If there is one thing that is predictable in the life of a person on dialysis, it is the treatment schedule. Patients who are treated in-center typically go three times a week for about four hours of hemodialysis each time.
But what happens when something disrupts that schedule?
We sat down with Ariel Brigham in Houston to talk about her experience after Hurricane Harvey flooded vast parts of Houston and coastal Texas.
Kidney Today: How did you prepare for the hurricane?
Ariel: Once I knew how serious the storm was going to be, I knew I needed to prepare myself for the hurricane. I knew I would need some bread and some food that's OK for me to eat on my kidney-friendly food plan. But when I went to the store, pretty much everything was gone. All the bread, all the water. So, I was very limited in what I could get and the foods I am allowed to eat as a person on dialysis were not available. I was not able to get bread or peanut butter and jelly. I had to go for the snacks and frozen products that were left.
Kidney Today: Was your home affected by the floods?
Ariel: Yes, my home was flooded, and right now I am not able to live there because of the mold and the bad smell. I actually was not expecting my apartment to get flooded because the area that I live in does not typically flood. I had to leave and go to a friend's house. I was thankful that I did not have to go to a shelter.
Kidney Today: What happened with your dialysis treatment?
Ariel: I last dialyzed the Friday before the storm. I went seven days with no dialysis treatment, which is very dangerous, because I was flooded in and could not go anywhere. And a lot of dialysis centers were closed.
Kidney Today: What happens when you skip dialysis treatments?
Ariel: It was pretty hard to go that long without dialysis. I noticed the changes in my body. I gained 30 pounds of fluid and I was extremely swollen – my face, my hands, my legs, my whole body was super swollen. It was really hard and pretty much all I could do was sleep.
Kidney Today: How did you finally get help?
Ariel: I was so sick, I got to the point where I was vomiting non stop. The water had gone down a bit, so we were able to get out and I eventually ended up in the emergency room. The first hospital we went to was closed, so we drove across town. The emergency room was extremely packed, and it took seven hours before I could be seen. I was so sick; I was waiting and throwing up the entire time.
When the doctor finally saw me, I told her it had been seven days since my last dialysis treatment. She said I should hope my numbers were extremely high, or they would have to send me home without treatment. I knew that my potassium was high, because I have a history of it.
They told me my level of potassium was 7.8. When your potassium is extremely high, your heart can stop. I was basically at the point where they said my heart was slowing down, so they agreed to give me treatment. But even then, I had to wait another four hours before I could dialyze.
Kidney Today: How are you doing now?
Ariel: I am back to my regular Monday-Wednesday-Friday treatments, and all of the fluid I gained is now off. Everything is back to normal, and my levels are good.
Kidney Today: You were one of the first patients to receive a Disaster Relief Grant from the American Kidney Fund. How has that helped you?
Ariel: It meant a lot just to be able to receive something after losing so much. To go from working hard and to lose everything in an instant is really heartbreaking. It is very stressful and you just wonder what you are going to do now. The grant was very helpful. Even though this happened, you still have bills you have to pay. Thank you so much from the bottom of my heart. That money means so much to a lot of us.