Thursday, June 07, 2007

Watermelon man

Have you ever, on a hot summer day, gorged yourself on watermelon, letting the sticky, sugary juice dribble down your chin as you chomp down upon mouthful after mouthful of sweet, succulent fruit? Last summer, in a bid to overcome the powerful mid-July heat, I devoured an entire half-watermelon in one sitting. It felt similar to how pregnancy must feel, my belly reaching absurd levels of distension that I wouldn’t previously have thought possible. If I hadn’t been overcome by such a strong desire to lie down and take a nap, in fact, I would have sought out the nearest sumo ring to find out whether my new body habitus was associated with any talent. As it was, though, I had a hard enough time just stumbling over to my bed. My hope was that after a few hours of sleep some of the fluid would redistribute out of my belly to somewhere with more room, and that I would be feeling quite a bit better. Redistribute it did. Every thirty minutes the threat of bladder rupture had me up to the bathroom, urgently opening up my spigot to let the water run out. The ultimate diuretic, it turned out, was not lasix or a thiazide, but a red and green melon named after its affect on urine. (Interns take note, if a patient’s urine output hangs frighteningly low, a little bit of the red stuff aptly slipped onto the right dinner tray may turn the I’s and O’s in your favor.)

Imagine, though, if I had not been a healthy young male, but an end-stage renal disease patient on dialysis who didn’t, who couldn’t urinate. All of the water that my kidneys so happily had drained off would now have had no place to go. It would have overflowed – into my belly, my lungs, my legs, anywhere that the path of least resistance might have taken it. A watermelon man, that’s what I would have been. Or is that what a dialysis patient always is? With no drain, water never stops to accumulate in the body; its level steadily rises. Present not just in the fluids we drink but also in the food that we eat, water is unavoidable. A man will drown who doesn’t get to dialysis on time.

Strange that a watermelon, of all things, could be a deadly food. Stranger yet to think that the miserable way I felt after ingesting half a watermelon is the same way that a dialysis patient must feel all the time, every two days before the water again is mercifully removed.