The Kidney – Our Underrated Organ

I had graduated from medical school, passed the specialization exam in medicine, and had been placed in the medical internship I long dreamed of. I was on cloud nine and was dizzy with joy, but it didn't take long for my feet to touch the ground. I soon started to complain about the spells of long surgeries and 12 shifts once a month that sometimes lasted up to 32 hours a “day.” It was not rare when we could not leave for dinner due to consecutive shifts.

I had an extraordinary experience during my watch one night. Along the corridor to the cafeteria was the Pediatric Nephrology Clinic. I saw a tearful mother sitting on a bench in front of the clinic. She was with a child who was about four or five years old and who was weeping and sobbing loudly at her lap. I approached them and asked what the child wanted, thinking he wanted an expensive toy or a bar of chocolate. I was staggered by the woman’s reply:

“Milk… he wants a glass of milk,” she said. When I replied, “Easy-peasy! Let's get it right now,” she told the painful truth bluntly, “It’s forbidden for him because he’s a dialysis patient. e’s His kidneys are not working.”

I didn't know what to say. I swallowed hard. My own ungratefulness, and the test that little child went through, crossed my mind. His large eyes, completely filled with tears, were fixed on me as if saying, “For God’s sake, help me!” I moved on in despair, wishing him best of health.

That was an awakening incident that reminded me of my own kidneys which started working when I was a 12-14-week-old fetus in my mother's womb. Since then, they have been engaged on a quiet and devoted duty, active day and night without a single moment of rest. Yet, they would not cross my mind not even once a year day, let alone a day.

Our kidneys start to work while we are still in our mother’s womb and produce the urine that most of us despise. We may not be aware of how big of a share they have in every breath we take. Indeed, babies who cannot produce urine cannot breathe due to a lack of lung development and die soon after they are born. Urine, which makes up almost all of the liquid surrounding the baby in the mother's womb, is indispensable for the healthy development of the lungs and for attaining the level of flexibility and maturity that the lungs require.

The kidneys are responsible for completing a number of miraculous tasks. They are instrumental in maintaining the body's water and mineral balance, and their cells work like the world's most diligent and meticulous chemists. These cells, which constitute the nephron, carefully analyze the bloodstream and measure the levels of elements such as sodium, potassium, hydrogen, calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium in the bloodstream. They then dispatch the excretion of excess materials via urine and absorb the missing substances into the bloodstream. They are also deployed to preserve the very delicate balance that exists in the composition of our blood, working in the excretion of metabolic products such as urea, uric acid, and creatinine, all of which are formed as a consequence of digestion.

However, this is not all that the kidneys do. They also regulate our blood pressure thanks to their special capabilities. Each kidney is also an endocrine (hormone secreting) organ that secretes a hormone called erythropoietin which helps with the production of red blood cells in bone marrow. Kidneys also play a vital role in activating vitamin D to have it perform its due functions in our bones.

After working their effects, drugs are disintegrated and excreted from our bodies through kidneys. This is why the dosage of some drugs should be delicately adjusted while keeping kidney patients in mind. Insulin, glucagon, and growth hormones are also broken down in the kidneys after they perform their duties.

Our kidneys turn into sugar factories for the persistence of the functions of vital organs in very challenging conditions, such as liver insufficiency, and produce glucose to prevent low blood sugar levels.

Dialysis machine

Developed to imitate the kidney’s mechanisms, a dialysis machine is much bigger than a kidney. Patients with kidney failure need dialysis to have their blood purified, and this involves “linking” a large-diameter blood vessel to the device. The patient then undergoes an operation for fashioning the vessel connection. Blood enters the machine from one end of the vein, is purified there, and is fed back into the body from the other end. Depending on the severity of the disease, a person may need a dialysis process three or four times a week. As much a great invention is this machine, it is not as perfect as the original organ we have in our body, and as a result there are unfortunate latent complications. The procedure is unnerving, and sometimes painful. No doubt the machine cannot fully accomplish the feat of the kidneys and at times fails to dispel all of the excess materials. Dialysis patients should also tolerate a regimented diet resolutely. The constant treatment takes a toll on the immune system, and frequent infections tire the body as well.

If only we could recognize the worth of these exquisitely magnificent gifts in our bodies? Would it not be so amazing if we could preserve these priceless treasures that have been bestowed onto us?

Every time our heart beats, a system far more exquisite and useful than dialysis works in our bodies. It is pain-free and silent. This is just one of the countless wonders in our bodies and the universe.

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