“A new life”: Patients praise new dialysis unit

For the last month or so, Daniel Levesque has had a lot more free time on his hands.
The 65-year-old Fort Coulonge resident is one of several locals currently receiving treatment at the satellite hemodialysis unit at the Pontiac Community Hospital (PCH). He started receiving treatment there on Dec. 10 and is over the moon about the impact on his weekly schedule.
“Me, I’ve gone to dialysis for almost six years in Gatineau,” he said in an interview at
The Equity office. “I’m very happy they opened in Shawville. Just to come here three times a week, I save nine hours, so at the end of the year, that’s 468 hours I save. It’s a big plus for me, for anybody.”
He explained that he would get picked up by A TransporAction bus that would bring other patients on the way to the city, adding to the already lengthy commute from Coulonge. Even without transportation included, dialysis treatments are still extremely time-consuming.
“I do four hours and a quarter, three times a week,” he said, noting that he is confined to a chair the entire time. “You can’t do nothing, just watch TV.”
The day after the initial interview, The Equity paid Levesque a visit at PCH to see his treatment in action. The unit is quiet, neat and dimly lit, as the dialysis is tiring and many patients choose to doze during their time there. Chairs paired with hulking, high-tech machines form a ring around the outside of the room, with a nurses’ station in the middle. Levesque was positioned in the corner at station four.
The two RNs on duty, Melissa Ladouceur and Heather Cartman, explained the process that takes place whenever a patient arrives.
Dialysis is required for patients that have decreased function in their kidneys, which filter waste and excess fluid from the blood. Hemodialysis is the most common type of treatment, and involves being hooked up to a machine that pumps the blood through a special filter called a dialyser, before returning it to the body.
Cartman explained that each patient is put on a very precise scale to determine their exact body weight.
“We take the weight, see how much excess weight he’s put on, which would be the excess liquid he has not urinated,” she said. “So then we [subtract] that off, see how much weight he’s put on in the last few days and then we hook him up to the machine via his venous catheter.”
A catheter is just one method the nurses have of accessing a large blood vessel, and Cartman adds that Levesque’s is a “central venous jugular catheter”, meaning it’s inserted in his jugular vein.
Cartman singled out a plastic tube on the side of the machine as the dialyser, which is doing all the filtering and is replaced by the nurses after every treatment.
Propped up in his chair, tubes and wires protruding from his partially exposed chest, Levesque said that the treatment isn’t painful but leaves him drained.
“After the treatment is over, you’re ready to go home,” he said. “It takes you about eight hours to come back normal.”
Ladouceur explained that treatment times vary from patient to patient, but are usually around three to four hours. Levesque’s, for example, takes four hours and fifteen minutes, while across the room, fellow patient Anette Dubeau-Ryan’s only takes three and a half.
A resident of Calumet Island, Dubeau-Ryan was travelling to Hull Hospital for nearly 14 years, and was grateful for the local facilities and nursing staff.
“I’m so glad we have the dialysis here, my God,” she said. “It means that I can leave my place at quarter to seven and be here at seven. Big difference.”
She added that she had been part of the fundraising effort for the unit, which made being treated there even more meaningful.
The unit serves about 12 patients a day (six in the morning and six in the afternoon), and is staffed by a head nurse and two RNs, as well as a dietician to council patients on their food choices. Though a nephrologist makes the trip up regularly, nurses have access to a specialist at all times through video conferencing.
“There are a lot of restrictions that they have to be careful with, some nutrients they have to reduce to not have too much in their blood,” explained the dietician on duty, Caroline Boulay. “That’s why I have to just teach them what they can eat, what they have to reduce, what they have to avoid.”
Patients have to closely monitor their levels of potassium, sodium and phosphorus, as well as their fluid intake.
“They have to avoid food that’s too high in potassium,” Boulay said. “It’s hard because lots of vegetables and fruits have them, so we will say to eat the ones with less potassium. Same for the phosphorus, because they’re losing protein when they are filtering the blood, they need to eat a little bit more protein but there’s also phosphorus in the meat, so they have to be careful with that.”
Boulay said that every month she reviews the patients’ blood work and will consult with them on a personalized diet plan.
Cartman also explained that local nurses working the dialysis unit received training in Gatineau prior to the unit’s opening. The current head nurse, Simon Mushid, is a temporary instructor who will eventually be replaced by a local head nurse.
“Simon is a nurse in dialysis in the city and he took a posting here for six months to be able to teach us in our environment because we were both new at this,” Ladouceur said, adding that most of the patients already knew Mushid from their treatments in Gatineau.
Cartman explained that the dialysis unit is a lot different from other departments, in that they see the same patients on the same schedule every week.
“It’s like a one-on-one relationship, between nurses and patients,” she said.
“On the other units … we don’t always have time to [get to know] our patients, but here we have the time,” Ladouceur added.
Levesque was very amiable with the staff and was succinct in summing up what the new unit means to him.
“It’s a new life,” he said.

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