Saturday, December 3, 2011

Day of Remembrance Offers Poignant Support

I've been in health care as a nurse or as a physician for nearly forty years. I've seen people live and die with all sorts of illnesses. But never any disease as relentless or as complex as End Stage Renal Failure. Thankfully, we have transplant and dialysis - but these aren't exactly a walk in the park.

With dialysis, you must affirm your decision to live every day - or at least, you affirm your decision to try not to die.

"Civilians" don't always do that - and maybe we should.

Today, in a Ceremony of Remembrance held at the SeaTac Kidney Center, a harp played as folks gathered. Then, a chaplain lead readings about grief and loss. 

At one point, everyone was given the opportunity to place a colorful stone in a bowl of water at the front of the room. The bowl sat on what looked something like an altar, flanked by a floral arrangement and flickering candles. We then took another stone with us to keep as a remembrance.

Person after person stood, approached the table, and picked up their polished stones.

      "For my husband, Steve Williams," I said, as I deposited the stone with the others in the bowl of water.

      "For my little brother, Steve Williams," said Carole.

And on and on, each person remembering a spouse, a parent, or worse - a child. Some of the losses were very recent. The Kidney Center organizers had been considerate in leaving a small packet of Kleenex on every other chair.

Everybody in that room - at least everybody who had lost someone - knew about kidney disease in a way the rest of the world simply cannot.

As we left, we noticed that wall defining our hallway was shared by an active dialysis center - with treatments going on, even as we remembered our lost loved ones. We saw the overhead television monitors; we couldn't see the patients, of course.

But we knew that somebody there was likely having fistula challenges. Somebody was forgetting to take their phosphate binders. Somebody was having muscle cramps at the end of their treatment. Somebody was waiting for a transplant. Somebody was watching football to pass the time, and somebody was simply bored.

End Stage Renal Failure is a condition you want to prevent at all costs. Remember, the most common causes are high blood pressure and diabetes - often preventable, always modifiable.

On a day of remembrance, we remember the people we've lost. But, we remember what the disease was like also.

Take care,
Linda Gromko, MD