Stress crashes through the body like waves pounding the beach after a violent storm. Undulating periods of calm and terror. Regular and rhythmic then fluttering and panicked. Eventualities become possibilities while your stomach still lurches at the realities. Systolic and diastolic ratchet an invisible band tighter and tighter around your chest. At certain desperate moments, a family’s vitals may be less stable than the patient’s.
As you hold hands and make promises and pray to everything that will listen, you become a filter: a semipermeable membrane for emotions and ideas. In the flurry of emergency you are bombarded with quick decisions, choiceless consents, more medical jargon than a marathon of House, M.D. Many words are small enough to pass through – liver, kidneys, bleeding – but many more – critical, cardiac, infection – stick to you, wet and heavy, too grave and massive to slip through the holes of your spirit. As days pass into weeks, your filter gets clogged with the fear of the unknown and frustration of no control.
The dialysis machine does the same work. Pulling and pushing the thick red life through tiny tubes like an organ suspended in the air, a medical miracle in a whirring beige box. A cylinder stained burgundy, platelets and thick toxins forming a layer on the top, doing its best to continuously clean the blood that the kidneys cannot.
The dialysate hangs on a thin metal pole behind the machine. Dozens of bags filled with transparent liquid sag in a crude circle like a morbid bouquet of balloons. It looks as innocuous as water, like the boring stuff of sinks and showers, but it is in those heavy sacks that the secret hides.
It balances blood pH, adds vital nutrients, keeps renal failure at bay, artificially.
But it does more.
It lifts sinking souls, supports spirits, keeps hope alive, organically.
The dialysate is made of natural elements like potassium and calcium and magnesium, all the things you’d get from a bunch of bananas. Nothing fancy, no synthetic man-made magic. It creates a safe, supportive environment where the the blood can purge and purify. It gives the body a chance to find its way home. Without the dialysate the filter would fail.
So when the ultrafiltration of your body and mind sticks and binds, and the weight of a loved one’s pain overwhelms you, turn to your mother. Your sister. Your wife. Whoever it is that can hold you, cradle you, keep you strong where you alone would crash. Turn to your people to help you get all that negative gunk and gripping pain out of your filter. Wash your soul in the support and love of emotional-dialysate.
And when their filters struggle, too, when the darkness of all that unfairness blocks out the light of even the strongest optimism, remember that many are more stable than one.
The man in the bed, that brilliant, stubborn, wonderful man, the one fighting the silent battle of heart rates and blood pressures and medications, needs all of his filters – emotional and physical – to be clean.
Take every little victory and wear it like positively-charged armor. Pull out the best stuff. Throw the worst away.
You’ll be left with a net-positive.
Some freshly scrubbed optimism when all other news seems dire.
A golden glint of hope.