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Working & School

Keep Doing the Work You Love

By Contributing Writer and PD Patient
Jim McFarlin

Like many people affected with Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD), I have had to consider and answer the question, “Can I work while on dialysis?”

(I can recall at least two former employers who constantly asked me if I planned on doing any work long before I started dialysis, but that’s a story for another website.)

The short answer is yes, yep, of course, and why not? It isn’t necessarily easy, but then, work isn’t easy. That’s why they call it “work.” However, with planning, determination and a positive mental attitude, going to work while living with dialysis can be no more unpleasant or problematic than…well, going to work under any circumstances.

For most of us, keeping a job is far more than a casual diversion to pass the hours between dialysis sessions. Most positions – well, a few of them, anyway – come with the health insurance benefits that help make dialysis and medications possible in the first place. What’s more, work can provide a feeling of self-worth, as well as co-workers who may offer support, camaraderie, friendship and wacky e-mails. Sometimes employers even pay us to do what we do! So keeping the boss appeased and your face in the place can be even more critical than normal during this time.

I admit, as a writer I’m blessed to have a profession I can perform at home without having to get dressed and go into an office every day. (In fact, I am sitting stark naked as I write this). When I learned that James Michener was still crafting novels well into his 90s, I figured I had chosen the right career in terms of longevity: write as long as you can; when your mind goes, so do you. One unanticipated benefit of working from my living room is a slightly easier time managing and coordinating my dialysis treatments. Indeed, the main reason I opted for self-administered Peritoneal Dialysis (PD) is the flexibility it provides me in coordinating my work and dialysis schedules with my family life.

I use an automated cycler, which runs on an eight-hour program. Often, if I know I’ll be writing all day, I dialyze while I’m working on my computer. If I have appointments or errands I know will take me out of the house during the day, I run the cycler overnight so I’m finished and ready to go in the morning. Flexibility.

It’s even possible to do a manual PD exchange or two during the workday at your office. All you need is about 20 minutes of free time and a relatively clean, private area to perform the treatment. Remember to bring along your can of 99.9-percent, germ-killing spray disinfectant. Doing the exchange in the break room during lunchtime is not recommended.

If you choose In-center Hemodialysis (ICHD), your first move should be a long heart-to-heart (or maybe in this case, kidney-to-heart) with your dialysis nurse or social worker on ways to arrange your treatments so that you miss as little work as possible. Because of the frightening rise in kidney disease, many clinics now offer dialysis sessions around the clock. After cementing your best schedule, explain your situation to your employer or your company’s human resources department to see what considerations can be made on your behalf. Most companies are more than happy to accommodate a valuable employee’s desire to continue working while treating a serious health condition.

Be concerned, however, if upon hearing the news your boss breaks into a spontaneous grin and starts clapping his hands together excitedly. That means the company was probably looking for a reason to get rid of you anyway. The good news, as far as you and I and all CKD patients are concerned, is that there are federal laws to prevent employers from discharging, failing to hire or discriminating against anyone because of kidney disease. What’s more, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows employees up to 12 weeks leave without negatively affecting their job status. The National Kidney Foundation has a wonderfully comprehensive website devoted to working with kidney disease at I heartily recommend it – after you’ve finished reading every word here, of course.

Home Hemodialysis (HHD) also makes it easier to maintain a regular work routine while cleansing your blood. Whatever method of dialysis you choose, remember that it’s a process and your body is going through major changes. When starting dialysis, you may need a few days, weeks, even months to adjust to the effects dialysis is visiting upon you. Like the rapper Too $hort says, don’t fight the feeling, baby. Give it time. You may even need to work part-time for a period until you are fully up to speed. When you feel ready – and only when you feel ready – you can return to full-time employment.

In other words, if your job is lifting elephants, you may need to lift baby elephants for a while until your strength and stamina return. But they will return. So if you’re fortunate enough to have a job in this troublesome economy, the good news is that you can work your (dialysis) plan while you plan your work.

Now, where’s that report?
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