GFR

Now that I am in the radiology department I spend a lot of time focusing on GFR and kidney function. Why? Good question!

In MRI and CT we give contrast to a lot of patients. In CT the contrast is iodine based. In MRI the contrast is gadolinium (metal) based. Both types of contrasts are filtered out through the kidneys and thus the reason kidney function is so important in this department. The way we assess kidney function is by checking a patient’s creatinine level in their blood. Luckily for us we have machine called the i-Stat that can test the blood and give a result in two minutes. The result transfers into Cerner (our EMR) and the computer then uses that result to calculate the GFR. Great… except I didn’t really have an understanding of why we were checking the creatinine, what GFR really was, or why there is a GFR result for African Americans and non-African Americans. I decided to do a little reasearch and I figured, since this is a nursing blog and all, why don’t I share what I have learned?

What is “GFR”?

GFR stands for glomerular filtration rate. Basically, the GFR tells you the flow rate of fluids through the kidney. Your glomeruli are the capillaries in your nephrons inside the kidney. Blood is filtered across the capillary membranes helping to remove waste that can ultimately be excreted through the urine. Taking you back to anatomy and physiology in nursing school aren’t I? *shudders*

A simple google search will bring up lots of GFR calculators. Typically the GFR calculator takes into account serum creatinine, age, gender, and race (African American versus not) and then it will give you the estimated GFR. A GFR >60 indicates a generally healthy kidney. Less than 60 can indicate potential kidney disease. Less than 15 can indicate full on failure. Here is a little infographic that is patient centered.

Why creatinine?

Why does the GFR equation use creatinine? In the most basic terms, creatinine is a waste product of creatine. Creatine is used by the muscle cells for energy. Your kidneys help filter the creatinine out of the blood to be excreted in the urine. Low creatinine typically indicates good kidney function (which makes sense, healthy kidneys will filter out creatinine effectively). High creatinine indicates the opposite, kidney function is probably on the lower end because the kidneys are unable to filter out the waste product. Creatinine is primarily filtered out through the kidneys which is why it is a pretty good indicator of kidney function.

Why is the result different based on race?

Many, many times I have looked at my labs and wondered why the GFR had a result for African Americans and then essentially everyone else. It wasn’t until I started working here and paying attention to the GFR that I decided to look it up. Turns out studies show we have “higher than average” muscle mass so we generate higher levels of creatinine. Higher creatinine levels lead to higher filtration rates. The difference in results account for this.

Now I can actually explain to my patients why I am taking blood after I start an IV. I like to be able to asnwer my patient’s questions so of course I had to do a little learning on my end. Hopefully some of you will also find this information useful! (Also here is a great reference for frequently asked questions from the National Kidney Foundation because, why not!)

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Humbled

Since I have become a radiology nurse I have witnessed something that has humbled me; cancer patients and the infallible strength that they have.

My role in radiology is different from my role as a bedside nurse. I am still responsible for patient safety and care but in a more indirect way. I monitor the patients during their MRI’s and I am the one that starts the IV’s before the study begins. I encounter a lot of oncology patients. In fact, I would say almost 90% of my patients some days are getting scanned to assess for metastasis, diagnose new cancer, or stage some form of cancer. These are people from all walks of life. All races, all statuses, all religions, all education levels, all ages, cancer does not discriminate.

What has humbled me is their attitudes. Almost every cancer patient I have come in contact with in my department has had a bright smile and a sunny personality. Most of them come in with the mindset that they have another battle to fight and they are going to win it. I love that! Their smile makes me smile. We end up joking and laughing during our time with each other. These are people that are getting a procedure that could potentially present more bad news and yet they walk around with a smile. I wake up bitching and moaning in the morning about having to get up so early. I complain about my knees being stiff or my back causing me pain. I rarely wake up and just thank God for being alive and being *relatively* healthy. I am going to make a real effort to try and change that. If these oncology patients can still tackle life with such vibrancy then why can’t I? Every day that I am alive is a blessing. Every day that I am blessed to not have to experience the things that these wonderful patients are having to go through on a daily basis is a gift. I am humbled yet inspired by the strength and positivity these patients demonstrate. I’m going to live for them.

Full circle

I started working in a hospital on my birthday in 2007. In this particular hospital, there were two separate transportation teams. One did regular transports and discharges and the other only did transports to and from radiology departments. I started as a transporter in the radiology department. The hospital offered a free EMT-B course, all you had to do was pass. Of course I took up that offer! I transported for over a year and in the process started nursing school. That’s when I decided to become a tech. After graduation, I worked on that unit (med-surg) for two years. I hated it. I am not a med-surg nurse. I got frustrated very quickly with all the frequent flyers. I felt like I wasn’t making a difference. No matter how much teaching I did I knew I would see those patients in a month, maybe two. So I left the hospital to take an ICU position in a smaller hospital. It was hell for me to go from a teaching hospital where I was autonomous and a part of the care team to a community hospital where I was supposed to just do what I was told. Yeah, no. They got two years out of me as well before I took an ICU position in another teaching hospital. I loved it. I learned so much and got to be a part of things I had never experienced before. The only drawback was the commute. An hour and a half one way, and I was working night shift.  I managed to pull this off for three years. I kept telling myself I would move closer to the hospital but I never did. I love the city I live in right now. I love the diversity, something that was lacking in the area that particular hospital was in. So, I started the job search again. Guess what hospital and what department were in need of a nurse? Yep, my first hospital and the opening was in radiology! I jumped at the chance and luckily got the position.

Its been a bit surreal. Being back in the radiology department feels familiar and new at the same time. Most of the radiology techs and nurses were there when I first started. They remember me as a transporter from 11 years ago. Now here I am in their department as a clin 2 nurse! I’ve come full circle.  I am getting used to being the new kid without actually being a new kid. Maybe, just maybe this is where I was supposed to be all along…