Mason Burdette – In-Center Patient

It was December 25, 2008, and it was a beautiful day in Hawaii; 75-80 degrees in Honolulu. I was sitting at home after visiting my partner in the hospital, who was suffering from pneumonia as a complication of his HIV. Being that it was Christmas I had taken him a few candy canes and decorations and hung them from the various medical equipment items in his room to cheer him up. It was a switch for him to be in the hospital and me to be at home, as I had recently had several hospitalizations due to heart attacks.

A friend was visiting me at home when suddenly I felt an excruciating pain in my chest.  I immediately called 911. I vaguely remember the ambulance pulling into the ER area of Queens Medical Center and backing up to the door; I would not remember anything that happened after that for the next two weeks. I lost consciousness and was medically-induced into a coma. I apparently had suffered a descending dissecting aneurysm that extended from my aorta to my groin. The medically-induced coma was necessary to help the aneurysm to self-repair as much as possible.

When I was finally eased out of the coma and advised of my condition, I was so thankful to God that I was still alive! During that two-week period, my partner had been discharged from the hospital and my adult children had flown to Hawaii from Germany, South Carolina and California. It was such a joy to wake up to the smiles and warmth of my children; however, the gravity of my situation was not lost on me, since they were all there in my room! My prognosis was grim, but with my children’s and my partner’s presence there I found personal strength and willpower that I never knew I possessed. They seldom left my bedside, and made me feel so loved.

A couple days after coming out of my coma, my doctor came to me and explained the health complications that my aneurysm had caused, the worst of which was the loss of my kidney functions. He advised me that I would need dialysis - whatever that was! Shortly after his visit, the staff wheeled in this big machine that looked like Rosy the Robot on “The Jetsons” cartoon - complete with the red light on top. The nurse began hooking up water bags and plastic hoses while setting out numerous needles and various other gadgets. I remember thinking, “This is elaborate.” I was curious as to what it was all about. The nurse explained that she was going to “cleanse” my blood since my kidneys could no longer do so. I was hooked up to this strange machine for hours!

A few days later, when my doctor was making his rounds, I asked him how much longer I would have to go through this procedure and when I could expect my kidney function to return. His answer changed my whole life when he replied that I would need this procedure three times a week for the rest of my life and that my kidneys would likely never again function correctly. I cried for a month and grieved even longer. My life and my freedom had been taken from me forever. My life would now revolve around this life-giving procedure called dialysis.

I soon realized that I could mourn no more, and I determined that I had to accept my life as it was. After I was discharged from the hospital at the end of January 2009, I settled into a new routine, which now centered on my trips to the dialysis center. I learned the names of the team members who kept me alive; they made me smile and laugh even though they were so busy - never sitting to rest.  They would see to their patients’ every need while under their care, with the full knowledge that they preserved our lives. I was so thankful for them. It didn’t take me very long to realize how very important they were.

It was February 25 before I could muster enough strength to fly from Honolulu to Northern California. My partner and I moved to the small town of Paradise, near Chico, where my oldest daughter, her husband and children live. She had insisted that I move home where she could care for us. She made all the arrangements for me to settle into my new dialysis center prior to our arrival.

The South Chico Dialysis Center team members are a very professional bunch and they always seem to be happy in their work. From the facility manager to the cleanup technician, they are always filled with laughter, jokes and smiles.  They always have time to lighten our hearts.

The clients in dialysis centers come from every walk of life - rich and old, young and poor, gay and straight, and every ethnic background you can think of. It doesn’t matter who you are because we are all members of a very special family, and we form deep friendships and bonds in the center.

The dialysis center plays such an important role in our lives that I don’t think many of the team members realize the full extent of the influence they have in our lives. The smiles, the jokes and laughter give us strength to go on when it would be so easy to throw in the towel. For many of our family members, going to the dialysis center is their only chance to socialize and it’s something they actually look forward to.

I have only witnessed one incident of a team member being rude and unpleasant. Perhaps she doesn’t know how important she is in our lives. To all team members of DaVita, as tiring as your job may be, your smiles and laughter and friendship and camaraderie do more for us than any machine can or will ever do. You are probably the most critical people in our lives. We depend on you for more than needles and gauze. You are Gods and Goddesses to us! You keep us smiling and healthy and we truly love you, your work and even those silly machines!