Sunday, May 18, 2008

Another kind of family

Last month I attended the annual dialysis memorial service organized by the staff of the hospital dialysis program. This very touching event is becoming more and more common in dialysis clinics as staff come together with families to share their grief at the loss of people who are more than just patients.

Unlike most other healthcare settings, dialysis staff and patients spend many hours together several times a week over the span of months and often years. Despite rotations in shifts and changes to schedules, patients and staff get to know each other well - sharing stories of children and grandchildren, work goals and travel photos, happy news and difficult struggles.

I visited Chris fairly often at dialysis. We would catch up on our day or watch TV together... I once got corralled into refereeing a trivia challenge. Family members are welcome in the unit and I got to meet many of the "other women" in Chris' life - especially the hardworking, kind, generous, funny nurses who took care of his dialysis regime while he was hooked up to the machine. There were also nurse practitioners, doctors, dieticians, and technicians who all played vital roles in maintaining Chris' health - indeed his life.

For these staff, the losses of patients each year must take a difficult toll. Like cancer care, death is sadly an all too common part of dialysis care but the people who choose such a career path seem to be especially resilient and caring individuals who somehow manage to share the burden of chronic illness but also the joys of life.

This year, 44 dialysis patients who passed away last year were honoured at the memorial service. Several staff spoke from their hearts or read poems, their voices thick with emotion. Families and friends were invited to light memorial candles. The theme of this year's service was The Spirit of Transformations and that transformation was represented by butterflies which was especially touching to me... almost like a secret gift. I felt Chris smiling with me at the bittersweet coincidence.

I will be forever grateful to the staff of the dialysis unit who helped Chris live his life to the fullest. There were many other places he would rather have been but if he had to be there, I'm glad he was in such caring and capable hands. Thank you for all you do.

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