Big Valley, Alberta
Family Story written by Trisha Bolton
When your child is first diagnosed with a disease like Type 1 Diabetes, you are put into a sudden state of shock, and hit by many emotions all at once ̶ the least of which is a cold and lingering sense of dread. For a moment it felt like time just stopped and stood still. This is how I felt as my thoughts tried to sort themselves out to make sense. This could not be right, it must be wrong! How could my two year old Brooklyn, my baby, have diabetes? We were just finding out that health is a lot like a lottery, some people win and some don’t and fate does not discriminate when it comes to timing or age.
Immediately there was this whirlwind of activity as doctors and nursing staff rushed to stabilize my daughter’s condition. There was a lot of noise, tests, blood work and I.Vs. There were platitudes and expressions of empathy mingled in with discussions of my daughter’s diagnosis and an explanation of where we were to go from here. Amidst it all there was my little girl ̶ this incredibly brave, innocent, young soul who had not a single clue as to what was going on. At this point I promised her that we her parents, were never going to leave her side and that she and I would get through this journey together and come out on the other end okay.
The morning of day one in the hospital in Red Deer, homesickness and loneliness had started to set in for me, and I am sure Brooklyn also. In my case, a lack of sleep further pronounced these feelings. When things go incredibly wrong it is only natural to want your loved ones near. Things are scary; your heart literally feels hurt under the weight of trying to be strong for your sick little one. You cling desperately to whatever modicum of support and hope that you can. This is what family was to us at this time. Later in the day, my Mom arrived from Ontario to the Calgary airport. My poor husband, still very much in the stages of shock and denial, drove out from Big Valley with our eldest daughter to meet her. From there they came directly to Red Deer Regional Hospital, where Brooklyn and I were relieved and overjoyed to have them close.
As they visited with us I already started thinking ahead and dreading their departure. Our home was more than an hour away. It would have been tedious under normal conditions to drive to the hospital back and forth daily, but in light of everyone’s frame of mind at this time in dealing with the sudden shock of my daughter’s illness, driving back and forth was perhaps even inadvisable. A hotel was not a happy solution; our funds were very strained at this time. Things were hard that year, and our daughter’s illness felt like the proverbial icing on the cake.
And finally, a momentary glimmer of hope came. One of the wonderful nurses in passing mentioned Ronald McDonald House to me. She explained that if my family wished to stay close to my daughter while she was in hospital, Ronald McDonald House Central Alberta was an option open to us. As visitation time started to draw to a close, I brought this bit of information up to my husband and mom who both jumped at the opportunity to remain as close as possible to Brooklyn and I. Even our eldest daughter Lindy, only five years old, seemed to cheer up at the idea of staying close to her baby sister. Don’t forget that in her young mind, just like the rest of us, she was trying to make sense of her little sister’s illness. We spoke to the nurse and very quickly everything was arranged. My husband, mom and daughter would be staying at Ronald McDonald House for the next few days, while I stayed in the hospital with Brooklyn. I slept a little bit better that night, knowing that my family was nearby.
The following morning my family arrived as cheerful as possible and bearing gifts. It was a care package bag from the House. There were toiletries for me including things that you just do not think of packing when you are in crisis mode, and especially, various comfort items made by caring strangers. There were sweet knitted little beanies, a home-made knitted doll, and a lovely patchwork quilt that I immediately placed on my daughter’s bed. Brooklyn really seemed to respond to these comfort items; the bright colors of the quilt and the smiling face of the little doll perhaps helped her to feel more at home.
My mom, husband and daughter all had wonderful things to say about Ronald McDonald House. I heard that people who worked and volunteered there really seemed to reach out to them, helping them to feel welcome and secure. The people who worked there, although strangers, truly seemed to care. Believe you me, when your whole world is turned upside down like this, every kindness shown whether small or large, feels like such an incredible blessing. Perhaps it’s because everything else just feels so hard and difficult.
The day that my daughter’s condition was proclaimed ‘stable’ by her doctor, and my husband and I were newly armed with all information and tools necessary to care for our daughter, she was discharged from the hospital. Before we went home there was one particular place eager to meet our daughter, as I was eager to meet them. I really wanted to meet the wonderful people who had helped to sustain my beloved family while we were stuck in hospital.
I was amazed by the atmosphere. Ronald McDonald House in Red Deer was a huge place, but with a truly home-like feel. I saw the bedroom that my husband, daughter and mom had stayed in the incredibly kitchen, lovely playroom and lastly, the special “Magic Room”. My heart overflowed with emotion. What a wonderful place this was, a haven for those whose hearts have been hurt and made weary by their child’s sickness.
A little kindness and caring goes a long way when your child is sick, and I am so glad that my loved ones had such an amazing buffer zone in Ronald McDonald House. To this day I’ve said many a prayer of thanks to God for the wonderful, caring people who work and volunteer at Ronald McDonald House. When things went wrong for our family, Ronald McDonald House was there for us. Without you, things would have felt so much more stressful, and the world at the time of our daughter’s diagnosis would have felt so much more unkind.