It is hard to explain to someone what it’s like; having a child in the hospital. It seems a fairly innocuous thing, something routine, standard even – until it’s happening to you, and then it is a confusing, emotionally exhausting and terrifying time.
Indulge me for a moment; put yourself in shoes that I hope you never ever have to actually walk in.
Imagine your child is rushed to the hospital.
It’s 2pm on a Wednesday.
You have your bag, your phone and no idea what comes next.
Understandably, you’re terrified for your child and that’s ALL you can think about.
After an ambulance ride to, and assessment from your local hospital, your child is transported and then admitted to a hospital 75 miles from your home. The consultant who sees your child says this will likely be a weeklong stay. On the ward, you are offered a chair-bed, a pillow, and a thin hospital blanket. Your child is given a meal but parents are not catered for, so you stay beside your frightened child until they finally fall asleep and then try to find something to eat.
It’s 11pm on the worst day of your life, the hospital canteen is shut and all you can find is a chocolate bar and a packet of crisps from a vending machine 8 corridors away from your child’s bed. Convenience food has never seemed less convenient than at this moment.
A sympathetic nurse shows you the parents’ kitchen, a cold stainless steel room with a microwave, a hot water urn and a fridge in it, but nothing else. ‘This is where you can store your food’ she says. It’s 11.30pm, nothing is open; you have no food, no way of getting out and buying any and all you want to do is cry into a cup of coffee; even that small comfort is out of reach.
Back at your child’s bedside, you use the overpriced TV/Phone system to make calls to friends and family and let them know, as best you can, what’s happening. Your phone beeps, signaling a low battery and you realise that you didn’t bring a phone charger with you, you never expected to be here tonight and you are suddenly aware of just how isolated you are.
After a teary phone call to your partner/family member/friend, they arrange to take time off work, pick up clothing for you and your child, some toiletries and food and drive down to the hospital to see you in the morning.
You get off the phone and cry; silently so your child cannot hear you.
This is not the way you thought a trip to the hospital would go; you don’t know what you expected – but it wasn’t ‘this’.
After a night on the most uncomfortable chair bed on the planet, taking naps in between 3 hourly obs being conducted on your child by smiling and efficient night nursing staff, you wake up and try to use the loo before anyone else gets up. You run cold water on your face and use the paper towels and the foaming hand soap on the wall to try and remove the grit and grime from yesterday from your face and body. Your teeth get a quick swipe with a paper towel and you freshen your breath with gum you didn’t realise was in your handbag.
In yesterday’s clothes, you head back into your child’s room.
You are exhausted.
You are hungry.
You have never felt more vulnerable or alone.
At shift change, one of the nursing staff familiar with the immense toll that time in hospital places on families, mentions The Sick Children’s Trust to you and offers to call them on your behalf. You don’t know who they are or how they can help; you just know that at the moment you need some help and have no idea where to turn. She makes the call.
An hour later the house manager pops their head around the corner of your child’s bed, and they introduce themselves. They explain what The Sick Children’s Trust does and that there is a bed for you and your family at the house 3 minutes walk from the hospital; that it’s there as long as you need it. There are no complicated forms or questions, just sympathy, information, and the assurance that things will look better tomorrow after you’ve had some sleep.
They give you the address of the House so you can call your partner/family member/friend to make their way there, they tell you that you can even order groceries to be delivered by the major supermarkets so you can eat a decent meal and have a shower with actual toiletries.
Hours after saying farewell to the house manager and being given directions, a key to the house and another to your own room, your partner/family member/friend arrives at the hospital. The house manager has already allowed them to drop off clothing, groceries for today and your bags at the house. After updates and assurances from them that you need to rest and they will take over for now; you and your bag walk 3 minutes away to The Sick Children’s Trust house.
The house manager smiles as you arrive and gives you a quick tour.
The kitchen, a real one, is something you’ve never been so pleased to see in your life – complete with your own room numbered cupboard, your own fridge and freezer shelf stocked now with the supplies your partner/family member/friend brought with them. A quick reminder to label your things in the fridge/freezer and then they show you where the labels are kept. There are tea and coffee, cups, plates, and cooking utensils. Another parent walks into the kitchen, smiles and say hello and asks if you’re new here as he busies himself with preparing lunch before heading back to the ward for the day, he tells you that the house is wonderful and welcomes you.
You are shown to your room, warm and clean, bathed in neutral tones with comfortable beds, soft lighting, towels, a locking wardrobe, and a phone. Your house manager explains that the phone connects to the ward your child is on; if you’re needed, that phone will ring. If you need to check on them, you can ring the ward direct. You are shown the bathroom, although it is shared with 4 other rooms on the floor it is big, spotlessly clean and well equipped with a bath, loo, sink, and shower. The house manager shows you the laundry facilities and then shows you back to your room.
As the door closes behind them you start to worry what this room will cost your family.
This is a major city and hotels do not come cheap.
You search the room for prices and instead find a folder on the bedside table packed with information about the house, local eatery menus, and delivery numbers, information on parking and how the wards rounds work. And then a simple declaration on the brochure that absolutely floors you…
This is all provided free.
ALL of it.
These are not the gentle tears of a parent sitting bedside in hospital – but fat ugly tears, sobs of fear and exhaustion, with worry for your child. You spot the folder again and the tears continue, this time with gratitude for the thousands of people who give every year to The Sick Children’s Trust so that today, while your world is falling apart, you can be close to your child.
You shower; you make coffee, eat, charge your phone and finally take an all too brief nap.
Later, with a packed dinner of sandwiches, disposable cups, snacks and coffee sachets, toiletries, clean clothing, a charged phone and pyjamas in your bag you head back to the ward to spend the evening beside your child. The key is passed to your partner/family member/friend and you trade places for the night.
Tonight, you eat dinner with your child and are grateful for a bit of normalcy amidst this frightening experience. Later you settle in for the night, still terrified of what time in the hospital means for your child, but calmer, cleaner, more rested. Somehow being fed and getting a rest leaves you a little more secure; knowing that someone you love is 3 minutes away instead of 75 miles away should you need them in a hurry is a huge relief.
You wake up at 3am the next morning. Knowing you will not go back to sleep, you choose caffeine and head down the hall. On the way into the parents’ room, you run into a shell-shocked Mum looking bewildered and bereft at a kitchen without so much as a cup in it. This, you realise, was you yesterday. So you smile gently, say hello ask if she would like a cup and a coffee sachet as you have spares. She tries very hard not to cry, and fails. She apologises ‘for crying but my child has just been admitted, I’m terrified, I have nothing with me and I shouldn’t be crying over this as it’s just coffee’.
But it’s not just coffee, and you both know it. This is compassion, in a cup. It’s a ‘this experience totally sucks’ solidarity moment that you will both remember forever. And yes, it’s also coffee.
You tell her that you were in the same position just yesterday, you tell her about ‘The House’ as you will come to call it and on the way past your child’s bed, you dish out more coffee, toiletries, a spare notepad, and some snacks to keep this Mum going until the canteen opens in the morning.
Your child spends 8 days in the hospital. In that time you face your worst fears – you hold your child in anaesthesiology whispering ‘I love you, sleep sweetly’ as their eyes close and they go limp in your arms. Outside the room, you fall apart and are hugged tightly by an underpaid nurse who sees this all too often and is powerless to change it. Your child comes through surgery and you learn all about morphine pumps and background dosages, you create a log so you can keep track of people, times, events, appointments, inputs, and outputs…and through it all, you have The House to go back to for moments of sanity, decompression, and refreshment.
Your child recovered and finally back home, you message the house to say a wholly inadequate thank you for hosting you while you needed them. You tell friends and family about a charity you never knew existed before your stay, and how it changed your life.
You start planning a way to say thank you in a more tangible way, raising money and collecting donations. You run events, you raise money, you write blog posts to try to explain why The Sick Children’s Trust is so important to so many families.
That is why people like me raise money for The Sick Children’s Trust, because a £27 donation to them, means another family has a safe place to stay when their world is falling apart. Just £27…most of us spend more than that on coffee & lunch in a week.
All help is appreciated.
Families across the UK, just like mine thank you.