49) A Bit of Hell

September 2, 2006

El Milagro:
For the first time since I started, I couldn’t get in one bit early today, so I started at 3 pm. When I walked up to the door today, a guy that I see who is fairly new was standing outside smoking a cigarette. I said “Hi” and he said something like “Ready for a bit of Hell?” That comment took me back a bit, but I just replied, “Yeah, another day, another dollar”, or something like that. Later, after the brief pain of being poked, I sat there thinking about that little interaction.

I suppose, for some people, dialysis is a ‘bit of Hell’. There are people in dialysis who moan (aside from the woman who says “Help” and isn’t really in her right mind) and people who just have this attitude of despair about them. I recall again when I first met Amanda and she said, “Sorry to meet you this way”, not that I think Amanda has a negative attitude. There are however, many people at that place who think of themselves as ‘SICK’ and there are many people outside of that place who think of me as ‘sick’. They always get a very serious look on their face, lean forward so we have an intimate connection, and say something like, “So, how ARE you…. really?”. And I, of course, say something like “I’m still kicking”.

Back in El Paso, in high school in the early 60's, we used to have this label for a certain category of people who we called ‘shit kickers’. They were the guys who grew up on farms or ranches and wore their cowboy boots to school because that’s all the shoes they had. (My dialysis staff friends from Fabens will understand this part). And, there were also kicker wanna-be’s, who grew up in suburbia and got some boots and went down to the lower valley just looking for shit to kick. Membership in FFA usually separated the two groups. So, anyhow, when I say, “I’m still kickin’” I’m picturing myself in my fanciest boots, strolling along, kicking cow patties off to either side of the path. And that image is one of being alive in the most pungent way.

Or, sometimes I say, “I’m still alive” as a little bite, inferring that there is the chance I wouldn’t be. And, with some people, I just lean forward seriously and say something like, “I’m doin much better now that I run my blood thru that machine 12 hours a week.” And that’s more like the real serious truth. Dialysis does a good job of keeping me on the planet and I feel very fortunate that that piece of equipment exists in the post-modern world.

Dialysis is not really ‘a bit of Hell’ for me. It is as an opportunity for me to take a break from the crazy, busy world we live in these days. I have to go there and have to get the toxins sucked outa my blood, and there is no way around it. I have to do it. How I frame it can either be helpful to me or harmful to me, emotionally. I like to frame the whole experience as an opportunity to take a break. I heard on the news that Americans take less vacation than any of the other technologically advanced countries. While Americans average 10 days of vacation a year, the Japanese take 17, French 25, and Italians 20. On an average, Americans are entitled to 16 days a year, so they aren’t even using their quota. As we approach Labor Day, it is interesting to note that many Americans are workaholics. I know it would surprise my Dad, but I could be one. I end every fiscal year with more than a week of hours (60 this year) that I have worked more than my required time. Of course, that is a figment of my imagination, because as a “salaried” employee I have to work until the job is done, no matter how many hours it takes. It always takes longer than a 40 hour week. The guy on the news segment last night works about 18 hours a day, every day… so, he is in much worse shape than I. But the point is this: we all work too much. My dialysis is forcing me to take a break. I should be happy, no? My dialysis gives me time for reading, watching cable TV (Discovery Channel, etc.), nap time, and ‘down’ time. And that's a good thing! Aside from the fact that I have to do it. It's all about HOW you do it that counts. And that’s the way I see it.

Notes: In at 72.4 Kg. and out at 71.2 Kg.

Later (9/4): A special thanks to Margo for leaning over on the porch last night and saying "How are you, really?" and having the conversation with me about attitudes and frames which was teleported in time to this earlier post.


cheryl martin said...

Hey Jack - As someone who knows something about PKD and dialysis, I understand how it can actually be interpreted as a "bit of Heaven" rather than Hell. My aunt lived a "good" 10+ years (started in her late 60s)on dialysis...still worked part time,enjoyed her family/husband, kids, grandkids, etc. Her quality of life was deteriorating quickly before she started dialysis. She was happy to have the option - the other one being death. I still wish my brother was "in Heaven" with dialysis because he would more than likely still be alive...and "living." His real Hell was his transplant - it killed him, literally - and before it ultimately killed him, his quality of life was worse than before his dialysis started. I also agree with how being "forced" to take a break from working/pace of industrialized life in America can be viewed as a gift...partly, because your forced break makes you more healthy - sounds like it provides you with an opportunity for mental health as well - which we all know coexists intimately with our physical health...so all the way around, your are feeling like a "new man" - well, maybe not "new," just better!! All of a sudden I am sensing you thinking how I am sure doing alot of "hallucinating" in all this rambling. Anyway, all I am really saying is that I understand how you can view your dialysis as a good thing - on several levels - that I wish my brother had chosen to continue dialysis - and that I agree we all work to hard. I like your attitude - I could use a little more of your way of thinking. Take care. your Cheryl

munney said...

It's Oct 22, '09 as I read thru this post, and must mention the article "North Texas senior travels the world -- without kidneys" in Austin-American Statesman yesterday, Metro section. Talk about *using* dialysis to meet other heaven-thinkers!
Also the shit-kicker talk reminds me how much I loved being on my grandparents' farm, the animals and smells, pungent as they are, not just cows and mules and chickens but slopping pigs, life organic and pre-tech, including all the carnivorous consequences; this basic truth seems to me an important gap in gen-Y thinking. B. Kingsolver takes the requirements for our modern day-to-day living to the deeptest realities in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.

Jack Nowicki said...

Thanks for your pungent remarks Munny. I enjoyed them muchly. JN