She arrives early and begins the routine. Or is it a ritual?
Step on scale. Wash hands. Make way to chair in corner. Sit.
Nurse Mary Gerndts comes over and says hello. She’s been working with Heather Sandland for about a year now.
On the inside of Sandland’s left forearm is a fistula, a device that facilitates dialysis treatments by allowing easy access for blood to be pulled out, cleaned, then returned.
As Gerndts prepares to insert those needles, Sandland grows uncomfortable. She’s never been a needle lover anyway, and this process will involve three of them.
The first is for an injection of a drug called Lidocain, a process that comes with a little irony. Injected with a tiny needle, its purpose is to numb the skin so that when the big, 15-gauge dialysis needles make their charge, it won’t be as painful.
“This is one of the worst parts,” Sandland says.
Gerndts looks for the right place.
“I’ll just poke around, here, to find the spot,” the nurse says.
Gerndts finds the spot and pokes. As the Lidocain enters her arm, Sandland bows her head, grows silent and grimaces. Within minutes, the other, much-larger needles are in, too. Blood races through a tube and into a sophisticated machine that scrubs the blood clean of anything that shouldn’t be there. The blood is then sent, through another tube, back to Sandland.
The machine — for three hours, three days a week — does the job her kidneys can’t.
Without these visits, she would die.
And eventually, Sandland will need a new kidney. She can’t live forever on dialysis. So to look down the road into her future, where she envisions watching her sons grow and spending plenty of time with them, it’s all dependent on one thing: a kidney transplant.