Sunday, April 26, 2009

On the Ronald McDonald House

I don't get the opportunity to talk about the other job much, except to say that I'm there on Twitter. But, seeing as how it appeared on the front page of the Cincinnati Enquirer today, I thought I could take a moment to say some words about this amazing place I call "my part time job."

Fw:'Old' Ronald McDonald House on Twitpic
Ronald McDonald House's 'front' entrance -- that window on the door is filled with prisms, so that when the light is shining just right, the entire lobby is filled with rainbows.

I applied to work at the Ronald McDonald House (RMDH) in June for a full time, overnight manager position. It was the perfect fit -- night work with some responsibility and plenty of time to study. I didn't get the job, but I was impressed that they wrote me back when I emailed a follow up.

In September, we did a drag show in Oxford to benefit RMDH and they called me in for an interview for a part-time position... which I got but did not actually start until January.

When you enter the Ronald McDonald House, you are simply amazed. It is a beautiful building with an amazing layout and just a feeling of love that you can't stand but to think, "Yea, I can see people calling this place home." There are couches and tables around, along with big TVs, a library, and porches, and a huge kitchen with playroom adjacent (so parents can watch the kids while they cook). Simply put: a lot of thought and care was put into the design so that it could be a comfortable place for families.

Share photos on twitter with Twitpic
The entrance on Erckenbrecher and Burnet -- the scupture you see on the top is known as the Angel, which was donated and placed there and should always be lit. Why? Children's is right across at that point... and it was placed there so that, at night, the kids can look across and see where their parents are staying.

I never expected to like it as much as I do. I'm not much of a person for children, but I told people that I needed to believe in humanity before I became a nurse... so I went ot RMDH to find the humanity you sometimes feel is lacking when you spend too much time in the Emergency Department.

And I did.

I tell people that I want to spend every waking moment there, find a room and curl up when I'm tired, to wake up and work again. In my five months there, I have been overwhelmed by the splendor. The staff -- who, unexpectedly, gave me a welcome basket upon my starting -- has been kind, supportive, and loving; the volunteers -- all 300+ of them -- are some of the hardest working and dedicated individuals I have ever met -- even the troupe of high school boys that volunteer work harder than most adults I know; and the families! Oh, the families!

With almost no exceptions, the families are beautiful people.

We are located next door to Children's Hospital, less than a five minute walk from the front entrance of Children's to the gate at RMDH. Every day, these families go to the hospital to sit with their kids... kids ranging from newborns to teenagers, with issues ranging from bone marrow transplantation to colorectal surgery. Some of these kids don't just spend a few days in the hospital, some of them are there for months or years, and the families stay with us for those months and years.

Imagine yourself with your child, who is near death for a hundred different reasons, and you can do nothing but sit there and hope and wait and watch. It's enough to drive a parent mad.

That's where we step in, at RMDH. We fill in the gaps of care. The families support each other, talk to each other, share tips and tricks to stay sane, and become friends... become each other's families. Volunteers bring meals -- lots of meals, and lots of baked goods -- so that the families never have to think about cooking or what crap they will buy out of the vending machine that day. A lot of siblings are running around the building -- some sick, some healthy -- and people come as entertainment (I've seen everything from the Blues Brothers to clowns from Cirque de Soleil), or they bring activities, or they bring dogs... so that the non-hospitalized kid does not feel left out or any less special. My coworkers and I, well, we don't do enough.

I suppose there is an argument to be made that we coordinate the days and make sure the trains run on time, but there's never enough time in the day, and there's never enough hands, to make sure that everything that should be done, has been.

I have made it a habit to only smoke on the designated smoking porch when there are families out there. That way, they know who I am, and I get a few moments to hear what's going on.

I wish I could tell you how beautiful it is there. I wish I was a better writer so that you could see in your mind what it's like, and how it is, and how much it means.

New addition to the Ron McD House on Twitpic
The bridge to the new addition is there on the left, the West Wing is the building on the right (with Cincinnati Children's in the background). The new wing boasts a new kitchen addition, a meditation/wellness room, a family room, a small stage, plenty of new seating, and a play area for the kids.

This week, we will be opening a brand-spanking new wing, with money generously donated by Children's Hospital. Our little house will grow from 48 rooms to 78, with a whole host of what we call "long-term suites," which are special rooms for the families that have to stay with us for months or years at a time. They are bigger, and they have more amenities.

We have a waiting list, on any given day, of between 15-35 families waiting to become our guests. The first people to move will be the long term families who have been cramped in our one-bed options, or in the slightly larger two-bed rooms. They will finally get the opportunity to spread out and find some comfort there. Then, we start making calls... tons and tons and tons of them. We are going to start inviting people into our workplace, our sometimes home, and we will get to take care of them.

We will get the opportunity to feed them, we will get the opportunity to listen to their stories, and we will get the opportunity to relieve some of the burden.

When I first applied, I, like I'm sure so many people out there, believed RMDH was a home for the kids. It is, for some. But it's a home for the families, which include the children. Perhaps the greatest lesson I will take away from this whole experience is that complete care does not always just involve the patient ... it involves this extended, intertwining, convoluted meshwork of people that the patient calls their own. And, so that your patient gets better, the family needs to be better, too.

And I'm glad I've had the opportunity to take care of them. It's taught me more than I thought I would ever learn, and it's brought me more joy than I thought I could have.

If you have a moment, or some extra cash, it's one of the most amazing places in the city. Stop by with a check, or books, or give them a call and ask them, What can I do? See, here, at RMDH, providing care for someone help really does bring peace to you.

I guess, in this, I am truly lucky.


CityKin said...

Great story. For some reason we don't have enough of this kind of story in the blogosphere, at least the in the blogs on my short list.

Michi said...

all my love xxx