The Body’s Keepers

The Body's Keepers: A Social History of Kidney Failure and Its Treatments

The Body’s Keepers: A Social History of Kidney Failure and Its Treatments
By Paul Kimmel M.D.

This book is a comprehensive look at one of the most important organs in our bodies: the kidneys.

Most of us don’t think about our kidneys except in that rare case when one has a kidney stone or a disease of the kidneys or that affects them. Despite our not really giving much attention to these organs, they work hard to keep us healthy.

Amongst their many functions, the kidneys filter the blood of waste products; regulate electrolytes such as sodium and potassium; maintain fluid balance—drink a lot of water and the kidneys will make sure you spend your time running to the bathroom—and produce the erythropoietin (EPO) that stimulates the production of red blood cells.

However, when the kidneys are failing or don’t work at all, they are among the few organs of the body where outside assistance can be used to perform some of its functions: the artificial kidney, also known as dialysis. While dialysis is available, it’s a lifelong, fairly expensive, and inconvenient treatment. The best option is a kidney transplant from a living donor or an organ bank.

The book The Body’s Keepers: A Social History of Kidney Failure and Its Treatments takes the reader through the history of the invention of the artificial kidney by Dr. Willem Kolff and the refinements of the machine. While the artificial kidney provided a lifeline for those patients suffering from kidney failure, there were not enough machines to take care of all the patients who needed them. To fairly allocate such a scarce resource, “Life or Death Committees” were assembled to choose which patients would receive the gift of life.

Thankfully, these “Death Panels” were put out of business when Congress authorized Medicare to pay for dialysis treatments to allow anyone who needed treatment to get it. You can find more information about Death Panels in the Friday, November 09, 1962, Life Magazine article “They Decide Who Lives, Who Dies” readily available online.

Much of the book is focused on the greed of the corporations wanting to make a buck off kidney disease and Federal regulations trying to keep patients safe. The author details the discovery of various drugs that assist dialysis patients and the rise of for-profit dialysis centers. I found these sections of the book quite tedious to read, but author Paul Kimmel does an excellent job in explaining what scientists, patients, and corporations have contributed to the treatment of kidney disease.

For anyone reading this book, don’t skip the notes section, as it is detailed with tidbits of information that I found fascinating.

I would recommend The Body’s Keepers: A Social History of Kidney Failure and Its Treatments to anyone interested in the history of kidney disease, especially if you are interested in the nuts-and-bolts of how such endeavors are funded.

5/5 stars

[Thank you to NetGalley and the author for the advanced ebook copy in exchange for my honest and objective opinion which I have given here.]

Until We Come Up With Something Witty To Say…