I'd never heard of Ronald McDonald House (RMH) until 13 years ago when we found ourselves unexpectedly in the middle of a strange hospital in Liverpool with a very sick baby. As we'd driven into the car park I remember commenting on the sign on the side of the building and wondering what it meant. What I didn't realise was how central to our stay there it was going to become.
|Ronald McDonald House - Alder Hey|
The day after ds1 had been admitted to Alder Hey we were no longer allowed to stay overnight in the PICU with him. We lived a good hour away from Liverpool and so I was quite worried about how this was going to work with a sick child who was facing some fairly complex heart surgery in the following weeks. "Don't worry," said one of the nurses, "I've already put a call into Ronald McDonald House for you, they have a room".
I hadn't fully appreciated what the building was for until this point. We were exhausted after a roller coaster day and night previously and as we entered RMH for the first time it was clear to me that this building was not only going to be a place to lay my head at night for the next few weeks but it was going to become part of our support network too. The staff were so welcoming. They showed us around the building, our room, a bathroom which was shared and downstairs there was a room full of little kitchens and dining tables where we could store and prepare meals. Each kitchen was again shared with one or two other rooms and there were lockers for our food. There was also a laundry room too. It doesn't sound like much, if fact it was no different to some of the student accommodation I have lived in in the past, but I was overwhelmed with gratitude nonetheless.
For anyone that doesn't already know here is a bit about RMH that I've taken from their website:
"RMHC (Ronald McDonald House Charities) provides ‘home away from home’ accommodation for families with children in hospital, somewhere free to stay for as long as they need to. There are currently 14 Ronald McDonald Houses across the UK, all just a stone’s throw from the children’s ward. Together, they help more than 6,000 families every year."
This was amazing for us as the other choices were either sleep upright in a chair by ds1's bed, drive there and back every day, or spend money that we didn't really have on a hotel room. It meant that there was one less thing to worry about and we could concentrate on getting our son well again.
We didn't spend a huge amount of time over at the house. As each day began we'd grab a quick shower and then maybe a cup of tea if we had time (there was a lounge on our floor with a kettle) and then head over to the PICU. I could see the corridor outside the unit from our window at RMH which strangely gave me comfort. I was still close to my baby after all. We would both spend as much time as possible with ds1, barely missing anything at all and then take a break after the nurses changed at about 8 pm to go and grab some food - usually a take a way or something from one of the food parcels that family had brought us. We'd return to ds1 and then take it in turns during the night. Dh would go to sleep first and I'd stay, sometimes until 3 am doing feeds or whatever I could care wise for our baby and then dh would go back again at 6 am and sit with him until I came over at 9 am. Despite this every time one of us came and left RMH there was always a friendly face at the desk, someone always asked us how we were doing and how our baby was. These little interactions came to mean so much to me as I found it so isolating inside the hospital.
We occasionally spoke with the other parents there - people we recognised from intensive care, others who had been in our position and who had sadly found themselves back at Alder Hey again. Conversations struck up over the washing up or a quick cup of tea. It felt reassuring to know that there would one day be an end to the hospital canteen and late night pager calls.
Ds1 eventually got better. We had spent just over two weeks there and were pleased to be going home. This wasn't the last we saw of RMH. We've been back to visit once or twice - in the early days after ds1's operation. The staff there were only too happy to show off the lovely new wing to the house that they've been able to build due to the kind donations of so many. My husband did the Manchester to Blackpool Cycle Race in 2001 and raised some more money for them too. My mother-in-law took charity boxes into her work and in addition we have all bought cards at Christmas time. RMHC has become one of our charities of choice and these little things hopefully go towards paying them back in some small way for the practical help we received back when ds1 was ill. I'm hoping not, but as we now have two children with heart conditions, there is every chance that we may need their help once again and I already know how thankful I will be.
The RMHC website is here if you want to find out more about the work they do, or to donate.