Liz McNamara: It was February 28th, about 9 pm that I got a phone call. The news had just released the fact that we had our first reported death within the country of a patient with COVID-19. We were the first dialysis organization to be impacted by COVID-19. We were actually founded in 1962, right here in Seattle. We were the first dialysis organization in the world. That was kind of a crazy time for those first two weeks in March. We had the opportunity to spend two weeks with the CDC team here on site.
Liz McNamara: They watched the workflow in the outpatient dialysis. It really helped us develop policies, procedures, and it helped guide the policies within the nation. So ironically, we became the first again.
Barbi Telford: Dialysis is for people whose kidneys have failed them, or it is starting to slowly die.
Barbi Telford: The kidney is a filter in your body. It filters out fluid that you don't need, waste product, which creates urine. It also cleans out toxins and purifies your blood. So dialysis helps do those things to replace the kidney. People think that if your heart stops, that's the only organ in your body that would kill you, and that's not true.
Larry Deneholz: So when you're dealing with dialysis, you don't really know what your lifespan is going to be. It can be three to five years. It can be 10 years. It can be a year. You know, you just don't know.
Liz McNamara: We were telling people, stay home, stay safe. Our patients can't stay home; they have to come to dialysis.
Larry Denenholz: I called my doctor and I said, “OK, what do I do?” She said, you cannot compromise. You just keep taking your treatments.
Barbi Telford: This isn't a clinic that you come to because you think you may have a sore throat or something like that. We are saving their lives.
Larry Denenholz: You are in the chair for five hours. Most of us do it three days a week, so it's like a part-time job. I have so little kidney function left. My whole physical system is compromised because there isn't anything left hardly to fight anything that might happen. So you don't want to even get a cold if you can avoid it, but especially something like COVID.
Barbi Telford: Kidney patients who do test positive, we have to still provide dialysis. We can't just tell them, “Oh, stay home.” So we have an isolation room. We still wear our plastic apron, gloves and shield. We wear an N95 mask, but then we also have a special white coat covering that we wear, too. That helps protect us when we are around them.
Liz McNamara: I think the policies that we have put into place during COVID are actually going to help us in the long run. I think using more PPE, more environmental cleaning, private rooms.
Barbi Telford: I actually think it's brought a little more anxiety and stress to all of us. We're more concerned for our patients. We're more concerned for what they're going through, concerned when we do have someone who has been exposed, and then our staff members always question, well, does that mean I'm exposed? For those staff who do run isolation, they do have to consider their families.
Barbi Telford: And I've worked in isolation, and I talked to my husband first and my son and asked them how they felt about me doing that, because I would definitely get exposed to it, and then, of course, be going home to my family. He feels that if I'm OK with it, then he's OK with it.
Larry Denenholz: I live in a retirement community. In terms of my friends, if they want to come and see me, they have to come and sit outside in the front of the building, but you cannot go inside anywhere. The kidney center is as clean as any hospital is, and they take really good safety measures. Ironically, the staff at the kidney center are part of my social life now, because when all this stuff is going on, it's comforting to see them there because you know them and they know you, you know.
Larry Denenholz: But I want to go back in a restaurant. I want to have a martini. I want be able to do that kind of stuff. It's the camaraderie of other people that I miss a lot.
Larry Denenholz: Staying positive, that's been the hardest thing for me, because I'm usually a positive person. But it's an intellectual thing, but it's also very emotional, too. So you just have to kind of work your way through it.
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