Keeping them open…
I am not a seasoned traveler by any means. But the week after Christmas I traveled, on a plane, by myself, to visit with my friend, chosen family and #firsteverworkhusband Martin. My local airport is not enormous and checking my big bag and passing through security went smoothly enough, as the lines were fairly short and moved quickly. Then I went on to my gate and eventually to board the plane, where I waited in another line. I have a sweet and understanding husband who graciously allowed me to take this trip, and escorted me as far as he could before kissing me goodbye and probably experiencing some stress about me proceeding on my own.
Airports are poignant places as I look around at the other travelers. I wonder what their stories are, who or what they are traveling to see, if their trips are carefree vacations, happy reunions or sad goodbyes. It’s the storyteller in me, I suppose, that craves to know these details, the storylines of the people around me.
After a quick and smooth flight I landed at my destination, a much larger airport than the one I had left behind less than two hours before. Text messages from Martin told me that he was waiting to meet me at baggage claim. After almost 5 months since seeing each other in person, his warm smile greeting me made all the angst and craziness melt away, as it always does when we see each other. Hugs exchanged and my suitcase retrieved, we got into his car and merged into the lines of traffic headed back to his apartment.
We laughed and talked nonstop the entire time I was there, never once encountering an awkward pause or running out of things to say. Friendships like this are priceless indeed, the connection of soulful, goofball kindred spirits who understand each other well. Conversations started forever ago and new ones begun, like lines in an ongoing play or novel.
Part of our time was spent at the clinic where Martin undergoes hemodialysis three days per week. As an ESRD (end stage renal disease) patient, he must dialyze regularly in order to survive until he can receive a kidney transplant. As much illness as I have seen among my family and friends, I have had little experience with kidney failure or dialysis until now, and Martin kindly arranged with his clinic for me to be able to sit with him during his treatments. Usually visitors are discouraged but since our visit allowed us limited time together, I was permitted to be there.
Because of possible blood contamination, biohazard and liability concerns, I was not present when he was connected to, or disconnected from, the dialysis machine, and I was required to gown up while I sat with him. I joked about how flattering my “prom dress” was, which got laughs. I was able to observe him and the other patients, his clinic family, as they sat through treatment. On Friday, the man in the chair next to us had an episode of chest pain resulting in a bit of quick, efficient scrambling by the team in order to stabilize him and get him feeling better. Sunday’s treatment brought Martin the news that one of his fellow travelers on the dialysis path had passed away, the first time he has lost a member of his clinic family, a woman only a few years his senior. The ride from the clinic was a little quieter, and a little bit somber as we both tried to wrap our heads around the news. Had he learned of her death in time he would have attended her memorial service, but it had already taken place.
For several hours after treatment, the possibility of bleeding is a concern so he has to stay bandaged up.
Among the other painful aspects of treatment, pulling the tape off a hairy arm sometimes smarts! After he removed the tape and gauze, he let me photograph his arm…it bears the marks of several years’ worth of puncture wounds and the scar from where his fistula was created. His access is apparently a bit tricky; the arterial line is near the surface and not usually a problem for the technician to find, but the venous line goes deeper and has a turn, so it sometimes makes for a difficult “stick”.
Once connected, he rests (or attempts to rest) in a reclining chair for approximately 4 hours, during which every drop of blood is removed, scrubbed free of toxins and then the clean blood fed back into the body. It’s really remarkable technology…but it is a punishing process. Martin’s minimum removed fluid since we have reconnected has been 2.5 kilograms (5.5 pounds) and he has had as much as 5 kilos taken off, which is 11 pounds and change. In four hours.
I sat silent for a few moments and frown lines must have shadowed my face, because Martin said, “Don’t look at my access with sadness; it is my lifeline until I can get a kidney transplant.” Still, I remember him telling me about times when his access has been blown out when one of the needles infiltrated, leaving its assigned spot and forcing treatment to be halted…bruising, swelling and pain in the arm, and the itching that sometimes aggravates him after treatment.
Storylines…waiting in lines…lifelines…my holiday got me thinking about the lines of our lives in a whole new way. Five days of nonstop talking with Martin reminded me that the most important lines are those of communication between us and our loved ones. Life is short. Talk to the people you care about. Keep the lines open and clear.