One day, someone inside the dialysis unit will call my name and say, I remember her. It is the cycle of life. People come and go. As a dialysis patient, get used to it, so say the veteran patients and nurses.
The other day I remembered to ask about Kenneth, a patient I hadn’t seen in a few weeks. Last time we spoke he was gearing up to begin chemotherapy. A few weeks before he had lost his ability to speak; thankfully for him, it was temporary. He was on the mend and back inside the dialysis unit chatting up a storm. But he was missing again.
I asked the nurse, how is Kenneth doing? The reply: “Kenneth? Kenneth died.”
Oh. Ok. Wow. Maferefun (praises to the spiritual energy of) Kenneth.
Every patient, every nurse, even the cleaning staff has a list; a list of people who have come and gone: names they recite like an ancestral roll call. They remember him. They remember her. Remember, he was the young one, only 22. Remember, he used to walk from Fox Hill. Remember, he was on the ward for the longest while.
Kenneth was now on my list: another reminder that people come and people go. And the veterans were right, inside the Dialysis Unit you witness many people navigating the borderlands between life and death: people you share a life journey with; who you literally share beds with, and can’t help but picture yourself from time to time in their shoes.
I was asleep on the machine before waking up to the screams of a nurse: “Code, code, code,” she shouted.
Tension moved through my muscles. Anxiety rose up like a hairball in my throat. I had to swallow and figure out what was going on.
It wasn’t me. I was fine. I was still dying slowly. But someone was on the fast track.
The dialysis unit is like an open dormitory with beds lined up in two facing rows against opposite walls. Everything is out in the open. You could be lying next to someone; talking to them and the next minute looking at a corpse. Inside the unit, you’re not always thinking about iku (death), but iku is always close by, as the butt of a joke or a sobering consciousness.
One day I was sitting in the waiting area. It’s a narrow corridor with a bench: Sterile and musty looking. It serves as a passage way to exit several patient wards. From around the corner I heard the squeaking of a gurney. When it passed, I didn’t immediately notice the lifelessness to the body. But then it hit me. The body was completely covered from head to toe by a green suede-like fabric with the emblem of a local funeral home. Iku was most unceremonious. He had just sneaked pass me with only a squeak.
Back inside the unit, the nurses fumbled to free the defibrillator, which was next to my bed. They’d have to wheel it into the back room where some patient’s heart had stopped. As they calmly but earnestly worked to free the lifesaving machine, I thought about the family members of this anonymous person. Dialysis would have become so routine to the family: three days a week, the person would go in and about six hours later they would come out. What if today was the day they didn’t come out walking but wheeling in a squeaky gurney covered in a green suede-like sheet.
Turned out, I knew the patient. He was an elderly gentleman, a reverend, who I had just shared the waiting room with hours before. The conversation had gotten a bit raucous, and someone apologized to Rev for using a lewd term. He was silently gracious. I remembered him.
As these thoughts flashed through my mind I found myself consciously rooting for the nurses to hurry it up. There was silence and tension all across the unit. We all wanted the nurses to hurry it up, to save the life we all imagined could be ours one day.
No one said anything to us, but a little while after, the consensus was, the nurses had been successful in resuscitating the patient. As one of the seasoned patients said, there would have been more hysteria had iku taken the patient away.
So how close is iku really when you are on dialysis? Probably closer than you want to believe.
For sure, one day in the future, someone on the unit – a nurse, a cleaning lady or a veteran patient – will call my name in the ancestral roll call as the cycle of life continues.