9-1-1 Operator: “Tell me exactly what happened.”
Me: This one patient was in the parking lot and she passed out.”

That was one of the hardest calls I’ve ever had to make. Just hours earlier a patient was getting treatment at my dialysis clinic — then on her way out of the clinic she collapsed. Someone should have checked on her after treatment and helped her leave. But there weren’t enough staff that day.

My field wasn’t always like this. I worry about whether I can keep going in this job if things don’t get better.

I got into this field when my uncle went through dialysis treatment nearly 20 years ago. I used to take him to his appointments, and I saw what a big impact a concerned caregiver could have on a patient.

My uncle’s caregiver was Durdana, and she was so good to him. She always greeted him with a big smile. During treatments, she asked him questions to make sure he was okay — “Are you hungry?” “How are you reacting to the treatment?” “Do you need to see a dietician?” And she really listened to him.

Back then caregivers could take their time with patients. But things are different now because we just don’t have enough caregivers to keep up with all the patients.

A few months ago I was inserting a needle into one patient when another started throwing up. I had to decide to which one to help because I was the only tech for 10 patients. Those are the choices we have to make because we don’t have enough caregivers.

We’re also stretched thin because of all the non-patient related work we do. It used to be one person’s responsibility to stock equipment and supplies. Now, to save the company money, all of us have to leave the patient area and take on that duty. I’ve cleaned garbage and refilled supplies before attending to my patients. That’s not the kind of care I want to provide, but it’s the way clinics are run now.

Years of doing this kind of work have taken a toll on my family life. I was eager to have children, but for a while now my doctor has said that my stress levels are too high and that it may not happen for me. It’s incredibly painful to imagine giving up on this dream, but I’m also not sure my stress will change as long as things stay the same at work.

Right now I feel as though I’m barely holding on. But I also believe things can change, and not just for my clinic. I want to be the kind of caregiver that Durdana was to my uncle. To get there, we need to come together and support an industry-wide solution to the problems in dialysis clinics.