What is DIALYSIS??

IMG_0417IMG_0420Dialysis is a HUGE part of my life, especially at the present time, so I thought it would be a good idea to explain what dialysis is.

I have included two photos. One is my Central Line which I use to do dialysis. The second is a photo of my actual dialysis machine (which is over 4 feet tall!) Please forgive the photo quality. I may have to upgrade from my iPhone camera! 😀

Dialysis is a treatment for End Stage Renal Disease. It’s for people whose kidneys don’t work anymore. (BTW, the word “renal” and “kidney” are used interchangeably.)

Before continuing I should explain what working kidneys do:

  • remove waste from the body
  • regulate the fluid balance in the body
  • regulate the body’s balance of minerals like potassium, calcium and phosphorous
  • make hormones that do things like create red blood cells

As you can see kidneys are pretty important. (That’s an understatement!)


  • removes wastes from the body
  • removes fluid from the body


  • It doesn’t make kidneys work again.
  • It doesn’t cure kidney disease.
  • And it can’t even fully replace kidney function.

Because dialysis only removes waste and fluid people living with kidney failure must take medications to help regulate minerals in the body and to replace hormones.

Unless you receive a kidney transplant a person with kidney failure must do dialysis for the rest of their lives.

People with kidney failure will feel increasingly unwell if they stop dialysis . . . and will eventually die without this treatment. 

When I say dialysis is an important part of my life I don’t think the point can be overstated.


There are two types of dialysis; Hemodialysis and Peritoneal dialysis. Hemodialysis (Hemo) uses an artificial kidney and a machine to clean your blood. Peritoneal dialysis (PD) uses specially formulated fluids and takes advantage of properties of your own body to help clean your blood.

Of the two modalities of dialysis I prefer Peritoneal Dialysis. I did this type of dialysis for years but within the last year my doctor’s helped me understand that I wasn’t getting enough benefit from PD. Just over a year ago I switched to Hemodialysis.

What a transition . . .

I started off going to the hospital three times a week and having the staff treat me. Next I learned how to do Hemodialysis on my own with supervision. Now I do hemodialysis at home without any help. I live with a big dialysis machine a water machine . . . and a lot of medical supplies.

BENEFITS OF HOME DIALYSIS, specific to my case:

1. I don’t have to go to the hospital for treatments. I find the hospital an overwhelming environment; a virtual sensory overload. Not good.

2. I am on an “aggressive” hemodialysis schedule that requires 3 to 4 hours on the machine 5 to 6 days a week. My hourly goal per week is no less than 20 hours on the machine. Coordinating with the dialysis clinic on a schedule like this would be difficult and very time-consuming.

I think this is a good start as far as explaining dialysis is concerned. Please ask any questions you have.

Outside of a medical/scientific explanation there is a lot more to dialysis – from my perspective.

  • the emotion of switching to a type of dialysis I had always feared
  • how empowering medical independence is (both PD and now Hemo)
  • the sensory overload of the in-hospital dialysis unit
  • living with dialysis on a day-to-day basis; machines, supplies and a central line access

I will get to these stories once I get all the foundation stuff explained.

I don’t want any pity because I do dialysis or because my kidneys failed. I’m not sure why my life has gone this way but . . . I’ve made peace with all this. Frankly, it is a lot but not too much to bear. Any one of you could carry this load if it was placed on your shoulders. (We are all stronger than we could ever imagine.)

Disclaimer: Again, I must remind you, I am not a doctor and I do not have formal medical training. I am simply sharing my experience and what I’ve learned so far. For further information or more detailed information you can go to sites like the Kidney Foundation or even google terms like dialysis or kidney failure.

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2 Responses to What is DIALYSIS??

  1. Lisa Osinga says:

    Well written Karen. More than 10 years ago, I actually worked on a nephrology unit for a short time. I had no idea that clients were doing their own in home hemodialysis. Ironically, I hate being in hospitals too, so I can understand your motivation to have autonomy when it comes to your treatments. Looking forward to reading more entries.

  2. kns544 says:

    Yes, Lisa, being at home means a lot to me. I was overwhelmed having to go to the hospital so often. It just was’t good for me. Thanks for the positive encouragement . . . I will keep writing. As a person with a nursing background your comment carries a lot of weight.

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