By Gene Blankenship, DPC Board Member

I was 42 years old when I crashed into dialysis, though my family obviously knew about my kidney disease. I also worked full time and so the next step was to tell my employer, OPEA. I cannot compliment my employer enough. From the second I told my Supervisor and our Executive Director it was, as the cool kids say, “cake”. First words out of their collective mouths were “How can we help?’  My doctor and I had already discussed what I could do while still keeping my health a priority. This made it easier as we sat down to come up with a reasonable plan that worked for everyone.

Before kidney disease, my job involved several travel days throughout the year to speak to thousands of people during our annual state visits. For example, I could leave my house at 5 AM, drive for four hours, conduct four to six meetings per day, and then drive the four hours back home. Sometimes, I drove eight hours in a day, no problem. Our staff members each wear several hats, but we understand each other’s job duties enough so that in a moment’s notice, we can and have taken over for each other.

With kidney disease, I had to cut back my work hours and become a little more creative in scheduling. My dialysis schedule also comes into play when we have a training or an event which takes place over a few days – I then have to rearrange my dialysis schedule and my DaVita Clinic (Sallisaw) staff have been the pinnacle of customer service. So that makes things much easier on my schedule. I also had to drastically cut down on my drive time and now I can drive about 3 to 4 hours and then it is time to stop. However, if Mrs. Blankenship is with me, there is a guaranteed stop every hour, if not for the bathroom then definitely every other Starbucks.

I also find mornings are brutal now. Before dialysis, getting up at 5 or 6 am was not a big deal, as long as they were not back-to-back every day. Now it takes a little more time to get going in the morning. I am like an old’ John Deere tractor, it takes a minute to get me going but once you get me going, I don’t stop.

So, as much as I don’t want to say I had to make adjustments at work, I had to make adjustments. My drive time had to be cut down to a few hours because the fatigue can sneak up on me. Fatigue and nausea are the two culprits that sometimes get in my way. When I have a bad day (you know the days I am talking about, where it is better for you and everyone else just to stay in bed) I can call any of my co-workers or Supervisor and my duties get covered by one of them without hesitation. My co-workers know the feelings are mutual but to me it’s like the ol’ saying “It’s like church, what you put into it is going to determine what you get out of it”.  To this day, I am so thankful and still even shocked by how accommodating the staff of OPEA were in this life changing moment. I will forever be grateful for the kindness my co-workers have shown me.