Sunday, January 17, 2010

Caregiver Tip #7: Take something back!

Steve, with End Stage Renal Failure for over two years now, has given up a lot because of his disease. The five-days-a-week Home Dialysis is a time sink. Don't get me wrong: we would make no other choice - except, of course, for a working transplant! Then, because of his February tranplant and its multiple complications, Steve hasn't been able to work. So, he's experienced a loss of income,  a loss of people contact to the degree he'd like, and a bruising of his own self-identity.

Caregivers give up a lot, too. For example:
  • A loss of spontaneity in almost every aspect of your life
  • Time to do other things, like spending time with friends
  • Exercise that requires time away
  • The ability to travel for work or pleasure, without the coordination of dialysis
  • A partner who feels well enough to participate in life the way either of you would like.
One suggestion for both Caregiver and Dialysis Patient is to find something - anything - that Renal Failure has taken away--and make a valiant effort to reclaim it.

Before Steve developed ESRD, I was an avid exerciser. At my maximum, I was rowing (single shell on actual water) at least two or three times a week, spinning tthree times a week, plus a couple of sessions of "balls-to-the-wall" (sorry) strength training. And I loved it.

I didn't come by exercise natually.It was hard-won; the best outgrowth of a weight reduction program I did ten years ago. I discovered that the secret weapon for weight loss was strength training and aerobic exercise using big muscle groups. 

If you've never taken a spinning class, this is a fitness bargain! Spinning is a group activity, with everyone on their own stationery bike which looks and feels like a road bike. This is NOT likely to be the old exercycle in the basement. The instructor takes you through drills which simulate climbs and sprints.

Done to music (my favorite was heavy metal!) you get lost in the rhythm and almost forget how hard you are working. When I started spinning, I was in the midst of a business lawsuit. Spinning allowed me to process the stress more effectively.

I used to joke, "Spinning converts homicidal energy into kinetic energy!"

Sadly, though, as Steve has required Home Dialysis -- and I've had to commute from Bainbridge Island to Seattle by ferry every workday -- much of my exercise bit the dust. Spinning and rowing went, because of logistics. I have rigidly maintained a twice-a-week strength training commitment..

But last Sunday - and today, I did a 90-minute 7 a.m.spinning class at the Bainbridge Athletic Club. Kevin, the no-nonsense instructor, set the initial cadence at 120 rpm, and we were off and moving for an hour-and-a half.

Muscle memory kicked in, and -- pardon the cliche, but it was "like riding a bike!"

For me, though, it represented much more. Again, I felt the "moral superiority" of just having done it(!). I felt my stresses dissipate. I felt more like myself.

Spinning gives me a glimpse of an earlier life - a life I liked better! But it reminds me that I haven't lost myself entirely.

So, Caregivers, here's our challenge. Find something you've given up on account of your partner's kidney failure and the increased demands that places on you. Find a way to take it back. You'll confirm that you're still yourself -- just more seasoned.

Take care. Linda Gromko, MD

PS - Here's the obligatory qualifier: it's always best to see your Health Care Provider before embarking on any exercise program. Start slowly, listen to your body. Don't exercise through warning symptoms like chest pain or tightness! Good trainers and instructors will help keep you safe, but only if you use your own good sense.


  1. Hi Linda,

    Keep up the GREAT work. I have always felt that in a subliminal way, my role is a care giver, too! Thanks and hope to see you again in class.

  2. Thank you! I agree that anyone who teaches, coaches, encourages, motivates in the name of fitness is definitely a caregiver. And, you bet I'll be back...spinning is addictive! LG