Welcome to Kidney 411! You’ve been involuntarily signed up for this life-long course because your kidneys have decided to slack off or generally cause chaos. But don’t worry. This course isn’t for them, it’s for you. Yes, we are the teachers, and our kidneys, both native and transplanted, are the students.
Now, here’s a little information about your syllabus writer. I was born three months premature and had a serious heart defect that unleashed a reign of terror on my body. It led to multi-organ failure, kidneys included. Unfortunately, the damage was long-lasting and I was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease (CKD) by the time I was fifteen. It was rough, but I learned quickly that curling into a ball wasn’t going to help me fight CKD. Instead, I discovered that education is my ticket to fighting and winning my battle, and this is what I would want to share with any CKD patient. So without further ado, let’s go over the syllabus.
First, check out the course objectives. The primary objective is to fight CKD and win, so let’s break that down. I don’t view fighting and winning against CKD as reversing it. Rather, I view winning as being able to do the things you want to do while having CKD. That’s why there are those blank spaces so you can fill in your own goals. Mine is to become a teacher, and since I’m starting my second year of student teaching, I believe I’m on my way to meeting that goal. Furthermore, I believe you fight CKD by learning as much as you can about the disease, its treatments, tests, symptoms, and more. After all, knowledge is power, and power helps me, and my peers, manage our condition so goals can be achieved. This knowledge is gained through the course’s components: homework, research, tests, and contacts.
Homework is a big part of any course, and for kidney patients that means treatments. I liken treatments to homework because like homework given in a classroom, it’s designed to reinforce something—in our case, health—and can become part of a natural routine. My homework consists of medications to control my blood pressure, protein levels, bone density, anemia, and appetite, along with a kidney-friendly diet low in sodium, potassium, and phosphorus. I’ve also been evaluated for a kidney transplant for when the time comes. Of course, not every kidney patient’s homework will be the same, but understanding and doing your homework increases your quality of life so you can meet your goals—the prize in this battle.
Next, let’s go over the research requirement. Research is key to helping you fight CKD. I’ve researched kidney disease and its symptoms and causes, dietary information, treatment options, and I continue to scour national clinical trial databases for potential future options. Just don’t limit yourself. A wide breadth of resources, such as the internet, books, television, and support groups are available to help you understand CKD and its aspects better. As such, the knowledge gained from these sources then helps you adapt to CKD and live a good life.
There will be lots of tests in this course. You’ll have blood and urine tests, scans, biopsies and more. Studying is required; make sure you know what these tests are for and how they will affect your kidneys. For instance, I have to check with my nephrologist to see if the contrast I need for my heart MRIs is safe for my kidneys. Furthermore, learn how to interpret the results. Understanding results gives you greater knowledge and insight into how CKD affects you, as well as strengthens your ability to make treatment decisions and interact with healthcare professionals—all valuable assets in your fight.
Lastly, you’ll see blank spots for your contacts. You can fill these in however you like, but I suggest you add your medical team, family, friends, and anyone who can support you while you fight CKD. There is strength in numbers, and more support leads to greater collective knowledge and richer living.
I think this covers our syllabus. You may note that there’s no grading scale. That’s because this course is holistically graded by each of us based on what we want our quality of life to look like. Oh, and as a final note, please remember to ask questions, support one another, and keep moving forward. Now, let’s conquer CKD!
Abigail Clary is a northern California resident who was diagnosed with Chronic Kidney Disease secondary to an acute kidney injury caused by Coarctation of the Aorta and premature birth. She graduated from Sonoma State University with a BA in Liberal Studies in May 2017 and is now in a teaching credential program in pursuit of her dream to teach special education. In moments of free time, she enjoys reading, playing piano, and spending time with her sister.
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