Dialysis patients have different means of communication than other members of society.
During my long tenure as an in-center hemodialysis patient (I now do treatments at home), I was witness to some rather unique methods of getting messages across that I’m pretty sure aren’t used by any other segment of the population.
Several years ago, a gentleman was a few minutes into his treatment when he discovered that his needles had infiltrated. For those of you blessed members of the “non-dialysis patient club,” infiltration occurs when one or both of your needles decide to really mess things up by going through your access vessel and into your surrounding tissue.
This unseemly act causes blood, dialysate, saline, and everything short of the kitchen sink to go into your arm instead of merrily finding its way through your vessel where it belongs.
The result can cause your appendage to grow to previously unseen proportions, to the point where you could stamp “Goodyear” on its side and float it up above a local sporting event.
Anyway, when this guy saw his arm starting to resemble an entry in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, he held it up for all to see and made a noise that sounded something like, “WHOA HOWA HOOA HOO HAH.”
Surprisingly, the staff seemed to understand the communiqué perfectly, and rushed to the man’s assistance.
Personally, I find that my method of communication during treatment tends toward the unappreciated art form known as “mumbling.”
You see, dialysis patients spend long periods of time in a stationary position undergoing a treatment that’s about as much fun as falling out of trees.
Some lucky soles are able to sleep, which I’ve never been able to do. In fact I get jealous of people who conk right out, to the point of plotting revenge.
For a long while, I sat next to a guy who would go out almost as soon as he sat down. Even the attendant putting his needles in barely caused a stir. His head would be back with his maw gaping open the entire treatment.
I often found myself with an almost unbearable urge to toss something over there to see if I could get it in the hole.
Finally, during one treatment, dialysis boredom got the best of me. I crumpled up a piece of paper and found myself doing the old schoolyard fantasy of a last second basketball shot to win the game.
“The kid dekes…three seconds left…he speeds by the defenders…two seconds…head fakes half the team and several members of his own squad…one second…he’ll have to give a desperation heave…up it goes…”
And, almost unconsciously, I let the paper fly.
Missed badly though. Must have caught an updraft.
Later an attendant eyed me suspiciously as he picked up the crumpled mass. I just pretended not to notice.
So, for those of us who have to stay awake, our minds tend to drift, and we find ourselves picking up bits and pieces of other people’s conversations, which, I acknowledge, are truly none of our business.
This is where mumbling can emerge as an effective tool.
I generally think of my mumbles as falling in one of two categories.
(Hey, I told you we have a lot of time on our hands.)
The first is the “intentional mumble,” where I kind of want the recipient to hear, but not really.
One time a female attendant was talking up a blue streak at the nurse’s station. I was trying my best not to pay attention to what she was saying, but, well, you know…
Anyway, my machine alarm started going off. Ms. Gabbypants stood up, but apparently felt that she needed to get a few extra points in to her listeners before coming over.
I looked at the people she was talking to, other attendants and a nurse, and they were all keeping themselves busy while being beset by this barrage of verbiage. To say they were, at best, inactive listeners would really be an understatement.
I just sat waiting for her to reach a breaking point, or a need to come up for a breath, and make her way over to reset my alarm.
She finally headed in my direction, still yakking away as she made her way over.
I lost track of the subject matter, but as she reached my chair, she said something like, “Is that a ridiculous notion, or what?”
I mumbled, “Not as ridiculous as expecting the machine to reset itself.”
She turned to me. “I’m sorry. What?” she asked.
“Oh nothing,” I replied.
“Oh, okay,” she said with a smile. Then she turned in the direction of the desk and continued her diatribe.
Next, I heard, [yada yada yada yada] “…I mean, nobody is giving me any awards for doing my job…”
I mumbled, “Not winning many points for brevity either.”
She looked at me. “I’m sorry. What?”
“I was just saying that your workloads are really heavy too.”
She gave me a doubtful look as she made her way back to the station.
I once had a young man attendant who, shall we say, took liberties with the notion of fashion sense?
He always seemed to be making an effort to outdo himself with outrageous outfits and looks.
One day he was wearing his smock over pink paisley pants, his hair was a Halloween shade of green, and he had big round Elton John glasses.
I had just sat down with the third-shift crowd when he came walking by. The other new patients were staring with disbelief. As he got close to my chair another guy yelled out, “Nice pants.”
He smiled. “Yeah, don’t you think they make a statement?” he asked.
I mumbled, “Not unless the statement is ‘I don’t own a mirror.'”
He stopped short. “What was that Bob?”
“Oh, I just said, ‘Couldn’t be any clearer.'”
He laughed a little and went about his business.
The other mumble category is when someone asks a question and you really don’t want them to hear your answer, for whatever reason.
I saw another patient do this once, when the doctor was drilling him about his phosphorous level, which was apparently approximating his area code.
“What’d you have for dinner last night?” the doctor asked in a not-so-nice tone.
[mumbledy mumbledy mumble] was the guy’s answer.
“What was that?” shouted the doctor.
“BARBEQUE AND BEER,” he said.
“AHA,” said the doctor, and the conversation went on from there.
Another time, a bunch of attendants were standing around kibitzing about concerts they had been to recently.
While they were doing that, my mind wandered to adding up their estimated ages to see if I was older than all of them combined.
I realized one of the attendants had asked me a question.
“Yes, I’m sorry, what?”
“I asked you what was the last concert you went to?”
At this point, the whole lot of them was staring at me waiting for my answer.
[mumbeldy mumble], I said.
“I’m sorry, what was that?” the attendant asked.
[A little louder mumble mumble.]
They all moved closer as a team. One of the girls said, “Still can’t hear you Bob…”
“ART GARFUNKLE,” I yelled.
It took a moment, but after getting over their initial shock, the team started laughing.
And, before very long, they were all busting a gut.
I went back to reading my book, ignoring their looks, which were similar to museumgoers checking out a new species of dinosaur bones.
I should point out that my mumbling technique is not just useful in the dialysis center.
One time, the wife, who is painfully aware of my aversion to anything that involves interacting with others, came prancing into the kitchen, where I was minding my own business reading the paper.
“What do you think about going to a party with my tennis friends this Saturday night?” she asked.
I mumbled, “I’d rather have my wisdom teeth pulled out through my ear.”
“What was that?”
“Oh, uh nothing honey. Sure, sounds like a great idea.”
She looked at me suspiciously, but the went on.
“Yeah, it’ll be fun. There’ll be music, hor d’oeuvres. Maybe we can all go in the pool!”
I put on my best phony smile. “Well, there are certainly worst ways to spend a Saturday night.”
She seemed satisfied with that.
Then I mumbled, “I can’t think of any offhand but…”
“What was that?”
“Oh nothing honey. I think it will be a real hoot.”
Hey, you know what they say: Happy Wife, Happy Life.
Thanks for reading. Take care.