Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Club

As the ambulance screamed through the dark, sirens wailing destination, Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital, I didn't know that I would be suddenly thrust into a new club.  Membership is exclusive but certainly not coveted.

Before Saturday I associated hospitals or hostable's (as Mini-Monkey) calls them with happy times, births and new life.   No longer.

I jumped into the ambulance on Saturday with the clothes on my back.  Thankfully my husband had reminded me to put on shoes. 

Shortly after the arriving at the ER, it began.  The realization of how many things you are unprepared for.  We had no diapers, no wipes, no clothing for our baby to wear, we had no bottles, no Binky's, no blankets to keep him warm.  We had one cell phone with one bar of battery remaining, no chargers, no change of clothes. 

There is a vulnerability that comes with being in this club.  Being in the position to rely on someone else for your every need is a foreign feeling for most parents.  There is a trust that must be established, born out of necessity. 

There on the seventh floor you see them.  The walking wounded.  I speak not of the patients, but the parents. They move through the hallways like ghosts.  Bewildered faces, eyes cast down.  Wondering, "How did this happen?" 

Smiles are hard to come by in this place.  Desperation is palpable.  Everywhere you turn is tragedy and sadness. 

Enter the nurses, the support staff, the aides.  They whip through the halls with purpose, positive energy trailing in their wake.  They are kind and gentle.  Each seems to have a sixth sense to know when to rest a reassuring hand on a shoulder, give a hand a squeeze.  Little reminders that,  despite all other indications, you are not alone. 
During our stay on the seventh floor we worked with at least six nurses including Tracey, Kristin, and Rachel in Pediactics, Valerie in Intermediate Care as well as Jennifer & Carrie in Emergency.  These women and countless support staff made our stay a little less scary.

Faceless, nameless doctors would come and go, giving us sometimes confusing information that would be promptly explained or further investigated as needed by our heroic nurses.  They would speak to us, clearly, calmly, and in layman's terms.  They would make time to answer the barrage of questions.  Knowledgeable and understanding, the nurses are the best of what Penn State Milton Hershey has to offer. 

You can't understand until you have been there, what relief there is in knowing that there are people looking out for you during this scary time.  Smiling faces that appear in your doorway asking, "Is there anything I can get for you, Mom?"  Sounding boards who will listen to your concerns and tell you what they would do it were there own loved one in the situation.  Hopefully most readers will never have to know this first hand, but as a new member of this new club I feel it is my duty to share what I have learned.

There are things that we all take for granted, the comforts of home that are invaluable during times of difficulty.  Things like cell phones and chargers, clean socks and comfortable shoes, toothbrushes and floss, and other hygiene items. 

In the limbo of the Intensive and Intermediate Care units these things become vital to survival.  The ability to change into a clean pair of socks is a luxury to someone who is unwilling to leave thier child's side, like me,even for a shower.  The Monkey-Maker spent two nights on the couches in the Ronald McDonald  House Family Room.  Along with four other fathers, he said it was like a sad, strange dorm room.   

All of my life I have heard commercials for Ronald McDonald House Charities and thought that I understood what it did.  

But I was wrong. 

The Ronald McDonald House Charity offers donated items to help families feel more at home during this terrible time.  In the Ronald McDonald Family Room parents can sleep more comfortably and find a place to take a hot shower.  There are computers with limited access to Internet and e-mail.  It is a place to lay your weary head in a time when fatigue sets in, overtaking your body and making it difficult to perform even basic functions. A place to secure a few snacks or a hot meal.   A place for which we are forever grateful. 

We were the lucky ones.  We left with our baby, alive and healthy, no worse for the wear excepting a few bruises, needle sticks and some medical tape residue. 

The same is certainly not true for the other mothers, fathers and families who have frequented Penn STate Milton Hershey Children's Hospital.  And so I will do my best to give back, in every way that I can.  After speaking with Deb Stegall from Ronald McDonal House Charaites of Central PA I learned that along with travel sized toiletries and individually packaged snacks, gift cards to various vendors are very helpful.

For my part, I will be donating items from the wish list and adding some extras.  Things like gift cards to Radio Shack so that parents can purchase cell phone chargers if needed, and some oversized soft cozy socks, to keep tired feet warm when walking on the cold hospital floor during the long nights. 

And when I can, I will give of my time to volunteer in the Ronald McDonald Family Room at Penn State Hershey Children's Hospital.  I will give back to those who gave to me in my time of need. 

I urge you, dear readers, to do the same.  Life is unpredicable and in the blink of an eye you could be in this club too.

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