A wake up call
Walking into the dialysis unit at the University Hospital of Wales for the first time is a moment in time that feels frozen for me and one that I find hard to erase from my memory. I was with my lovely, still healthy husband and our experience of that hospital to date had been a joyous one, as it’s where our two sons were born. But we were now facing a very different set of circumstances. My husband had recently been diagnosed with a progressive kidney disease – a diagnosis that had come completely out of the blue, following a routine medical check up connected with our application for a mortgage. He was in his mid thirties, played squash and football, cycled to work and went to the gym three times a week. We had two young children and life was good, life was very good and happy and full of promise. Until we had a phone call from our GP one Saturday morning, asking him to come to the hospital for a scan on Monday because the routine blood tests had showed up a potential problem with his kidneys.
Life changed dramatically for us then and from that moment on it seemed that we lived with the cloud of his impending renal failure blocking out the sun that used to shine so warmly on our little family.
We were told that the condition was progressive, and his health would gradually deteriorate, but the doctors could not predict exactly when he would require dialysis. We were invited to attend a session at the hospital to find out more about what the future might hold and, as part of the session, we were given a “tour” of the dialysis unit. As we entered the ward I’m sure that my face must have betrayed all that I felt inside. I could barely breathe; such was the level of emotion and anxiety I was experiencing. The room was filled with beds, each inhabited by a very sick looking person who was hooked up to a large, ugly machine. There was a constant low level hum and my strongest visual memory is of blood. Blood being pumped through tubes, out of arms, into machines and back again. And sad yellow faces, out of which stared dull, lifeless eyes.
The nurse who was showing us around sensed my despair and gently took me by the elbow, leading me to a quiet corner. I willed myself not to break down because it was my husband’s future we were looking at, not mine, and I didn’t want him to see how upset I was. And yet it was my future too. It seemed to me that all the hopes, plans and dreams I had nurtured of our life together were being flushed away in tubes and ugly machines. How would the children feel seeing their father like this? Why did everyone in the beds look so sick and he still look so well? Was it really possible that he would soon be yellow and sad like them? How could this be happening to us? I wanted to scream out loud: “This isn’t right! This isn’t the plan! You’ve made a mistake!”
I managed to compose myself and we continued our tour, but I hardly heard a word that the nurse was saying. I just kept looking and trying to imagine the man I loved in one of these beds, hooked up to one of these hideous contraptions.
We were taken back to a small room and gently asked if we had any questions. I was so shocked by the enormity of what lay ahead of us, and the realisation that he really was very sick and would one day soon be on this ward, that I had no questions. I just wanted to get out and run far away and never come back. Surely there was some mistake? But the only mistake was mine, in trying to pretend that he would never really get that ill. He clearly would and I would have to deal with it. For better for worse, in sickness and in health.