November 30, 2016, celebrated the thirteenth year since I suddenly went into acute renal failure from an unknown cause and almost died. Even as a physician, I was completely shocked to learn that from one day to the next my kidneys had shut down and I was in kidney, heart and respiratory failures (See my book The History of New Innovations in Modern Medicine Chapter 1).
It turns out that I was in pretty good company as many others develop renal failure each year (More than 661,000 Americans have kidney failure with 468,000 on dialysis http://www.kidney.org) including some very famous people who eventually died from it.
Some well know victims of Kidney failure include: Greta Garbo, Jean Harlow, Chiang Kai-shek, Julia Child, Alfred Hitchcock, Marlene Dietrich, Howard Hughes and General Douglas MacArthur (www.ranker.com).
Normally, your kidneys filter out toxins from the blood, reabsorb important nutrients and preserve water balance. When they fail, toxins build up in the blood, edema develops and if not treated the patient can die.
Some causative factors of acute renal failure include the effects of certain toxins and poisons, heavy metals and medications, acute blood loss and dehydration, sepsis or mechanical blockage (such as from an enlarged prostate See Chap 3 The History of…). Kidney failure can also result from the long-term effects of conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and auto immune diseases such as lupus.
If you know anyone undergoing dialysis, please support them to the utmost. It is absolutely lifesaving, and without it, the patient will die, but it is also very difficult to tolerate.
When I was on dialysis for six weeks in 2003/2004, I would get severe muscle spasms during the three to four hours undergoing treatment. One time I had an episode of acute diarrhea and lay on the bed mortified in the Charity Hospital dialysis unit (since closed after Katrina) as a nurse’s aide had to clean up the mess. I was pretty hopeless.
After outpatient treatments, I would come home so weak I had to crawl to the front door. I remember one day lying in bed and weeping because I truly believed I would never be free again to travel or exercise or do anything without being tethered to a dialysis machine. I prayed to God to help me and to send me a miracle.
The miracle came after the dialysis shunt clotted in my neck and it was taken out. I was prepped for a permanent shunt in my arm. When the preop labs came back, they were normal. No one could believe it. My prayers had been answered. Gratitude, faith, and belief had overcome cynicism, anger, and doubt. So, as bad as things may seem, be proportionate and never give up!
James D. Okun, MD is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Duke University and of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. He is the co-author of The History of New Innovations in Modern Medicine and of Erasing Scars: Herpes and Healing.