I don’t have a lot of experience with sick children. I was healthy growing up, my sisters were healthy and so were all of my cousins and friends. I had heard of Ronald McDonald House, but never understood its importance or significance, until a week ago. The day my world was turned upside down.
It was a normal Saturday. My baby woke up around 7:30 and wanted to play. We ate breakfast and watched some cartoons. The sun was shining so I took her outside to enjoy some fresh air. After being outside for a while I decided that it was a good idea to come inside and have some lunch. Charlotte ate and shortly after was rubbing her eyes and acting tired. ‘Nap time’ I thought, excitedly.
My daughter is not a good napper. A long nap for her would be 45 minutes. After 45 minutes, I checked on her. Still sound asleep. ‘Fresh air wore her out,’ I thought to myself. So I let her go a little longer. About 20 minutes later I checked again, and it sounded like she was snoring. I touched her lightly and said her name. Her eyes fluttered but she didn’t focus on me. I picked her up and said her name again. She half-opened her lids and her head began to bob. The only other person at home was my dad. I rushed Charlotte to him and he called her name, but she couldn’t hold her little head up. She was lethargic and groggy and breathing heavily and raspy.
We headed to the hospital in a hurry. When we got there, 16 medical professionals swarmed my daughter. My eyes filled with tears. I truly thought I was going to lose her. I leaned against the nurse’s station in the ER and asked for water. Someone brought it to me and I thought I was going to vomit. It felt like I was leaning there for hours but in reality, it was probably less than ten minutes.
The attending physician for the ER told me that Charlotte was going to be airlifted to the IWK, which is a children’s hospital that is approximately a four hour drive away. At that point, they didn’t even know if I could go in the helicopter with her. After a few phone calls and some chats with the pilots, it was determined I could go.
I don’t remember much about the helicopter ride. But I do know it felt like it took forever. I sang songs in my head to distract myself. I tried not to look at Charlotte too much, because she was intubated and in a medically induced coma. Every time I looked at her I wanted to cry.
When we landed in Halifax there was a sense of urgency. We were rushed to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. Coincidentally, my mom and sister were on the way home from a road trip and were able to meet me there. Again, medical professionals swarmed my daughter and I was left with no answers as to what was happening.
Some more time passed and I was finally able to be by her side. She looked so tiny and was hooked up to so many machines. Tons of tests were being ordered and all of the on-call specialists were being called in. I was trying so hard to keep it together and not lose my cool, but it was becoming harder by the second. I was making deals with God and the devil and anyone else who would listen.
A social worker came by and asked where I had planned on spending the night. I said I wanted to stay by Charlotte’s side. She told me that it was important I got some sleep and that perhaps it was not a good idea to be present for all of the tests as they were very intrusive and since Charlotte was in a coma, she wouldn’t be aware of what was happening. My aunt lives only a short drive from the hospital and I told her I was going to stay there. What she offered me though, was a place to rest and peace of mind. I was given the opportunity to stay at Ronald McDonald House located inside the IWK. Sandwiched between the PICU and the NICU. A ten second walk from my daughter’s room. A place where I could get some rest, yet still be as close as possible to her. My eyes filled up with tears of gratitude when I realized how close I could be to my baby.
Ronald McDonald House is a gift to families who need to be close to their sick children. It literally is a home away from home. The rooms are clean and comfortable. There are washers and dryers, showers and every toiletry you can imagine. The kitchen is always stocked with food and their volunteers are constantly baking cookies and muffins. Supper is provided nearly every night by either volunteer donations or donations from local restaurants. There is also a huge comfy lounge area with couches and rocking chairs and toys for children. There are computers and printers and phones with free calling cards so you can make long distance phone calls. For some people, this lifts a huge financial burden. For others, it allows for peace of mind. For me, it filled my heart with gratitude and love.
I only had to spend three nights in Ronald McDonald House. Charlotte was finally transferred to the Pediatric Medical Unit where I was allowed to sleep on a cot in her room. She underwent more tests than most people will experience in a lifetime and saw more specialists than I knew existed. We walked away without a diagnosis and were told it was likely a one-time isolated incident.
Ronald McDonald house is run by volunteers and depends on the generous donations of the public to keep going. The next time you are at McDonalds and you find yourself with a little bit of change in your pocket, please please please throw it in the donation box next to the cash register. My eyes were opened during this past week to just how important this facility is. I will never have enough words to express my gratitude for this amazing place. All I can say is thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.