Thursday, July 26, 2012

Hack & Slash

It is Wednesday night, and I am kneeling beside the tub, wet and sticky. There is a pair of scissors in my hand. The bathtub is filled with dialysate bags.

I puncture one and fluid gushes out, cascading down the drain.

Coyote is over and he, Patrick and I are clearing out the medical supplies in the basement. None of them are reusable, which is a shame, but after three years of home dialysis, I have resigned myself to the sheer quantity of waste the treatments produce. To make matters worse, we had just received a shipment right before Patrick got his transplant, so we are fully stocked.

First, Coyote brought up all the boxes—there were at least forty. Bags of dialysate fluid, plastic tubing, hypodermic needles, bandages, and medical grade hand soap.  We have to sort everything. Then the bags will have to be broken down and put out on the curb for recycling.

The plastic tubing can go right into the trash. The hand soap is also trash because, believe it or not, the unopened bottles have expired. Who knew hand soap expires? (And we had too much of it in the first place because, three years ago, the medical supply company overshipped it. We couldn't use it fast enough.) We might be able to donate the bandages. The unused hypodermic needles will require special handling, so we set those aside.

That leaves the bags of dialysate fluid in five and two liter sizes. All bags have a drain tube in the bottom. Some of the two-liter bags have a length of tubing attached with a blue clip shaped like the eye on a peacock feather. They come six bags to a box-- six eyes peer up at me unblinking as I dump them into the tub.

The dialysate bags are packed in heavy-duty plastic which is hard to cut, and while I’m gratified to know that the medical supply company uses sturdy packaging, it’s not making my job easy at the moment.  Once I cut through the outer plastic, then I have to cut the bag itself to drain the fluid out.

We started working around 6:00. At first, I cut carefully, trying not to make a mess. Now it is 10:30 and I’m just slashing and stabbing, trying to get this over with. As my hands work, my mind is free to wander. I make all sorts of strange and frequently unsavory associations as I set about my task.

Cutting the plastic and the faint, sweet odor of the liquid reminds of the Icee pops my grandmother used to buy for us kids in the summer. The urgent unloading of materials down a bathroom drain makes me think of paranoid drug dealers, dumping their product en masse. (I’ve been watching too much Breaking Bad.) Jabbing my scissors into the pillow-shaped bags makes me think of stabbing someone in the belly, innards gushing out.

This last association is especially troubling, as the connection to bodies -- to Patrick’s body, in particular -- cannot be ignored. This fluid that, just six weeks ago, was being pumped into his peritoneal cavity on a nightly basis. His belly that's been punctured with three incisions on it that are still healing even as we speak.

Yet, there is something savagely satisfying about this—jabbing, stabbing, slashing, hacking. I am definitely working out some aggression on these bags. It’s therapeutic. It's a relief. Relief at finally being able to get all this medical crap out of my house—the relief of not needing it anymore.

I still can’t quite get over how quickly all of this is happening. It's the end of an era in our lives. It's weird having your life so clearly dilineated by events like this-- before Alice, after Alice.

Just six weeks ago, Patrick got the transplant. Three weeks later, the staples were removed. Four weeks later, his dialysis catheter was removed.

Good-bye, Cathy! Hello, Sidney!

Last week, the medical supply company came and got the queen bitch of them all. Unceremoniously boxed up and carted off to her next victim/patient.

Good-bye, Alice!

Thanks for everything, but I’m not sorry to see you go.


In another hour or so, we have it all finished—five contractor bags packed with deflated plasticware and tubing that we lug out to the garage. The City of Kansas City, in its infinite wisdom, has cut off our medical trash tags so we’ll have to slowly dispose of everything over the coming weeks rather than all at once. All of the cardboard boxes are ready to go, and I have to say, I kind of wish I could see the recycle guys’ faces when they find the heap we’ve left for them. Ever see that episode of The Simpsons where Bart and Lisa build a castle out of UPS boxes? Yeah. It’s like that.

We still have a chest of drawers in the bedroom full of medical supplies, and some stuff in the hall closet. But I feel like this is a real turning point. Reclaiming our space, our basement, our house, our lives. I’m actually excited now about the prospect of coming home in the evenings, of working on the house. I’m excited about all this empty space. We can fill it with whatever we want.

Where before there was necessity and limitation, there is now only possibility.

Not to mention, there is now a healthy husband to help me with honey-do projects. Can't get much more normal than that.