DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Here in the city of Houston, the floods have been particularly difficult for people who are already sick or already disabled. For those who have kidney failure, the timing of this storm was especially bad. Many of the people who rely on dialysis to stay alive get that service on Mondays, which was the worst day of flooding in much of Houston. NPR's Rebecca Hersher visited a dialysis center as desperate people showed up on newly opened roads.
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REBECCA HERSHER, BYLINE: Dr. Steve Fadem made the rounds at DaVita Dialysis Center in Houston earlier this week.
STEVE FADEM: How are you feeling? Are you doing all right?
HERSHER: About 50 people were hooked up to row upon row of dialysis machines. Some of them were brought in by teams of volunteers, who went in in boats to get people who were stuck. Larry Caplan came in by ambulance. He usually goes to another facility, but flooded roads made that impossible.
LARRY CAPLAN: I was almost afraid to get in the vehicle to drive on the highway, but my family encouraged me to go.
HERSHER: Hooked up to the machine, he was relieved that he had made it. Teresa Scott tried to get her husband in for dialysis on Monday, when he usually gets it. But by the time the nurses arrived from their homes, her home was flooded in.
TERESA SCOTT: About that time, it was really raining, so we couldn't get out.
HERSHER: They came in first thing the next morning to find more than a hundred people in the waiting room.
SCOTT: Well, we got to sign in at 9:52. And then they called him back at 1:44.
HERSHER: That's a long wait (laughter).
SCOTT: It was a long wait (laughter). But we could understand because there was a lot of people.
HERSHER: Like Scott's husband, most people prefer to do their every-other-day dialysis on Monday, Wednesday and Friday so it doesn't mess up their weekend. Each treatment takes four hours. It's a life-or-death thing. Dialysis machines are sometimes called artificial kidneys. They pull patients' blood through a filter to remove toxins and excess fluid.
FADEM: Without dialysis every other day, patients get very sick. They can go into congestive heart failure. And you can die from that.
HERSHER: There's so much backed up demand that on Tuesday, Dr. Fadem was doing just two hours of treatment for each patient instead of four so more people could cycle through. The limiting factor isn't machines, it's staff. A lot of nurses are also in flooded homes or trapped or have been evacuated. Yesuf Said has been working 11-hour days and taking elaborate detours to get to and from work during the storm.
YESUF SAID: My son is very - 3 years old. He don't want me to go into work, but I try to explain for him.
HERSHER: He says his moral duty is to come to work.
SAID: But we have to do it because nobody can do it, you know. There is life and death for patients, so we have to do it.
HERSHER: Even in a disaster. Rebecca Hersher, NPR News.
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