GUEST BLOGGER: LAURA
Mum Laura very kindly got in touch to share her experience of staying at a Ronald McDonald House when her little boy Dominic was in hospital. Here we share their story, along with Laura's invaluable advice on how to cope if you find yourself in a similar situation...
This is Dominic’s story. Well, really, this particular story is more about what it is like to be one of Dominic's parents…
If you are reading this, chances are you have a poorly child, know someone with a poorly child or have a deep sympathy for people with poorly children. I had no idea that Ronald McDonald House Charities existed before I needed it. That is the important word too - 'needed'. Not 'wanted', not 'discovered', not…'happened to come across'…
The Charity provides a bed, a shower, access to a kitchen and laundry…but more than that, it provides safety. I don't just mean a room to leave your belongings in – a Ronald McDonald House is an emotionally and mentally safe space to escape to when you cannot go home. Somewhere where there are other parent zombies like you who 'get it', staff who can organise you a doctor’s appointment at a local GP, get the chaplain or parent psychologist to visit… or simply make you a cup of tea and listen to your story - or (if you're anything like me) talk about literally anything else, so you can remember what it is like to be yourself for five minutes.
I call it 'being a hospital hostage'. That's what it feels like by the end of the first week. You are trapped in the same environment with no daylight and no concept of time past meeting the new nurses and doctors at handover. Even though none of the doors are locked, you cannot leave. The emotional guilt of going to make a cup of tea and leaving your child's bedside for five minutes is bad enough, leaving the hospital grounds is nigh on impossible.
This is where Ronald McDonald House Charities steps in and provides a halfway house, a place you can reason with yourself that it is Ok to escape to. You are still at the hospital, if anything happens you are right there - but you've also got a space where you can collect your marbles together again and have a solid attempt at sleeping.
It sounds like a platitude - but you need to be well, mentally and physically, to support your child to get through this awful ordeal they are going through. You can't help them stay strong, fight and remain positive if you are falling apart at the seams. And you will fall apart at some point. For me, it tends to be week three. I completely breakdown in hysterical sobbing, forget to eat, can't sleep and feel like the worst parent in the world. All the guilt, stress, anxiety and trauma just snowballs until you actively do something about it.
Luckily, the Ronald McDonald House staff see it all the time - your breakdown is not the first and will not be the last they witness. They will support you in any way they can, as will any other parent staying at the house.
There's an unwritten rule between resident parents - if you are a veteran, it is your job to give the newbie having a breakdown the best advice you will ever get. It is advice that only another parent can give, because you just wouldn't accept it from someone not going through the same thing as you:
Go home. Sleep in your own bed for one night.
They will completely ignore this advice at first. They will look at you like you are Satan for suggesting it. But it is still the best advice you can ever give or receive. Everything becomes manageable again afterwards - it's like you are a completely different person.
One of the main issues you face as a resident parent are (over and above worrying about your child) the things that go through your head, which you can't help - but will still make you feel like a bad person. Don't worry, here is a list of completely normal things that we all do, which no one admits to publicly:
- Working out where your child ranks in the 'sick children on the ward'. Quite honestly, there has only ever been two children sicker than Dominic whenever we've stayed in the Ronald McDonald House. On those days, I felt a mixture of relief for me and sympathy for those parents. Having consistently been 'that parent' of the child who everyone measures their own issues against - I know what it is like to have someone look at you with those eyes that say 'thank god, at least our situation isn't that bad'. It's exhausting.
- Visceral jealousy of the families who arrive after you and leave before you. You can't help it. To be clear, it's not that you want their child to still be sick, you are actually very genuinely happy that they've got better - it's more about the fact that it's YOUR turn to go home! They queue jumped! That is just completely unfair!
- Inventing emergencies to get out of conversations with the parents of not very sick children who are completely freaking out. Patience is a very scarce commodity some days and being stuck in a room with the parents of a child with a bad cold when yours is on life support - and you are the one supporting them…even Mother Theresa would struggle. Don't feel bad about it.
- Walking around the hospital in your socks and pyjamas. At some point this becomes completely acceptable and normal and you just don't care anymore. It's usually around the same time random strangers start asking you for directions - for some reason it's like you start putting out an aura of 'I live here, I know where every department is'!
I'm sure there are more - but these are the ones that I remember feeling the worst about the first time they happened. 'What does this thought say about me as a person?!'……It says you are human. A human going through one of the worst experiences you will ever go through and managing it - successfully. Go you!!
We're going to be in and out of various hospitals with Dominic for a while, knowing that Ronald McDonald House Charities is there to help support us through it - allowing me to stay with him while he undergoes his tests, treatments and operations means the world to me. It means that I know I will be ok and can therefore focus all my attention and energy helping Dominic get better, and that is a gift.
Mummy Laura xxx
If you are interested in Dominic's journey so far, please see his web page and blog: www.dominicsstory.co.uk.