July 31, 2022

Patient Diaries: Trip To Bryce Canyon (Camping On Dialysis)

Camping On Dialysis
Bryce Canyon dialysis set-up.

In August of 2018, my partner and I decided to join my sister and her husband on her birthday camping trip to Bryce Canyon National Park in Southwestern Utah. This would be the first time that I would actually do dialysis outside in the wild. I prepared all the supplies, my partner got the machine in the box, and we flew up to Salt Lake City. My sister and her husband have a good sized camper that attaches to their pick-up truck. When we got to Salt Lake, they had the camper ready to go. All we needed to do was load up the dialysis machine and all the supplies and we were ready to go on the 4-hour drive down to the park. 

The first evening there, before we did the treatment, we hiked around the canyon’s edge and made plans to hike down the next day. It’s a spectacular site with trails to wander and explore the geological wonder of it all. The hike down was going to be relatively gentle, but I still would need to have my blood as clean as possible to be able to do the hike. 

After the campsite was all set, my brother-in-law set up the generator and attached a solar panel, so it could charge as long as the sun was out. He also set up the drain line to run the effluent away from the campsite and down the paved road to a drain. He plugged the machine into the generator, and with the machine powered up, my partner and I set up the dialysis machine, got all the supplies laid out, and started treatment. 

It was spectacular to be in the pines looking at the sky and having squirrels come up investigating while I went through the treatment. It was so much different than doing it at home where I would sit relatively still in the recliner looking out the window, but seeing little of the real outdoors. Rather, the room was always stagnant with the odors of hand sanitizer, dried and fresh blood, spilled dialysate, venofer, and the pervasive proximity of death. Instead of all of those foul odors, the smell of pine trees heated by the sun, their sap surfacing to scent the oxygen-rich air, and warm ground’s earthy smell wafting with each gusty breeze. All a welcome treasure greeting my ever runny nose. 

As was often the case in the early days of my return to dialysis, Erik helped me get connected. Eventually, I became completely independent – getting myself set up on the machine, and taking myself off. But, Erik was often near to lend a hand when needed. 

Dialysis Is A Team Sport
Family helping with my dialysis camping set up.

Being at the high altitude at the end of August meant the air was quite cool as the sun faded and wind blew more stiffly. After an hour or so on the machine, I got a chill and had to be bundled up. Generally, although you have a dialysate fluid warmer, dialysis will make you feel cold even with a heating pad and blankets; however, when it’s cold outside, the effect is even more bone chilling. My sister got blankets and a stocking cap and I warmed up some, but still I shivered my way through the treatment. 

Dialysis Body Temperature
Getting comfortable at the campsite at Bryce Canyon while doing my dialysis treatment.

The next day, we hiked down into the canyon, and while I was slower than I would have preferred, I was able to go the whole route down and back up. It was an exhilarating and freeing feeling.

That night, we ate at the nearby lodge, which had a large buffet with many items that I was not eating because of the dietary restrictions required of dialysis patients. There was an extraordinary amount of people eating, and we had to stand in line at each setup for the wide variety of food. Buffets are not really a good place for dialysis patients to eat. They tend to make one eat much more than one should, or may even want to, which leaves you stuffed and feeling bloated and uncomfortable. The majority of items in a buffet are outside the renal diet with the food options being high in sodium, potassium, fat, and phosphorus. So, it becomes a real wast of money to try to eat like the other buffeters. 

We listened to the weather forecast on the way back to the campsite, and because the forecast predicted rain, we ended up leaving the next morning. We were happy to have had the opportunity to dialyze in such a lovely location and I would recommend anyone who likes being outdoors to definitely give it a try. It can really change the relentless menotomy of home treatment.

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