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A Kidney Dialysis Patient's Guide To Passing The Time

Scott Areman
Northwest Kidney Center
People with kidney failure require the blood-cleansing treatment called dialysis three times a week to survive.

This story originally aired on April 15, 2017.  

All of our lives are ruled by time, but some of us are more aware of it than others. 

At the Northwest Kidney Centers in Seattle’s First Hill neighborhood, dialysis patients are very aware of the passing hours. They're hooked up to machines that display the elapsing time prominently on a screen. These machines filter and clean their blood, a job normally handled by healthy kidneys. 

Seattle native Vonita McGee is a patient at the center. She goes in for dialysis three days a week for four and a half hours at a time. She's been in dialysis for six years because of end stage renal failure.

From her seat at the center, Vonita looks over at a row of other patients. Maybe a dozen or so people sit quietly in the same big, reclining chairs next to their own humming and beeping dialysis machine. They all come here for hours at a time, several days a week, just to stay alive.

Back in 2011, when Vonita’s kidneys first stopped working, she didn’t want this to be her life.

“They sent me to education and my only question was what happens if I don’t do it. And then finally they said, 'You die.' And I said 'Oh, it don’t seem that bad.' I had decided not to do it. Because I had lived my life and most of my people are gone.”

However, Vonita’s friends convinced her to give it a try. The first two years were rough. Back then she still worked full time in social services. She’s on disability now.

In the last six years, Vonita has used her time at the center to build a community. She spoke with Sound Effect host Jennifer Wing at the Northwest Kidney Centers about that transformation and how she found friends in such a difficult time.