By Michael Adair-Kriz
Key words: dialysis, organ transplantation, rapid assessment ethnography
I watch my blood pulse through the plastic tubing at an average rate of 300 ml per minute. I know it’s 300 ml per minute because that is what I’ve programed it to be. The NxStage machine pumps sangre out through the 15 gauge needle stuck in the lower part of my left forearm A/V fistula – the arterial line – at variable pressures dependent on my blood pressure, where the needle is stuck in the fistula (How close is the needle to the walls of the vessel. Did I get a good stick?), and the rate I indicate for fluid reduction when setting up the machine. At any given moment, millions of my blood cells are suspended outside of my body in the machine—not touching, yet contacting the liquid suspension in the microfilter hanging next to the machine and attached to me through the plastic tubing and disposable cartridge. Through the magic/science/chemistry of osmosis, my blood surrenders molecules of electrolytes that my own body cannot slough on its own. Dead. My kidneys are dead. I have three dead organs in my body.
Resistance is Futile
When all this started back in 2003, during the time that I was interviewing practicing anthropologists for Careers in Anthropology (DVD from AAA), and just prior to entering my doctoral program at Rice University, I thought I had SARS. I was wrong. The South- Asian doctor who came into my hospital room that first night had the bedside manner of a hammer. “You have kidney failure and heart failure; you’ll be dead by the weekend. But, you know that, right? I mean, you’re diabetic.” No. No, I’m not diabetic, and I didn’t know any of this. They’d told me that I had kidney problems, and that’s why I had pneumonia—it would be a couple days before they would tell me that I had End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) and that I would require dialysis to live. My kidneys were dead. Finished. They were producing urine, but it was just water. No toxic electrolytes were being eliminated. Clear water. Dead organs. But, the hammer-doctor was wrong. Fifteen years later, I am not dead. We are Borg.
Continue reading in the July issue of PA.