As I watched the tube fill from a glossy yellow to a deep red, I felt less alive than ever. It entered the machine, whirring and spinning as if inconvenienced. Meanwhile, I sat there. At first it seemed like hours, and it slowlybecame hours. What felt like the entire day ticked by—as slowly as the red in the tube—while I stared at the machine. I could be called, at best, an accessory to this process. Most of the other people plugged into their own machines were older than me. If this is something that adults need, why do I have to be here?
Today marks six months since I started hemodialysis. I had to start because I got really sick. I have always been more or less healthy, but the doctors told my parents that I have “chronic glomerulonephritis.” You would think that word wouldn’t be a part of a normal high school sophomore’s vocabulary, and you’d be right. Believe me, even though it’s the biggest word I know, I wish I had never had to learn it. There’s this big scientific explanation about what is going wrong with the various structures in my kidneys, but that isn’t what I want to write here. If doctors can be relied upon for anything, certainly they can keep their own records.
No, the important thing that you need to know is that the disease I have makes my kidneys almost useless. A year ago, I didn’t even know what kidneys do, aside from vaguely resembling a disgusting bean that bears their name. It turns out, though, that your body uses its kidneys to filter out the waste left over from other bodily processes. You wouldn’t think that “toxins” would be a significant label for very much in our bodies. Apparently, though, our bodily cells are cranking out toxic waste all day long.
So, that’s my problem: lots of toxins in my blood, and my kidneys are no longer filtering them out. That’s why I have to get plugged into a dialyzer machine. Toxic blood goes in, but what else? Sometimes, I feel like the machine is sucking out who I am, too. Think about all of the people walking around with clean, non-dialysis-filtered blood. How many of them are even aware that their kidneys are keeping them alive? Maybe one percent? And that’s being generous. I, however, have learned way more than I ever wanted to about exactly how the bean-shaped organs keep the toxins out of everyone’s veins and arteries. Everyone’s veins, it seems, but mine.
If it weren’t for the machine, I would die. I remember my first time. I had been feeling very sick for a while, so I guess I was pretty hopeful. Yeah, I felt better afterward. But I had to go back again. And again. And again. For six months. I may even have to keep going back for my entire life, or what’s left of it. What kind of life do you have when you need to be plugged into a machine that performs an incredibly slow process that most people don’t even know exists. Sometimes I ask myself, “Is it worth it?”
What I have learned from this is who I am and what is really important to me. I don’t know what the life expectancy is for people who have chronic kidney failure, but I can’t imagine it keeps pace with the life expectancies of normal people. This realization, while terrifying, has pushed me to write down my dreams, my fears, and my innermost thoughts. Ever since I could scrawl out little more than my name in crayon, I have always felt a pull toward writing, as if it were my life’s calling. It is, perhaps, the only way to experience who I really am—for other people as well as myself. In expounding my most personal self on paper, I hope to find both strength and meaning. Sincerely written, the events of our lives can transform into digestible lessons that nourish our souls’ growth. It could be that someone else who is suffering as I am might take solace in my writing. I certainly hope it helps them, because that process could never be performed by a machine.
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