On dialysis for 27 years, Hickory woman is thriving

On dialysis for 27 years, Hickory woman is thriving

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According to the National Kidney Foundation, “healthy kidneys regulate the body’s levels of water and minerals and remove waste.” A person cannot survive if neither of her kidneys is performing these processes. The only recourse is a kidney transplant or dialysis, which is an artificial means of securing the benefits normally provided by healthy kidneys.

Kidney failure is known as end-stage renal disease (ESRD). People on dialysis have ESRD, so it’s not surprising that the average person might assume that the life expectancy of a dialysis patient is severely diminished.

Patricia Johnson of Hickory would beg to differ. The mother and grandmother has been on dialysis for 27 years. She has not simply survived nearly three decades thanks to dialysis, she’s thrived. Patricia looks healthy, acts healthy, and tends to her social life with as much gusto as someone who doesn’t have to set aside three hours a day, three days a week to sit in a chair, hooked up to tubes and monitors.

It’s not just the machine that’s kept Patricia going. Her attitude has been her ally. She follows all the rules and suggestions related to being a dialysis patient -- proper nutrition and never missing a treatment being topmost on the list. Patricia said not all kidney care patients do what they’re supposed to, “just as not all heart patients or cancer patients strictly follow treatment plans,” she pointed out.

“We have so many people who come and go,” said Patricia about the folks who undergo dialysis at Fresenius Kidney Care Hickory’s dialysis center. She and one man have been patients at the center the longest. Many have died.

Patricia said she developed lupus years ago and “that’s what messed up my kidneys.”

She started out undergoing dialysis at a facility across the street from Frye Regional Medical Center in Hickory, then moved to Fresenius when it opened.

Patricia is a High Point native. Her family moved to Hickory when she was 12. She went to College Park Middle School (now Northview) and Hickory High School.

In her younger days, Patricia worked at a hosiery mill, then “a knitting place that made socks,” she said. Her last job was at Maple Springs Laundry, a linen supply company. “We took care of the linens for hospitals,” Patricia explained.

Patricia’s next comment took me by surprise: “I used to go clubbing.” She said she’d have a “good time and dance.” The petite Patricia loves to cut a rug, especially line dance, and when the opportunity arises, she’ll still kick up her heels. “I did it a couple of weeks ago at a friend’s 50th birthday party,” Patricia shared. “We all got out there and did line dancing.”

Patricia fills her days with a variety of active and quiet activities. She loves to take the bus to shopping centers, particularly Walmart on Hwy 70 in Hickory, but it’s more about being on the bus than spending time inside a store. Some of her friends ride the same bus, so trips mean opportunities to catch up with one another. If Patricia is anything, she’s gregarious, and after reading article after article about how having a strong social life is a good predictor of a long and happy existence, I’d say Patricia’s deriving nearly as much benefit from spending time with friends and family as she is from dialysis treatments.

Family members aren’t far away. Patricia likes going places with her daughter, including to Greensboro to see Patricia’s granddaughter or to Burlington to visit her grandson. She has five grandchildren she keeps up with either during visits or by phone.

When at home, Patricia works word puzzles. She’s loves solving them and suggested that the best place to buy word puzzle books is the dollar store.

Of course, there are the nine hours – plus transportation time – that Patricia devotes to dialysis. “I don’t miss no treatment,” she declared. “Fluid can build up on you.”

About her consumption of beverages and food, she said, “You have to watch how much fluid you drink.” Patricia said dialysis patients are supposed “to stay away from dark sodas,” but every now and then, she gets “a taste for a Coca Cola” and drinks “just a little.”

Mostly, she drinks ginger ale if she’s feeling the need for something carbonated.

“You can eat pretty much anything,” Patricia continued, “but certain foods must be eaten in moderation.” She listed tomatoes and bananas as examples. “Too much potassium,” she stated.

“I’ve been [watching what I eat] for so long, it really don’t be bothering me that much [to avoid certain foods, such as cornbread and biscuits]. I love pinto beans, and I eat French fries every now and then. They tell you not to be eating fast food.”

In other words, Patricia allows herself a bite or two of forbidden foods from time to time, but the great majority of her diet is one the kidney care people would totally support.

About the treatments, Patricia explained, “They clean the blood.” She said she has an artificial graft in her arm. It’s into that graft that two needles are inserted at the beginning of a treatment. I wondered if it hurt. Patricia smiled and said, “It’s according to who you having sticking you.”

Once things get going, there’s no pain. Patients can suck on hard candy, but they can’t have drinks or food. Patricia said she feels no different after a treatment unless her blood pressure drops or she suffers a cramp. Low blood pressure leaves her feeling hot and sweaty, and her eyes “get cloudy,” she reported. “It just feels weird,” said Patricia, who needs a day or two to recuperate from drops in pressure.

During dialysis, most patients sleep, some watch TV. “Each patient has their own TV,” said Patricia, who watches the news, but mostly does the one thing she likes most: talks to people, especially the technicians. “If you talk and laugh, the time goes faster,” she reported.

“I’ve never had a [kidney] transplant,” said Patricia. She said she’d been evaluated as a prospective recipient but didn’t want to burden anyone by asking for a kidney. “It’s best to get a kidney from a living donor,” she explained. “I didn’t want to put anyone through that.”

Patricia pointed out that she hasn’t been in the hospital since 1993. She had pneumonia and had to have a stent put in her heart due to a blockage. She’s also had corneal transplants in both eyes, but the procedures were conducted on an out-patient basis. “I see pretty good,” she declared. “Everything was cloudy before.”

“Some people have told me they thought you died soon after getting on dialysis,” Patricia shared. “It’s according to how you take care of yourself.”

Looking for someone to pattern yourself after? Dialysis patient or not, you couldn’t go wrong letting Patricia Johnson be your role model.

Share story ideas with Mary at marycanrobert@charter.net.

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