Friday, 04 March 2011 00:19

Stopping Dialysis: how long before The End?

Written by  Greg Collette
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Getting bogged on a muddy road is not normally a life-threatening situation.  Unless you are driving 475km (300 miles) for dialysis on a muddy dirt road after floods.  A guy in the Queensland outback was doing exactly that three days ago, travelling from Mt Isa to Doomadgee Hospital, a nine-hour trip.  He and three companions, including his son, were travelling along the muddy Thorntonia Rd, a 56km (35 mile) stretch about half way there, when they were hopelessly bogged.

They spent the night in the car waiting for someone else to come along, but nobody did.  They began to worry about the man missing dialysis, now one day late, so early morning two of his friends, a 33-year-old man and a woman (age unknown) decided to walk to the Gregory Downs Hotel 40km (25 miles) further along the road to Doomadgee for help.  They walked all day along the muddy road in persistent rain until they arrived after nightfall.

The hotel staff called the North Queensland Rescue Helicopter, which the following morning picked up the man and his son and took them to Century Mine, 25km away.  From there, the man, now two days late for dialysis, was taken by Royal Flying Doctor Service to about 1000km east to Townsville Hospital, where he at last received his BigD treatment.

A great story eh?  His friends must have been really worried.  Should they have been?

Absolutely yes.  Another day or two and he would almost certainly have died.

I have often wondered how long I would have if I stopped dialysing, so I asked our Unit Manager, who has known several people who have decided to stop.  Her answer was immediate: three to five days for most people.

The length of time depends on a few things: whether you have any residual kidney function (I do not), how well you tolerate too much potassium, which causes increasingly severe arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) and how well you can tolerate the fluid build up (which makes it hard to breath and places great strain on the heart).

The high level of toxins are an unpleasant extra that tends to slow down your thinking and make you feel generally unwell.

Eventually, death is usually caused by heart failure.

Most people on the BigD have had some or all of these symptoms, so they are not all that hard to imagine (I have some pretty ugly photos of me to prove it).  But luckily we have had dialysis available to get us back to some semblance of good health.

To me, this Queensland story is a useful reminder to make doubly sure of my dialysis treatment plans when I go on holiday, or if I travel far from my unit.  It’s the kind of frustrating situation I sometimes dream about, where no matter how hard you try, you can’t seem to get where you want to go (I must remember to dream up a helicopter or the RFDS next time!).

It is also a nice reminder of just how great it is to have good friends.  Yet another reason to hang on to life with both hands.


Greg Collette

Greg Collette

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