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The Rise of the Little White Kidney Bus

Homage to the Big Red Kidney Bus

The little white kidney bus

The very notion of undertaking haemodialysis on a long-term basis presents a two-edged issue. On one hand, it is a lifeline – the only means available to you to cleanse your blood. On the other hand, it can be confronting – limiting your everyday options to the routine of long sessions of dialysis several times a week. Sometimes, it is difficult to remain positive when you know that cycle will repeat itself the day after tomorrow on an endless rotation. It becomes extremely easy to slip into dark thoughts and depression. This is exactly the situation that I faced.

I had almost completed my kidney transplant workup when I was told that the surgeons would be removing my only kidney as it had a suspicious lesion on the surface. Once removed and examined, it was found to be riddled with cancer cells. Fortunately, they were all encapsulated within the kidney and had not spread to other organs. Unfortunately, this meant an automatic 5 year wait for a transplant to ensure I was cancer free. This also meant additional dialysis sessions and fluid intake restrictions as I could no longer urinate to remove fluids.

It took some time, but gradually I came to resent having to undertake dialysis. Even though, I had always dialysed at home. The very thought of a continual routine of disinfecting, lining the machine, having my super supportive wife insert the needles, then sitting undertaking dialysis for 5 hours before cleaning the machine had a massive impact upon how I saw myself and my long-term future. This was causing me to have mood swings and become a vastly different person to my usual outlook. My family took note of the change in me and suggested I might need to seek some professional advice.

After some sessions with the renal psychologist and following many discussions at home, it was decided that something had to change to get me back on track. We decided that travel was the answer, but of course travel and dialysis are complex partners.

Previously, I had used the Big Red Kidney Bus (Victoria) a couple of times as a means of travel and dialysis and had hospital holiday respite dialysis in Joondalup, Western Australia. But the onset of COVID 19 had put paid to interstate travel. These away from home vacations had really revitalised me, so the change that our discussions led to came in the form of finding a suitable vehicle to enable both sleeping and dialysis away from home.

The thinking was the easy part. Turning thought into action was a little more difficult.

Initially, we were looking to convert a small bus but after some measurements and calculations, it would be too confining with the machine plus the reverse osmosis filter, without even considering a reclining chair. So, we quickly moved onto the notion of a motor home – something large enough to accommodate all the required equipment yet spacious enough to allow comfortable living.

Ian on dialysis with wife Georgina on the Big Red Kidney Bus

We found an old (1985) Winnebago that could sleep 6, had a bathroom and toilet and most importantly air conditioning. She had travelled lots of kilometres but had been serviced regularly. She just looked a little tired and outdated. Having renovated quite a few houses previously, we thought that this was a challenge that we could conquer. We named the old RV Donatello after the Mutant Ninja Turtle with a home on his back. We also had the old girl professionally sign written as The Little White Kidney Bus as homage to The Big Red Kidney Bus

Donatello was a bit of an ugly duckling (although at 8metres, a very large ugly duckling) – resplendent in the full fit-out as befitted its 1985 heritage. Lots of faux wood panelling, heaps of green brocade fabric in the upholstery (including padded pelmets above the curtains) and a mushroom-coloured carpet that had certainly seen better days. So, a complete refit was required.

Once we had her home, we removed the front set of seats (they converted into beds) as that would be where my dialysis machine and the Reverse Osmosis filter would go, removed all the cupboard doors – relocating them to our garage that was to become a temporary spray booth, and completely stripped the interior back to the bare interior linings. The interior and the cupboard doors were sprayed with an industrial standard sealer/primer then had an additional two coats of low sheen gloss acrylic enamel applied. A superior vinyl flooring was sourced as this would be much easier to keep clear to the standards required for dialysis.

It took eight weeks to remodel including adding aluminium boxes to the rear to accommodate two carbon filters plus an additional small filter for final cleaning.

So far, we have visited a seaside location of the Yorke Peninsula and travelled to the Riverland – more trips are guaranteed in the future. The only downside is that during dialysis days, we must be in a caravan park to be able to use the “town” water and mains power for the treatment. That’s a small price to pay for the freedom to travel beyond our usual four walls. With solar power on board plus a 240/12volt refrigerator and gas cooking, we can free camp on non-dialysis days.

We have even bought a couple of folding electric bicycles to take with us on our travels to enable us to explore the local area beyond walking distance.

Overall, this was a fun project with an amazing outcome. We are great fans of the Big Red Kidney Bus concept, but the flexibility allowed by having your own mobile dialysis unit cannot be underestimated. Of course, there has been some financial outlay however the benefits significantly outweigh the dollars spent.

You can follow the video progress of Donatello’s transformation on Facebook here.

The little white kidney bus