A day in the life on dialysis

Dave Mathieson
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Out with the toxins and in with the clean blood. That’s the way it’s been for Amherst’s Louitta Sears for four years now. Sears spends about 15 hours a week at the dialysis unit in Springhill. 

SPRINGHILL – There’s a lot of down-time when you’re on dialysis.

“It’s sort of like a part-time job,” said Amherst’s Louitta Sears, who can spend up to 15 hours a week on dialysis.

Tolerating dialysis is made tougher by the fact people on dialysis have to carefully monitor what they eat and drink.

“The kidneys are responsible for removing waste from your body, so toxins from what you eat build up, such as high potassium, high calcium, or phosphorus, that the body can’t remove,” said Carolyn Desjardins, licensed practical nurse at the Dialysis Unit at All Saints Hospital in Springhill. “They really need to limit their diet. They can’t eat potatoes, French fries and all the good stuff.”

“And don’t forget chocolate,” yells Sears from across the room.

Sears has been on dialysis for four years. She has a good understanding of what she can eat and drink.

She can only drink two cups of liquids every 24 hours and says she gets thirsty.

“Especially if you eat something that’s salty,” she said. “When I cook at home I avoid salt but when I go to a restaurant it can be hard to avoid.”

She says a restrictive diet takes will-power.

“Some days it bothers me but some days I don’t mind.”

The dialysis unit has been in operation at All-Saints for 15 years, and Desjardins and LPN Gina Stevens have worked together at the unit for about 10 years.

The unit has five dialysis machines and room for four patients.

“So we have one extra machine,” said Desjardins.

They treat four patients at a time – four in the morning and four in the afternoon, six days a week, and the unit is presently at full capacity with 16 patients.

“We have patients that come Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, and patients who come Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, so they come every second day, but on the weekend they get a two-day break,” said Desjardins, “which is good but, in a sense, it’s not good because there’s a build up of more fluids and toxins over the two days.”

When patients enter the unit they are weighed to see how much extra fluid they have built up in their system.

“Most of our patients have kidneys that aren’t working to remove the urine, or fluid, in their body, so everything our patients drink is in their body until they come back,” said Desjardins. “They have an ideal body weight and the difference of weight in the amount of fluid is what we take off of them. So, it can be up to four kilos of fluid that need to be removed.”

On this day, Sears was having 2.5 kilos of fluid removed.

“If you’re away for two days you can feel a little tired,” she said.

The patients are then hooked up to the dialysis machine.

Large-gauge needles are stuck in their neck or their arm, depending on the patient, and one needle is for outgoing blood and the other is for incoming blood. The outgoing blood goes through a dialyzer.

“It’s considered their kidney,” said Desjardins.

The dialyzer is a foot-long, clear plastic tube about an inch in diameter, with microscopic-sized, white straws in it.

“The blood goes through the straws, and on the outside there’s a solution that pulls all the bad stuff out of the blood and washes it down the drain,” said Desjardins.

Although she has to severely restrict her diet and sits in a chair hooked up to a machine for 15 hours a week, Sears said it isn’t all bad.

“You become like family here,” said Sears about her relationship with Desjardins, Stevens, and the rest of the patients.

Despite the family-like atmosphere, Sears would like to be free of the dialysis machine.

The only way to get off dialysis is to have a kidney transplant.

There are certain health criteria that have to be met to qualify for a kidney transplant. For instance, people with diabetes are disqualified from having a transplant. Sears qualifies for a transplant and is on a waiting list.

“I’ve been on the list for five years, the year before I started dialysis,” she said.

Sears has had family members tested to see if her body would accept their kidneys but none of them matched.

Her only hope now is to get a kidney from a live donor or from somebody who passes away.

Sears encourages people to be organ donors.

For more information on kidney disease or how how to become an organ donor call Capital Health Nova Scotia at 902-473-2700.







Organizations: All Saints Hospital

Geographic location: SPRINGHILL

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Recent comments

  • Jayne Mason
    March 31, 2013 - 12:44

    My husband has been on dialysis for two years now. He has no kidney's and no bladder. He looks on his dialysis days as 'work days' and sometimes it can be very boring, but he gets through it. He is on 500mls a day fluids which is quite hard. I hope everyone will have better days and the courage to face this affliction.

  • mike
    March 30, 2013 - 13:25

    If you soak potatoes for 24hrs you can eat them.

  • Lyn
    March 29, 2013 - 10:29

    Even though family members have been tested and they are not a match, what about 'paired exchange'? The lack of organ and tissue donors in this country is a disgrace! People are dying needlessly while waiting. Everyone, regardless of age or health should consider organ donation and talk to their families about their wishes. It's the right thing to do.

  • roberta o'neil
    March 28, 2013 - 16:16

    have the hemo diaylsis patients not considered pd diaylsis? I went on pd 2 years ago when I had to start diaylsis and it's been alright. I can stay at home with a machine I'm connected to beside my bed to do the diaylsis during the night, I have taken a trip to Hawaii, and can stay overnight at hotels. if I can't use my machine, I use twin bags which is done 4 times a day, with the last bag emptied before I go to bed. I too am on the transplant list, but the wait is long. Bobbie O'Neil

    • Lyn
      March 29, 2013 - 10:33

      When you do the 4 times per day exchange, you don't leave the last bag in overnight then exchange in the morning again?

  • DialysisPatient
    March 28, 2013 - 13:13

    Some of the information in this article is inaccurate. For instance, people with diabetes are not disqualified from getting transplants. They routinely do get them, and sometimes they get a double transplant of a kidney and pancreas. They aree unable to donate, however. Also, in my 20+ years with kidney disease, I have never seen anyone have needles inserted in the neck. They most likely have a neck catheter. If the writer of this article was unsure of what was going on with those patients, they should have asked. The nurses could have explained it.

  • T. Eddy Baer
    March 28, 2013 - 12:49

    Thank you for recognizing the Dialysis unit at Springhill Hospital.. It is interesting that you only interviewed one of the many people who are there. Ms. Sears is one of the fortunate people that is only on dialysis for 4 hours, 3 days a week. There are other people who are on dialysis 5 hours. One hour a day difference between 4 to 5 hours doesn't sound like a long time but can you imagine what it must be like sitting in the same position and having this done to your body? Cumberland County is very fortunate to have this Unit in Springhill as many have, and some still do, to travel to Moncton, Can only imagine how horrible it must be to travel back from Moncton to wherever in Cumberland County after being on dialysis for 4 or 5 hours. Lastly, am encouraging everyone who wants to do the most unselfish act ever and join me on the list as a organ donor. The wait lists are extremely long and getting longer every day. Thanks again for doing this story.

  • sara
    March 28, 2013 - 11:54

    "people with diabetes are disqualified from having a transplant." This statement is absolutely incorrect. I know people who have had a transplant and they have had diabetes. I also know many many many people who currently have diabetes and are on the transplant list. Please check your facts.

  • amanda
    March 28, 2013 - 10:51

    i pray for all who are on dialysis my father lost his battle this past september...