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Bloody air bubbles

Posted Mar 17 2009 3:11pm
Well, literally!

Day before yesterday was Monday. On Mondays, I like to get onto dialysis early so that there is enough time to pull off the excess fluid that I have had on Sunday (I do not dialyze on Sundays). So, I got home, quickly had my dinner and started setting up the machine. I did not want to wait for the tech because he would come late anyway.

Everything went off well. Preparing the bicarbonate solution, priming a new dialyser (artificial kidney) and a tubing set. I then cannulated and connected myself and started the blood flow. In the last stage of the starting process, however, the Air Bubble Detector alarm went off. I tried the usual "Reset" button. To no avail. It kept going off no matter what I did.

I noticed that a large number of air bubbles had accumulated on both the ends of the dialyser. I was surprised. When I had finished priming, I had checked both the ends and there was no air bubble. How then did they get there?

Air bubbles are a serious issue in dialysis. The air should not get in to the blood that is going back into the body after passing through the dialyser. It can cause a potentially life threatening condition called Air Embolism. Dialysis machines are designed to detect any air in the blood usually by means of a sensor that is placed a little before the blood makes its way back to the body after passing through the dialyser. If any air is detected, the machine stops the blood from going back.

So, here I was, blood already out of my body and air bubbles gathered in the dialyser, not knowing what to do. Training! That's why training formally is so important. To be able to handle situations like these. I shouted out to my brother and asked him to dial the tech from my cell phone and put him on speaker. I explained what was happening. He asked me to try a couple of things. Didn't help. He said he would immediately come home.

The next 15 odd minutes were excruciating.

The blood was out of my body. I watched helplessly as the blood lay motionless in the tubes on the machine. I started wondering if all this was worth it. Whether I should ALWAYS wait for the tech to start dialysis and not do it myself. These things were rare. I had started dialysis myself many, many times and nothing had ever happened. But when something like this happens, you really feel scared. The whole process of hemodialysis is so violent with blood outside the body.

The tech came and immediately hit the dialyser against his hand repeatedly to make sure the bubbles came out of the dialyser and into the venous chamber. He went into priming mode for a few minutes while he did this. Within a few minutes, all the air bubbles were out of the dialyser and the session proceeded normally.

I am at a loss as to what to make of this. Should I aim for more independence by starting dialysis myself? Or should I not take any chances? What was the worst that could have happened? Is the independence worth the risk?
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