started home training in June from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. She worked at her job into the evening hours to make up for lost time. She did her first home treatment in July.
“Self-cannulation at home can be nerve-wracking, but it’s worth it,” she says. Her employer allowed her to work from home, and she rose in the ranks from an accounting position to operations while also pitching in to help her employer in different departments.
To say Rachel is once again leading an active lifestyle is an understatement, because now she must also maintain a steady relationship with “Awsom-O,” named after a character on the TV show, “South Park.” Their strict standing date is three hours four times a week.
Naming her dialysis machine is just one of the things she does to maintain her sense of humor. And Awsom-O provides her more than one benefit. “When I’m on Awsom-O, my dialysis machine, I can give my undivided attention to my work or my kids,” she says.
With all that she does, Rachel maintains that keeping a busy schedule is “inconvenient, not impossible.”
“I have an amazing support system – my mom, my husband and my employer.” She credits them for her ability to raise two daughters while working full time and doing dialysis – all from the comfort of her own home. And Rachel’s determination to provide a fun-filled childhood for her daughters is clear. Throughout her ordeal, she took her daughters to Six Flags amusement park on a regular basis. And recently, she and Jason reserved an entire day to create a backyard play space for the girls. Afterward, her scheduled date with Awsom-O ran late into the evening. It’s important to her that she doesn’t miss a beat.
“I know this isn’t the end for me. I can keep going because I know this is just temporary.” Life is about living, enjoying the good times while meeting everyday challenges, and taking advantage of new opportunities as they come along. She is working towards losing weight to prepare for the possibility of a kidney transplant.
“Anyone who needs dialysis can look at me and see that you can still live your life,” Rachel says.
Mary Nesfield has enjoyed a long career in magazine publishing. She is a freelance writer and editor for Renal Support Network. Mary works from her home in Columbia, South Carolina.
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