Self-cannulation

So I am very excited now. I have started to self-cannulate, woo-hoo… Self-cannulate, you ask? It simply means that I am sticking needles into my arm for my dialysis.

Yes, it was a bit of a hurdle to get over. But I think that I had a slight advantage over some people by having been used to needles my whole life. So even though this was my first time sticking a needle into myself, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. But let me tell you, it wasn’t a walk in the park either.

I was supposed to start on a Monday and the preceding weekend was like a rollercoaster ride. I fluctuated between being excited, having butterflies in my stomach and downright scared and nervous. Would I even be able to do that to myself after all? But then Monday morning arrived and I was ready. I had applied a good dollop of lidocain on both points of entry as soon as I got up and it had worked wonders for the hour and a half that had gone till I sat in the chair with my needles and tubes.

Now, don’t kid yourself. Dialysis needles are not for the feeble at heart. When you sit there looking down at it before it goes into your arm, there is no doubt it has the diameter of a sturdy broom handle – albeit a broom handle with a sharp point at the end, a point that is on its way into your very own arm by your own action.

Then you realize that it really wasn’t that large Friday when the nurse handled it. Yes, it is still one of the largest size needles created to go into the human body. But really I have been on the receiving end for close to 5 months. And now I was the one doing it to me, I was totally in control. I could stick, I could pull out (and show what a sissy I was – I think not!) I could do whatever I wanted with that needle and there was no pressure from anyone as to when or how fast I should do it.

So, one, two, three… I did it. I stuck that sucker (literally) into my skin. And here I’d like to interject, human flesh is a pretty tough substance, and I mean tough as in a steak that hasn’t been cooked properly. But I got through the skin. and soon after there was blood in the tube, just like there was supposed to. I was in the vein. And I was stoked. I had first timed it! I was in I pushed the needle all the way in and had some help taping it down. No need for those nurses if they didn’t do something to help me out.

I had done it. I had self-cannulated.

And I was felling high, not that they had given me any drugs that would help there. But it didn’t last long. The next needle didn’t wanna to into the vein. No matter how I tried and poked and pulled back and poked again, no blood came out the way it was supposed to. I didn’t really understand. The site we used was the one that had been most successful so far. But now it was like it had dried up. So we gave up and used the old tried and true method of the catheter on my chest.

Same thing happened next time. First poke straight into the vein. Second one didn’t go well, but this time I got the nurse to find the vein and it worked, though not quite as good as it should.

So then I got annoyed. I made sure that I could be there with the nurse who knew my arm the best (or at least had had greatest success with poking me) and lo and behold. We are now about a week into it and not once have I missed. I am going full bore self-cannulating. And when I say full bore I mean full bore. I have stepped up the size of my needles by two sizes. So I am using what they consider a ‘regular’ size needle. There is one size bigger but the speed my dialysis is running at it really isn’t necessary for me to go higher at the moment.

Lots of other good things have happened. But I really don’t feel like writing anymore. Also I want people to come back another time. So I think I better stop here. I am getting ready to try out the machine that I am hoping to bring home, the NxStage. Is should be possible to travel with it so that is pretty exciting.

I have also started a new blog. Check it out here: http://disabilityrightsbastard.wordpress.com/

I hope to come back here soon so I can keep y’all updated on all the stuff that is going on in my life.

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Sweden, travelling and needles

If you have read some of Melissa’s posts here you might have noticed a certain lack of enthusiasm with the way things are done at my regular ward. I will not go into the details of bad practice here. There are lots of things I think could be improved and Melissa and I don’t always agree on what they are but both of us have been pretty disappointed.

So the trip to Sweden was a real eye opener. We came back happy as clams, not because it was perfect there – it was just so much better. We were received as old friends returning home. This despite the fact that I had only met Britt-Mari, the head nurse very briefly at a conference about ‘patient empowerment’ and we had spoken to each other for no more than 2 minutes.

Last time I promised to talk a little more about the questionnaire that she gave us from Joakim, the design student who is working on improving the experience for home dialysis patients. Since then I have changed my mind about that.

I started writing this post with that in mind but it turned out to be way longer than I had anticipated. So I have decided to make a dedicated page where I will discuss the different issues more at length. They deserve to be more than just part of a regular blog post – especially since I am planning on working with them in the future. I have a strong desire to make this part of my work, there are lots of dialysis patients out there who deserve way better treatment than they are receiving at the moment.

So back to me.

I am doing relatively good at the moment. I have found a good rhythm. I go and do in-center dialysis for four hours three times a week. Yes, it is tedious and it requires a lot of patience. And yes, I do not like to be poked with two needles with a diameter that reminds me of a broom handle. And yes, it is really, really annoying to have to sit still with your left arm for four hours without a break – not moving it too much even when my hand is about to fall asleep. But… the advantages are that I have time to read and write, I can catch up on my emails, I can do some research, I can read the newspapers that I don’t get to read all the other days. There really is plenty for me to do while I sit there.

I have even spent a couple of days making preparing one of my presentations that I do for work. Usually when I do that sort of thing I spend way too much time doing all kinds of other things while doing it. But when I do it while dialyzing I am forced to sit there and concentrate – and guess what, it works! I got some pretty good presentations out of it.

I am now preparing to move my dialysis home with me. It does require a few things; first of all I need to be able to be 100 % self-sufficient, doing all the steps myself. I think I am pretty far along that path already, I can set up the machine and break it down again, I can find everything I need to start, run and finish my treatment. The only thing I haven’t mastered – or tried for that matter – it self-cannulating. Or for those of you, who are unaware of that sort of weird terminology, poking myself with the aforementioned ginormous needles. But as of next week I am joining the ranks of self-flagellants, those weird people who inflict pain on themselves. In my case it is a pure self preservation practice, though.

I honestly don’t know how I feel about it. I am hesitant, excited and scared at the same time. But no matter how I feel about it, it is necessary for me to do it if I ever want to enjoy a modicum of freedom again. And if there is one thing I am pining for it is the freedom to move about. I have never felt so disabled as I do now that I have become a dialysis patient, no wheelchair or any other mobility device tethers you to your surroundings like the little plastic tubes and needles of this life-saving device from hell, called a dialysis machine.

It is a long and interesting discussion about disability and dialysis, so I think I will stop here before I get carried away again.

It’s me, Henning

Yes, I am alive. And I am posting. Melissa has done a great job of keeping you informed about my health and our struggles (or at least a few of them)

Now I feel well enough that I can post regularly here so that is what I am planning to do. My first post is about our trip to Sweden and about how good human interactions make the world of a difference – also when it comes to health care.

We went to Sweden for a few days and I decided to go to Jönköping for dialysis even though it was 200 km (120 miles) from my dad’s place where we stayed in Sweden. There was really only one reason for going that far for dialysis and that was curiosity. I wanted to see how a well run dialysis unit could look. I had a feeling that this one was such a unit because of a chance encounter with a single person with whom I had shared only a few words ever, namely the head nurse at their limited care unit, Britt-Mari Banck.

I had met Britt-Mari at a conference about patient empowerment that I attended in November last year. Britt-Mari had an energy about her at the conference that told me that she not only loved her job, she truly cared for her patients and her job. She had a genuine interest in the wellbeing of the people she worked with and saw every day – something I have seen very little of from the professionals I have encountered in Denmark so far (with a few exceptions – and you know who you are). They might act the part of caring and good Samaritans but any real interest in making life better for their patients is far removed from what they perceive as being part of their job.

So we got up at 5:30 to drive the long way north on E4. It was a beautiful drive in the Swedish winter wonderland, past endless rows of trees powdered with newly fallen snow. The van was nice and warm compared to the freezing temperatures outside.

The ward was very nice. Melissa immediately noticed how clean everything was while I was busy saying hi to Britt-Mari and her staff. They were all very professional and knew the drill but at the same time they were kind, caring and curious about us. Friendliness and warmth was the game changer.

I was assigned to Bengt, the nurse who had started the ward with Britt-Mari. Both of them being well experienced dialysis nurses had decided to start something new and different and I have to say they had done a great job. The patients I talked to there were very happy to be at this particular unit. They all had great things to say about it and one compared it very favorable to both Danish and Swedish wards she had been to.

I can’t exactly say what it was that made it so special other than it was the people running it and their involvement in their job. But an incident that I encountered there might be a good example of it. The first day we were there Britt-Mari came up to me with a questionnaire from a design student that had contacted her about improving the dialysis experience for patients, both in center and at home.

He basically asked what problems/issues we had encountered in connection to dialysis and then he asked about possible solutions to those problems. After taking the questionnaire home to work with us we recognized five problem areas that all were of great importance to the dialysis experience.

The five areas are:

  • Equipment, the size and look of the machines and chairs
  • units, everything from bureaucracy to lack of cleanliness at the units
  • structural aspects, how everything is run by doctors and manufacturers
  • human interaction, between professional and patient
  • psychological aspects of dialysis, support, understanding and knowledge of dialysis.

Now, my experience was that all five aspects were handled way better at Jönköping than they have been handled at my Danish ward. It felt much less like being in a hospital than I had experienced before, which in turn made it feel much more like they were normalizing the experience instead of making it into a treatment regime where one is automatically made to feel like a patient.

This morning I read something that brought the experience home for me. I had been pondering for days what it was that made this experience so different from the ones I had encountered previously and suddenly this was brought to my attention:

It is easy to teach a caring person skills but it is much harder to teach a skilled person to care.

That is exactly what made the difference at that ward. It was full of caring people who also happened to be highly qualified. But they all knew that no amount of qualification would make up for a lack of care and involvement.

Next time I will talk a little more about the questionnaire and the specifics of our categories.

Surgery number… I forget

Henning had his third fistula surgery last Wednesday. His flow rate was increased from 200ml/m to 800 ml/m (see Greg’s BigD reblog about flow rates) so this is GREAT news. The fistula is already more visible than it was, and in about three weeks or so we’ll begin to test it out.

We had no issues with admission, arrival, nor errant nurses offering food and drink to delay anything this time. In fact, it went as well as I think it could have. Henning was discharged within two hours of surgery, just after lunch, in fact.

The site is healing well, and aside from some initial pain, persistent itching, and some shower restrictions at first, it seems to be the least troublesome surgery he’s had on this fistula to date.

Here’s how it looked the other day:

2013-01-10 15.34.24

When the stitches come out, it will be interesting to see how little it is scarred, compared to the first fistula surgery debacle. You can see the first one by his wrist… HUGE scar, including stitch marks…. and after all that, it didn’t work. Blah. That is why we now insist on Johnny. Even if his hours are short and we have to wait to see him, he is a magician at vascular surgery.

More updates to come on the state of the permanent catheter, and how Henning is doing with dialysis. Stay tuned!

The second surgery in a week…

…actually happened.

It was at the other hospital (Herlev, as opposed to Riget), so there was no food or fluid restriction. This surgery was for removing the acute catheter and replacing it with the permanent (still temporary, though) catheter. This one basically goes right to the heart the same as the acute, but not directly into the jugular at the neck. The access is behind the collar-bone and it is far less fragile, and less vulnerable to infection.

The surgery went well, and the doc did a great job at minimizing the amount of scarring and using minimal stitching. Henning complained a bit… the scars make him look like he was attacked by a vampire. Kind of cool… but few will ever see it, due to the doc’s great stitch-work…

So now this catheter is working great. He can even fully shower with it, which is fabulous. I am still leery of it. I can’t quite figure my reaction. I have changed many a bandage in my day, and after working as long as I did in both the nursing home and the hospital, you’d think nothing would throw me. In fact, I can witness anything… but I just can’t get a grip on my reaction to changing the plaster on this catheter. I don’t know if it is because it does go right to his heart, or because it is so vital to his health, or what. But in any case, Henning can do it himself, so it is not a huge deal that I can’t do it without getting cranky or some other inappropriate reaction… but it bothers me that it bothers me… which doesn’t really help at all.

Anyway, the day after the catheter surgery, we picked up my daughters from the airport and had a whirlwind two weeks seeing every sight Denmark has to offer in the winter, that we could get to and from in any given 7-hour day. The girls were astonished that it was only daylight for such a short time… lol

It was a fabulous visit, and too short. But we look forward to them coming this summer. Hopefully by then, we will have this round of endless surgery behind us, and if not dialyzing at home, be very close to that goal. The days will be longer too, and we won’t have to worry about blizzards at the zoo…

2012-12-23 15.47.17

Time to catch up…

… from the Holiday break. I’m still in holiday mode, but the calendar tells me it’s time to get back into the routines of “normal” life. And for us, that means… surgery tomorrow! Not that that is going to be the normal forever, but right now, it seems like it is.

So to catch up from where I left it hanging a few weeks ago… Henning was having surgery twice in one week, and then my teenage daughters were coming for a couple of weeks for the holidays.

Surgery #1 was for his fistula. We arrived a few minutes early and didn’t have a place to hang out, since the room wasn’t ready. While they got the room ready, the nurse gave us coffee. That seems to be the standard here, like you offer guests coffee when they arrive. Not in my house, I forget to even offer water or tell people where the bathroom is… but in YOUR house, I’m sure you are a very gracious host. But I digress…

We didn’t even think about it. It was 6:25am. He drank half of a cup of black coffee… and then… OH NO!!! Turns out, he was not supposed to have any fluids after 6:00am. GAH. The nurse apologized but the damage was done. In my world, when I worked in the hospital, that kind of “ooops” is grounds for some serious reprimands… I doubt it is the case here, but I kind of hope so…

His surgery was to be delayed by one hour. Not that big of a deal, I mean, since when does anything happen on time? In fact, since he wasn’t having general anesthesia, it’s not a big deal. IN FACT, in the OTHER hospital we frequent, there is no food or fluid restriction at all… so it is really just up to the individual anesthesiologist.

About 8:00am, they wheeled him down the hall. And promptly brought him back. They had gotten as far as the nurse’s station. Apparently, the anesthesiologist freaked out over the half-cup of black coffee, and wanted to wait another hour.

About 9:30am, they took him out AGAIN… and by 10:15 he was back in the room, bleeding from the needle stick, but that’s it. Apparently, there was an emergency and the anesthesiologist was called away AS HE WAS ADMINISTERING THE BLOCK TO HENNING’S SHOULDER. Yup, the needle was in, the team was ready, and the dude just left. I hope he went to go save a life, because otherwise… well… I don’t think Denmark can (apparently) afford to lose so precious of a resource, but I really hope he gets hit by a bus some day soon…

So we waited. And waited. And waited….

This is Henning, bored.
2012-12-12 13.51.47

Except for the half-cup of black coffee, Henning had had nothing to eat or drink since the night before. The nurse had no info for us, nothing. Finally, the nurse came in and said the vascular surgeon (Johnny… I can’t get over the first name usage here) was scheduled to go home at 3:00pm (Must be nice, work 8-3 AS A DOCTOR. That’s better than banker’s hours… ) so they would know by 2:45pm if Henning was having surgery or not. Nice.

As you may imagine, the answer was not. But since this is an important surgery for Henning, they rescheduled us pretty quick. Sometime in January… they’d let us know. Double nice.

 

Schedules and other oddities

We are not organized people. It’s not that we lack the capacity to maintain a schedule. We both have the knowledge. Henning has his teaching/conference schedule and his private practice, both of which need time management. I used to be a manager in many incarnations of my varied careers. I like to walk into chaos, and organize it. I’m really good at lists, plans, etc. HOWEVER… when it comes to private life, neither of us like the idea of having that time scheduled. It’s not that we lack the skill… just the will.

But that has all changed.

With dialysis three times a week at four hours a pop (MWF), doctor’s appointments, and of course, social engagements, on top of our regularly scheduled activities… we are getting into the swing of having a pretty rigid, detailed schedule… which is good, considering the weeks ahead. This coming week, for example, has two (yes, TWO) surgeries and… my kids are coming for the Christmas holiday. So… if any of you are wondering what we will be up to in the coming days, here’s a preview.

Today is a dialysis day, so that means 4 hours in the morning – which, really, goes until about 1pm… so saying morning is kind of silly. Dialysis is really the equivalent of adding a part-time job to the schedule. Today is also Henning’s last day with his long-term PT (she is moving to the mainland), so that got fit in right after dialysis. He also has an appt. this afternoon, so that means a full day of driving around, after the big D.

Henning is having surgery on his fistula Wednesday. This is minor surgery to tie off some veins near the site to force the fistula to mature faster. While this is a one-day, in-and-out visit, it takes up a lot of time because we have to do the admission paperwork 24 hours in advance. Plus, because the surgery is on Wednesday, that means rescheduling dialysis. Our regular unit at Herlev Hospital seems accommodating, but since the surgery is at Riget Hospital, he’ll dialyze there. In this case, he will dialyze on Tuesday afternoon, as they didn’t have a Wednesday spot available.. So that means two trips to the Kingdom (Riget Hospital) on Tuesday, and one on Wednesday.

He is then having surgery on Friday to insert a permanent catheter behind his collar-bone. The one in his neck is working great, but it is not a long-term solution. It is more vulnerable, and, honestly, a pain in the… well… you get it. Since we don’t know how long it will take for the fistula to mature, this is a better, longer-term option.

Again, this requires the paperwork to be done 24 hours in advance, but since this surgery is in our unit at Herlev, it is closer. Making daily trips is not such a big deal.  Also, again, the surgery is on a dialysis day, but since this is our unit, it is easier to re-schedule the dialysis… we hope.

And to top off a week of busy, busy, busy, my kids are coming this Saturday (yes, the day after surgery #2) to spend two weeks with us. We have a tentative schedule full of trips to the city, museums, Tivoli Gardens, Sweden to visit Henning’s dad… it’s NUTS!! (But in a good way) The girls are well prepared to suspend any and all activities depending on how Henning is feeling, or if something unexpected comes up. But regardless we will be pretty busy. We also have a trip to Immigration planned. It is that time… fingers crossed.

I think we may come up for air sometime in January…