Archive for Wednesday, April 5, 2000

The tenuous strands of health

April 5, 2000

The adage, out of sight, out of mind, pertains to many things in life. One of these, it might be said, is health.

Most of us probably tend to take good health for granted. It's there when we wake up in the morning, it's there when we go to bed at night and probably it'll still be there tomorrow.

Oftentimes, it's only when we experience serious health problems, or when we know a loved one who is experiencing health problems that we realize how important good health is.

This is how it is with a Linwood man, Virgil Yeahquo, whose health took a nosedive in 1997 when he was in his early 60s. First there was trouble with his pancreas. Then later, diabetes and hypertension got the better of him, and still later, his kidneys the great purifiers of the blood shut down. Doctors told him he had fewer than three weeks to live.

But because of renal dialysis and later because of a kidney transplant, this man's life has been extended.

To most of us those of us who have never stepped inside a dialysis clinic dialysis sounds like some sort of simple medical procedure.

But to those who undergo dialysis, the life-lengthening procedure is arduous, to say the least. By the time someone is on dialysis, for the most part, they have lost their ability to urinate, they have also lost their ability to remove toxins and excess fluids from their body except through the mechanical dialysis.

During dialysis, blood is removed from the body and circulated through a machine that has a filter that attempts to imitate the natural filtering system of the kidneys. The blood is circulated over and over again during a dialysis session, which may last up to four hours. And these sessions are repeated three times a week. No matter what the weather and no matter how ill the patient is, dialysis must take place. For those who are on dialysis know that to miss even one session could be deadly.

At the end of a dialysis session, a patient may feel faint or nauseated, which means that someone has to drive them home. For those who live in Leavenworth County, home may be only 30 minutes away, but for those who live, say, in western Kansas, home may be 100 miles away.

Meanwhile, dialysis patients live with stringent diet restrictions. No foods high in potassium or calcium, no carbonated beverages and, in short, very little fluid.

No, life on dialysis is not easy and dialysis usually isn't temporary. In our innocent veil of ignorance, we may even ask the patient how long he or she will have to continue going to dialysis.

"As long as I want to live," is the usual response. For, generally, there are two ways to stop needing dialysis: a kidney transplant or death.

The incidence of renal failure from diabetes has increased dramatically during the years.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, diabetes accounts for more than a third of all new cases of end-stage renal disease, or kidney failure, in the United States. Statistics during the last few decades illustrate a grim picture. In 1982, 52 Kansans, or 2.2 people per 100,000 population, started dialysis treatment. In 1993, the last year citing statistics in one particular survey, this number had increased to 143, or 5.6 Kansas residents per 100,000 population.

Each year, nationwide, about 33,000 people with diabetes develop kidney failure.

But this isn't just about how diabetes relates to kidney functioning, because there are other causes of kidney failure. More than anything, it's about appreciating health, and about doing what we can to keep our bodies in tip-top condition, including watching our diets and getting regular medical checkups.

After talking to Virgil Yeahquo, who had a kidney transplant five months ago, and who now must take 50 pills a day and monitor his health for as long as he lives, I came away grateful for his knowledge and experience he so candidly shared with me. And with his one gentle reminder, an understated reminder he expressed again and again was that good health, whether out of sight or out of mind or not, is a gift, and indeed is not only something to be valued but also something never to be taken for granted.

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