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  • Writer's pictureJ.L. Whitehead

Dialysis and mental health

Updated: Dec 5, 2021

It never occurred to me to write about what it was like to be a dialysis patient. I did not think the topic warranted a space in the “Safe House,” until I realized that I might need to speak to a licensed therapist about how I have been feeling this last year while on dialysis.

These feelings started with a week long stay in the hospital last summer. I had missed a treatment and had plans on making it up since I knew that you were not supposed to miss a treatment under any circumstances. On a Sunday evening, I noticed that my body was trembling slightly. The trembling was not enough to stop me from watching a movie with my husband. But he noticed. What happened the next morning came in a swirl of confusion and fear.

My husband woke me up because I had an appointment with a physician that performed a same day surgical procedure on me. The visit was a follow up appointment to make sure that I was healing properly. I never made the visit.

He said that when he looked at me, he saw the trembling becoming more violent…so bad in fact that he did not know how I was able to sleep. Once he got me up, he looked into my eyes and saw…nothing.

He said that he tried to talk to me, and I would respond for a moment and then go back to my semi-catatonic state. I remember being transported to the hospital but nothing after that until I woke up in the emergency room, inside bay 5. My husband said that he had been with me the entire time and that

he talked to me and held my hand. He said that I responded to him in one moment and would also lose consciousness the next. After I was admitted it determined that I needed to be dialyzed, which after much blood work would take three days.

While all of this was going on, I would lose consciousness, shake violently, could not articulate my thoughts, and could not recall things such as my husband’s phone number.

With each treatment, I began to reclaim my mental and physical facilities. I was in the hospital for five grueling days.

When you undergo dialysis, no one can prepare you for the side effects of this life-saving treatment. No one tells you that you may be subject to restless leg syndrome or insomnia. No one could warn you about the dangers of missing a treatment.

I cannot get a kidney transplant quick enough. It will be three years since the doctors at Penn removed one of my kidneys. It has played on my psyche since then.

The good news is that I will get through this…just like all of you. We will get through this. It will take time; perhaps more time than we can physically bare. But we will get there.

It is just going to take time.

And time is all we have…right?

~ J.L. Whitehead

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