By Annie Monroe – ABSN Student
The waiting room on the 9th floor dialysis unit of Grady Memorial Hospital was packed from the moment we stepped foot on the floor this morning. Men and women sat camped out for the day waiting patiently for their turn on the lifesaving dialysis machines. Surprisingly, despite their dire circumstances, the men in women there wore smiles while chatting and laughed while playing Bingo to pass the time. These people all share the unfortunate experience of dealing with the effects of end stage renal failure. Due to their lack of insurance, they must wait every week for “Emergency” dialysis treatment. While insured patients may receive dialysis 3 times per week, these patients are lucky to get one or two treatments a week.
We had the pleasure of getting to know a couple of these patients today and hearing the stories that brought them to be reliant on hemodialysis. We were helping with data collection phase of a research study investigating environmental factors that may contribute to the development of chronic kidney disease (CKD). CKD is a widespread problem among the undocumented population. The two leading hypotheses are that the CKD is a result of workplace exposure to toxins or dehydration and heat illness. The study uses survey questions to investigate the possible exposures and contributing factors these patients have encountered. The research study’s ultimate goal is to gather enough data to help protect future generations of workers from developing CKD. The patients were so kind, eager to help, and showed endless patience (especially while we stumbled through our knowledge of the Spanish language).
The first woman we interviewed had been diagnosed with kidney disease about a decade ago when she went to her doctor with just a swollen foot. She was told she needed dialysis within the year, although she did not seek treatment until six years later. We did not ask why she did not seek care sooner, although we have learned that many undocumented patients do not seek care until it is emergent, due to limited options. As we began to interview our next patient, her blood pressure began to tank and a nurse quickly came running to restabilize her. That was an eye-opening experience that showed us the reality of how intense and uncomfortable these treatments are.
We moved on to our last patient, a young 37 year old man, who had been diagnosed with kidney disease very recently. He noticed something was wrong when he began fainting at work. He started working in agriculture at the age of 6 and had worked dozens of different types of jobs, although is no longer working because of his health condition. He believes his working conditions have a slightly negative effect on his health, especially the long hours out in the sun.
Just two interviews gave us a little glimpse of the struggles these patients have faced, although not once did they complain or even mention the difficultly. A small detail that stood out in both interviews was that that each of them came to America alone, without any family. These two individuals are resilient for dealing with the daily struggles of a devastating disease, along with the countless obstacles they have faced and continue to take on.