Dialyzing at home during the pandemic

I started dialysis on March 19, 2014, and like most Americans I received my treatments in a dialysis center. Three months later, I began solo home dialysis and have been treating myself that way ever since. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that we would be fighting a pandemic as I head into my seventh year of home dialysis.

Home dialysis takes effort—you have to maintain the dialysis machine, set it up for each treatment, complete each treatment, sanitize the equipment after each treatment, stay on top of ordering supplies, and unpack the supplies each time you receive more. Basically, home dialyzors are a combination of nurse, dialysis tech, administrator and patient all rolled into one person--or two, if you have a care partner to help you.

There have been times when I felt like going back to in-center dialysis so I wouldn’t have to do it all myself. However, in exchange for the extra responsibility you take on as a home dialyzor, you get the freedom to dialyze on your own schedule, which I love. With the current COVID-19 crisis and patients afraid of catching the coronavirus at or on the way to their dialysis centers, I’m very grateful that I chose to dialyze in the safety of my own home. For me, my independence is non-negotiable.

After watching movies about pandemics and reading Michael Crichton’s novels on the subject, I may have been a little desensitized to the idea that a pandemic could affect me—that only happens in books and movies, right? I admit, it took about a week of acclimating to a total lockdown, which led to
a close encounter with COVID-19 a little more than two weeks ago. I left the house to have one final lunch with my daughter, grandchildren and a couple of their friends before we were all told to practice social distancing and ordered to stay home.

Later, we found out that one of my granddaughter’s friends who was with us lives next door to the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in West Virginia. It was like playing a bad game of “six degrees of separation.” I was scared and haven’t left the house since. Thankfully, I’m feeling well and like I dodged a bullet after potential exposure. But it brought home all the warnings; it’s not just for my safety, but for all the people I might have come in contact with in the days that followed, when I had no knowledge that I may have been exposed. During the 14-day period that would tell me if I was in the clear for getting COVID-19 or not, I thought a lot about what my life would be like right now if I didn’t dialyze at home.

I’m a huge advocate of the health benefits of home dialysis and the freedom it provides patients. Now, more than ever, I am advocating for home dialysis because it gives patients the opportunity to do treatments from home. Kidney patients are high risk for COVID-19 because we’re immunocompromised and usually have other underlying health conditions that make this new disease so dangerous for us. Home dialysis is allowing people with kidney failure, like me, to stay alive without risking our lives by going into public spaces during a pandemic.

People who dialyze in centers have no choice but to continue going in for treatments because those treatments keep them alive. They may be taking public transportation or taxis to get to appointments. They must go through coronavirus screenings at their centers before and after treatments. They wear masks and gloves for four hours, three times per week, during dialysis. They’re being isolated at the first sign of a fever or cough. And, they’re doing all this with no guarantee that they will be safe from the virus.

If you are a dialysis patient and have the option of home dialysis available, I hope you will consider being trained to do your treatments at home once this pandemic is over. As we’re currently finding out, your life could depend on it.

You can find more information and resources for kidney patients by visiting our special coronavirus webpage at KidneyFund.org/coronavirus. AKF will update the page with important information for kidney patients and their caregivers as the coronavirus crisis continues to unfold.

Kidney Today welcomes contributions from outside authors. Please note, views, thoughts and opinions expressed belong solely to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the American Kidney Fund.

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About the Author(s)

Nieltje Gedney

Nieltje Gedney is an Ambassador in AKF’s Advocacy Network and is on the board of Home Dialyzors United.

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