“Life can change at the drop of a dime, and our job is to be there when that dime hits the floor.” I remember Rhea Mugasis, the previous Executive Director, shared these words with me over 14 years ago when I first entered the doors of the Ronald McDonald House in Colorado Springs as the new E. D. I was single at the time, no children, but understood the importance of providing our beautiful and tranquil home-away-from-home for families who were facing adversities with their children. I was proud to be part of such an amazingly important charity.
8 years later, now married with two fantastic boys, I had my first glimpse into what it’s like for our families whose children are in the hospital. Recently, my family took a mini-vacation to Texas to visit friends and relatives for a week, of which three days my husband and boys took in the sites in Austin while I attended the RMHC Executive Director’s Conference. During the trip, our youngest became sick and after a trip to Urgent Care, received treatment for the flu. He was definitely sick, however, we didn’t realize just how sick until the day we returned home.
His pediatrician believes it was returning to the higher altitude that caused him to literally lose his breath, as the day progressed his breathing grew more rapid, causing us to call the on-call doctor who prompted us to head to urgent care immediately. It didn’t take very long for the nurses to learn that Zach had a pretty severe case of RSV and a touch of pneumonia. He was put on oxygen and transported by ambulance to St Francis Medical Center (SFMC) where he remained hospitalized for 3 days.
Months before, I recall walking down the halls of the pediatric ward toward the Ronald McDonald Family Room that we opened in late 2009. Often I was with our Family Room Program Manager, Tina Dewar, and we would occasionally peek into one of the empty hospital rooms. I remember seeing the crib with the plastic cover and shuttering, saying to Tina “I hope I never have to experience one of these rooms with my boys.”
And here we were. We were in the hospital room, Zach was in the crib with the plastic cover, on oxygen, with an IV to help hydrate him. Nurses, respiratory therapists, and doctors were coming in at all hours every time an alarm would go off. The oxygen intake was increased, the antibiotics were given through the IV, and Zach was crying, confused and scared about what was happening to him, and so tired.
My husband and I were to remain strong for him. It was our job to comfort him, to reassure him this was all good for him, to entertain him, encourage him to drink, to eat, to rest. How do you tell a 20 month old that being poked with a needle and having tubes coming out of his nose and hand are there to help him? How do you explain he can’t get out of the crib and run around? We did our best. We gave him hugs with the walls of the crib between us, we rubbed his back, we sang songs, watched cartoons, brought his favorite toys and blankets. Still, he wanted to bolt out that door and head home. And we wanted that too… in due time.
Then there was juggling taking care of our five year old, and helping him understand what was going on. Thankfully the restrictions at the hospital had been lifted and he was able to visit with us. Thankfully we had good friends to help entertain him. Thankfully we were able to take turns with Zach and one of us was able to sleep in our own bed at night, and take care of Trevin. Thankfully, when Zach slept, we were able to sneak down the hall for a little rest and a break in the Ronald McDonald Family Room.
But, what if we hadn’t left Austin when we did? What if we would have gone to urgent care the day before flying home and they would have admitted Zach to the hospital in Texas, instead? What if we were stuck in Austin? Who was going to watch the house and the dogs back in the Springs? Where were we going to stay? Would there be room at the Ronald McDonald House for us? How were we going to be able to take care of both boys in a large city we didn’t know?
What if this was for longer than three days?
Suddenly a flood of memories filled my mind of the countless families we have served through our Ronald McDonald House. I thought about all of the out-of-town families who stayed at the Ronald McDonald House for months on end, who walked back and forth to the hospital countless times every day and every night. How did the families keep it together, I wondered.
Then I remembered what I speak about to civic groups, businesses, schools, churches. Part of the magic of the Ronald McDonald House is not only having a safe refuge, but also the bond that occurs between families who are all facing adversities with their children. They gather strength from each other, they cry together, they laugh together, they break bread together. They learn to take care of themselves, of each other. It is what happens within the walls of the Ronald McDonald House and the Family Room, that help our families in so many ways: financially, emotionally, physically.
Today, more than ever, I understand and respect what our families face. I am no longer only proud, but also fortunate to play a significant role in helping them through their children’s medical crises. Ronald McDonald House Charities is a vital part of our hospital support systems, a vital part of our communities we serve, a vital service to each and every child and family who experience one of our programs, whether it be the Ronald McDonald House, the Ronald McDonald Family Room, the Ronald McDonald Care Mobile. We are about helping families and sick children, and we make a very important change in so many lives. When a family says to us “Thank God for you – we wouldn’t have known what we would have done otherwise” – they mean it. Ronald McDonald House Charities is VITAL.
Welcome to Ronald McDonald House Charities of Southern Colorado. Please explore our website, learn about all we do to support and lift children and families in need to a better tomorrow, our partners, volunteers and staff that make it all possible, and consider getting involved if you aren’t already. We need you.