Amid the Banter, a Family Takes Form
For most young patients, Children's Hospital is a place they visit briefly, then consign to their memories. But for some, Children's is a constant presence, the place that keeps them alive. My assistant, Julia Feldmeier, recently spent time with the regulars in the dialysis unit.
You're a hemodialysis patient sitting in a hospital room, hooked up to a giant computerized filter that does the work that your kidneys won't. You do this four hours a day, three days a week.
How do you pass the time?
You study. You read. You draw, sleep, watch television. And among fellow dialysis patients and doting nurses, you sass.
It's good-natured chiding, the familial kind.
It starts with "King Man," a 17-year-old dialysis patient and self-described "celebrity" at Children's. A 14-year-old girl hooked up to a machine across the room hears this and rolls her eyes.
"See? She adores me," King Man says.
"I what? Ugh. Please don't let him say that."
King Man grins wickedly. No offense taken.
King Man is Tyrone L. King Jr. Armstead, a high school senior from Suitland who earned his nickname about 13 years ago when he was needle-phobic and Mary Rose Fragale, a 21-year veteran nurse in the dialysis unit, crowned him with a Burger King hat for facing his fears.
Mary Rose is still here, as is Tyrone, who returned to the dialysis unit in 2005 after a kidney transplant failed. It's hard to say who has whom wrapped more tightly around the other's finger. "We're like family," Tyrone says.