Hemodialysis patient offers tips (Part 1)

SURVIVAL TIP: Although we can’t always be happy with our health and the life we have, we must accept that we cannot change some things. I just have to make the best of it. And then when you can improve your situation or that of others, by all means do! You are in the place you are for a reason.text goes here

The hemodialysis unit serves 25-30 people per shift, sitting in bays, or areas of four to six people under the care of one technician. The chairs are side by side, about five feet apart. A few nurses oversee the whole unit, and a nephrologist or nurse practitioner comes in “regularly”. I think that’s monthly. The wide-open room is loud. There are so many beeps. Different tones and frequency of beeps mean different things. Alarms often mean high or low blood pressure, issues with connectivity or low sodium bicarbonate in the machine. Others indicate the beginning, middle and end of monthly access flow tests, which determine if the dialysis access provides sufficient blood flow for adequate dialysis. Insufficient flow can indicate a blood clot, which will be addressed in a later post.

The machines have little lights like traffic signals on top that are red, yellow, or green. Green means good. Yellow means something is not optimal, and red is an alarm. Some beeps trigger a red light. On the second visit, I had hiccups and kept setting off the machine and a cacophony of beeps and red lights. So the tech complained that the machine kept going off and she had to walk over and look for the problem. No matter how I tried, I could not stop those hiccups. I felt guilty. Add to that: READY TO BE RELEASED from the tubes connected to my chest and the blood pressure cuff that remained on my arm for the three-hour treatment. It squeezed to measure blood pressure every 20 or 30 minutes. Sometimes the pressures didn’t take, so the cuff tightened again and again. Frequency was determined by how volatile the blood pressure was. (continued below)

This is a hemodialysis unit. However all of the ones I have been in cram as many patients as possible into the space. No conversation is private!

This is a hemodialysis unit. However all of the ones I have been in cram as many patients as possible into the space. No conversation is private! Photography in the unit is strictly forbidden. (Photo credit: wikipedia)

It took only a couple of visits to learn that patients should wear old clothes. A tech ruined my favorite comfy pants when she spilled bleach on my leg. Technicians sometimes spill blood from the tubing and stain shirts and pants. Hydrogen peroxide is effective in removing blood, but it wears a hole in the material if not rinsed well within a few minutes.

Below are some tips I developed after being there and doing THAT. I shared them with Amy, the nurse I liked so well, and the doctors in my current unit in an effort to help other new patients. These tips would have helped me had I known them in advance. I hope they will help you or someone you love.


  • A subclavian catheter is for emergency or short-term use because it goes directly to the heart.
  • Your catheter will be placed in your upper chest under your collar bone by a radiologist (doctor) at the hospital. You might need to arrive early for blood work, but the procedure takes less than an hour.
  • You will receive medication during the procedure, so be sure to have someone drive you home.
  • Ask your kidney doctor if you will need hemodialysis the same day the catheter is placed. If dialysis is done within a day or so of placement, the dialysis will not hurt, but the area of placement will be tender.
  • You will need to keep the catheter dry at all times.
  • Neither showering nor swimming is permitted in order to keep the catheter area dry.
  • Your catheter bandage will be replaced weekly during dialysis.
  • Do not sleep on the side of the catheter.
  • Also, be sure to wear a shirt that provides access to the catheter without having to undress. A button-up blouse or shirt is best.

Perhaps most important is to let those who love and care for you reach out. You don’t have to be strong as you face this life altering diagnosis. I have learned that people like me because they know I am a human who sometimes needs support, just like they do. When I read about people I admire, I relate when they are most vulnerable. “It’s okay, to not be okay.”

If you or someone you care about is facing dialysis, please share your experiences and concerns. This is a forum for learning and inspiration. Please share your stories and questions. What are your experiences and challenges with dialysis?


About dialysisgal

When I joined the 450,000 Americans on dialysis, I wondered what "normal" would be. Would people stare at my access and ask what was wrong? In this blog, I hope to save other patients and their families from the difficulties I have faced. I want to share my experiences, what I learned, had to ask and was shocked to find. I am not a medical professional, but I hope we can have a conversation to help you better understand what you or someone you love with chronic kidney disease (CKD) might expect while living with dialysis.
This entry was posted in dialysis, kidney disease, kidney failure, nephritis, renal failure and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Hemodialysis patient offers tips (Part 1)

  1. Brooke says:

    I definitely agree with the wearing button up shirts. It was hard to find clothes I could wear with the chest catheter, and also be warm enough. One of the things I really didn’t expect with dialysis is how cold it makes you feel. It was like a coldness inside your body that was almost impossible to shift. No matter the weather outside I would also be wearing pants, jumpers and socks in the unit! I’m a tad confused about what a tech is in your dialysis unit. We don’t have that qualification in Australia. All the care staff are Nurses here. I also always showered with my chest catheter. I would be very careful to keep my affected shoulder out of the water, and it would have a waterproof dressing over it, but as I had mine for almost half a year I couldn’t really not shower for that period of time.


    • dialysisgal says:

      Our techs are technicians, but in different units, they can do different things. In my unit, they weigh, take temperatures, determine how much to pull and cannulate (sp?) and push heparin. In other units, they only monitor vitals and do needles. And nurses have to do the catheter.

      I had to bathe and wash my hair in the tub when I had a subclavian catheter.It was impossible to adequately waterproof it. And I was too tired to shower. Some hospital dressings are island bandages that are sufficient to allow showering.

      Thank you for mentioning being cold. I forgot to mention that, but I ALWAYS have a blanket and socks in my bag, along with lotion for the itchy, dry skin.


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