Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Ronald McDonald House

As I threw my leftover change into the collection box for Ronald McDonald House after buying an ice cream cone, a snack on our trip to Ohio to attend a family wedding, I thought about how much less the stress on Donnie (my husband), Lizzie (my oldest daughter), and me it would have been had there been a Ronald McDonald House in Boston, Massachusetts in the 1970s when Noelle was born. We lived in Ayer, too far for a daily commute, and so during Noelle's multiple surgeries for spina bifida, hydrocephalus, and related problems, we had to move our family into a hotel close to Boston Children's Hospital. As a young Army lieutenant, with Donnie working part-time teaching photography at the post education center, we had a very limited income and the effort to be near Noelle to support her, sign medical forms, and provide information to caretakers broke us. Other than a car and minimal furniture (when Shane was born right only 13 months after Noelle, the babies had to share a cradle), we could afford no possessions. Not even a television; Lizzie was five years old before she discovered the "magic box," as she called it. Every penny went into the outlandish (for us) cost of eating away from home and paying for a hotel. Further, we were mixed in with tourists, and our experiences were anything but joyful and fun.

If Ft. Devens, where I was stationed, had had a large medical facility, that would have made a world of difference. Even were there a regional military hospital, it would have helped, as it did when Noelle was first born and cared for at Wilford Hall Medical Center, about 250 Texan miles from where I was stationed in San Angelo at Goodfellow Air Force Base. I was able to take leave (until it ran out) and live right on base at the BOQ (Bachelor Officers' Quarters) for a manageable sum.

At Ft. Devens, however, the only option for critical care was Boston, and that meant civilian costs, covered in great part through the military CHAMPUS (medical reimbursement) program. The major cost was being nearby, and it took us easily a decade to work ourselves out of that debt.

When Noelle was a teenager and beyond most of her surgical needs, McDonald's began establishing low-cost houses for families of chronic care children being treated at regional medical complexes. What a great idea! To have a place to stay without worrying about breaking the bank is a significant stress reduction in an already highly stressful situation. So, I always contribute my change. It is so little for so much.

There are other organizations now that have done similar things. I contribute change to those, too, when they pop up on my radar. I hope that you will do the same when you see them on your radar!

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