It was spring 2001 and Thomas had just stopped by my place to visit, after his doctor’s appointment. He said he had something to tell me. I listened as he said my kidneys are failing and I have to go on dialysis. He then added “We can break up if you want. I’ll understand.” I hugged him and said why would I break up with you. I just assumed kidney failure was a disease we’d defeat together. As we hugged I thought of Cookie Johnson and wondered if this is how she felt back in 1991 when Magic told her he was HIV positive. I wondered if she thought of leaving him. They had only been married 45 days when he publicly announced he was HIV positive. She was married. I was not. Thomas and I had only been dating for a year and a half. But my choice was the same. Stay and help Thomas through this.
Thomas told me he had a follow up appointment to discuss the two different types of dialysis. I told him I wanted to go with him. The next week we met with a nephrologist. A nephrologist is a medical doctor who specializes in kidney care and treating diseases of the kidneys. The term nephrologist comes from the Greek word “nephros”, which means kidney or renal and “ologist” refers to someone who studies. The nephrologist explained the difference between peritoneal dialysis and hemodialysis.
Thomas opted for peritoneal dialysis. He felt this would be less disruptive to his lifestyle. The nephrologist explained he’d need to have surgery to place a permanent soft tube in his lower abdomen. He went on to say in peritoneal dialysis, a specific solution is introduced through a permanent tube in the lower abdomen and then removed. This may either occur at regular intervals throughout the day, known as continuous ambulatory dialysis, or at night with the assistance of a machine, known as automated peritoneal dialysis. The nephrologist said once the tube was placed in the abdomen it would be a couple of weeks before it could be used. Thomas was scheduled for surgery.
Thomas and I arrived early the day of surgery and talked and laughed as we waited for instructions. Then the doctor came in and said we are going to place the catheter for peritoneal dialysis, but since it can’t be used right away I’m going to also place a temporary catheter for immediate use because you need to start dialysis today. Thomas and I sat there with blank stares on our faces. The doctor continued. Your labs show us if you don’t start dialysis right away you will be dead in a couple of weeks, so we must place a temporary catheter so you can start hemodialysis today. Thomas began to cry. I began to console him. The doctor explained that hemodialysis would be very temporary and as soon as Thomas’ permanent tube for peritoneal dialysis was ready for use then hemodialysis would cease and the temporary catheter for hemodialysis would be removed. The doctor said I’ll let you think it over for a couple of minutes. I said Thomas you have to do this. Do what the doctors tell you so you can live. He shook his head yes. Thomas had two catheters placed that day; one for hemodialysis and one for peritoneal dialysis.
This was 18 months into our dating relationship. A little over 3 years before we got married. We never broke up.