by KIM HILSENBECK
Three days a week, Jim Darling of Kyle sits in a lounge chair for four hours. He watches TV, sleeps and sometimes visits with others sitting on nearby lounge chairs.
In a conversation with a woman in a white lab coat and a clipboard, Darling tells her it’s difficult to move his hands lately. He demonstrates, showing her how they won’t fully close when he makes a fist.
The woman, Cathy Shuler, a registered dietician, gives him a coupon printed on pink paper. It shows the number three.
“It would be a five if he had followed his diet,” she said.
The numbers are part of a points system that Shuler uses to encourage folks like Darling to watch what they eat. They cash in those points for gifts such as socks, blankets and books. Kind of like a dialysis frequent flyer program.
A machine next to his chair hums and whirs, little instruments flashing and spinning. Cords and tubes stick out of the machine and into Darling.
Yet his warm smile and easy nature betray the severity of his current condition.
Darling is on a dialysis machine at Satellite Dialysis in Kyle. He’s been on dialysis since 2006 when his kidneys could no longer function on their own.
It turns out Darling has the top two causes of renal failure. He was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in 1991, which is one of the leading risk factors for kidney disease.
Years earlier, at age 17, he was diagnosed with high blood pressure – the second leading risk for kidney disease.
In October 2011, Darling got the phone call he was waiting on for five years – a kidney was waiting for him. Within hours of that call, Darling had a kidney transplant.
But it was not the outcome he expected.
“It never woke up,” he explained.
In medical vernacular, it means that kidney never began functioning. So doctors removed it. He went back on dialysis.
“I’m at the top of the list,” Darling said.
He said he has not asked any of his three grown children to donate one of their kidneys.
For the past seven years, Darling has been receiving dialysis treatments – 12 hours each week. It’s almost like a part-time job. Indeed, Darling had to retire once he went on dialysis because it took too much of his time.
He worked as a registered nurse for the previous 11 years – it was his encore career, having retired from a telephone company where he worked for many years prior.
In an odd twist of fate, Darling worked as a dialysis nurse for a year at a facility in Austin. So he knew what patients went through being hooked up to a machine for hours on end, three times a week.
How did he end up in the same type of chair as his former patients?
“I have a real bad problem with denial,” he quipped. He also acknowledged the old adage that nurses make the worst patients is true.
Yet Darling did lose about 15 pounds since he started dialysis.
“That helped resolve my blood sugar issues,” he said.
But Daring knows he has more changes to make and habits to break. In talking with Shuler, he mentioned the cookies he bought at Whole Foods.
She suggested he bring them to the staff at Satellite. He laughed, his bright blue eyes sparkling behind his glasses.
His easy rapport with the staff at Satellite is apparent. Light banter and friendly conversation set the tone, even while they take his condition and treatment seriously.
“I love the staff. I’m friends with all the nurses and the techs. You really get attached to your techs,” Darling said. “Your life depends on them.”
At that moment, Melissa, Darling’s technician, stopped by his chair. He explained to her how he gets attached to his techs. She smiled.
“We love him. He’s mine,” she said.
“I know a well-run unit,” Darling said. “These guys are totally professional. I don’t have any problem letting them take care of me.”
Compared to the center where he worked as a dialysis nurse, Darling said the staff at Satellite gets a lot of support from management.
He also said he knows he has to “get with it.”
“I’m at the point where I can’t function. My feet are fine, but my hands are killing me,” he said.
Does he have any advice for those with diabetes?
The typical answers – watch the weight, diet, exercise – all the things Darling hasn’t been able to make himself do as well as he knows he should.
“It’s time to get out and start walking,” he said of his own situation.
Except making that happen isn’t as easy as he would like it to be.
“I get home and I feel washed out, just low energy,” Darling said.
Darling said his own three grown children are concerned about him.
“They encourage me to eat healthy. They cook healthy,” he said. He paused. “Sometimes it’s difficult.”
Yet he knows how important the stakes are.
“I want to be here for my grandkids,” Darling said.
He is on the list for a second transplant kidney. Of course, getting a kidney requires someone to donate one, either through an organ transplant program or through an organ donation program. Darling’s last kidney came from a 26-year old man who perished in an accident. That’s all he knows.
And so he waits.
Darling lives with his significant other, Becky, and she is very supportive. But he is also her primary caregiver.
“I do the cooking, the dishes, housework, shopping – she doesn’t drive. Doctors appointments…”
A loud siren blares from Darling’s machine, signifying his time is up for today.
“That’s a really welcome sign,” he said.
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