I Stayed at the Ronald McDonald House
That Fateful Day
Three weeks again today, we got the call that shook Greg and me to the core. Apparently, EMS picked up Austin’s phone and started down the list of emergency contacts. I was first, and they tried multiple times, but my phone never rang.
They tried Greg, but he was in a tree They called his ex-girlfriend, who also was not available. Thankfully, they tried Greg again, and got through.
Expecting to hear Austin on the line, Greg stopped in his tracks when he instead heard, “We’ve got your son, Austin, enroute to the hospital by helicopter. He’s been in an accident. He rolled an excavator. All I can say for sure is that he has a broken ankle.”
Obviously the understatement of the day!
Welcome to the Intensive Care Unit
That launched us into the world of trauma ICU, eleven days in the hospital, rehab, and all that that entails. (See all the updates by reading these blog posts)
The first night after seeing Austin in ICU, we were still in shock. We had no plan. Greg and I had ridden together up to Knoxville, so we drove back home that night around midnight. We pretended to sleep, and listened by the phone until the nurse called us at 5:30. Austin was stable, heading to surgery soon, and an additional chest tube had been placed. We truly were still in shock.
But he was alive, and that was all that seemed important at the moment.
I threw together some clothes, not realizing that I’d be wearing them for the next eleven days, and my toothbrush and comfortable shoes. I couldn’t really think straight, so thankfully I managed to include some socks and underwear. I opted to take a shower at Mom’s and pick up my car in town, then I headed back to the hospital.
That evening, I knew Austin would be in the hospital for maybe five days, so I booked a hotel to try to get some sleep. While I was trying to decide whether to reserve a room for 1,2,5, or however many nights, I could not make a decision. I didn’t want the bother of checking in every night day by day, but I didn’t want to overbook. I needed to be there, not driving an hour and a half twice a day.
It was late, after visiting hours ended at ten, and I was still running on adrenaline. Wouldn’t you know? While I sat there in the parking garage, I got a text from a friend.
Check out the Ronald McDonald House. They’re for families who have patients in the hospital, and we stayed in one in Chattanooga. They were a lifesaver. She sent me a link to the local one. Here’s that link
It was too late to check it out that night, but I decided to call in the morning. I wondered if we’d qualify since our “kid” was not little, but my friend assured me that wasn’t important.
I did call the next day, and scheduled an interview. They work by doctor referrals, and the lady told me how to go about requesting one.
On the Fence
I still was not sure I wanted to go this route, to be honest. I feared it would be a dumpy house in a bad neighborhood, and I didn’t want the stress of not feeling safe. I went ahead with the referral from the case worker, and drove over later that day.
Arriving at the Ronald McDonald House
When I pulled in, I found a huge three-story house that immediately conjured up images of an old-fashioned guest house.
The volunteer met me, explained the rules of the home, and had me sign some safety documents. Then she gave me a tour of the house and showed me to room 4, located on the second level.
The home impressed me with it’s comfortable feel, and I loved all of the staircases with wooden bannisters. In fact, I spied staircases everywhere–a dramatic main set leading to the upper levels, more leading up and down around the back of the home, and small stairwells at either end of the second story. I very much imagined the small sets being used as the servants’ staircases, and thoroughly enjoyed exploring where they led me.
My room felt like a comfortable guest room in a friend’s home. I had a queen-sized bed, my own sink, and an easy chair to sit on. Dresser and closet, linens and towels–even toiletries if I forgot anything–all of these things were part of the room. My room was a refreshing oasis of quiet. It had a bird theme, which worked for me!
The house seemed to hold about fifteen rooms or so, plus this facility included another home, called the annex, which held even more rooms.
Is it a hotel?
The Ronald McDonald House is different from a hotel in several ways.
First, it’s operated on a donation system. They charge each family a small daily fee, which is really nominal. So, you have much less to pay if you end up staying in town for a long time. Many hospital stays are unexpected, and open-ended. This makes it relieving financially to have a place that’s not expensive.
Next, the house is a lot like a regular house. Each floor (I’m guessing there are five rooms on each floor) shares a bathroom or two. Since each room has its own sink, that means that you share the tub and toilet area. This may sound strange, but I never once encountered another person when I needed to use the shower area. I never had to wait for the bathroom period.
You don’t get room service! You clean up after yourself, and leave every area looking like no one came. They leave little signs as reminders, and also leave cleaning supplies at every sink and counter. It seems to work very well, because everything stays very clean.
Here’s the thing: it’s not a hotel and you’re not on vacation. You really don’t want to stay long, but you don’t a have a choice, and it just takes a lot of decisions off your plate. You’ll have less trips to the store, and you won’t need to go purchase every little thing to make life work.
Most hotels don’t have kitchens. This home did. The home where I stayed was under construction in the kitchen, so I used the annex.
The kitchens are every homeowner’s dream. Huge island for sitting, a well-stocked pantry, and fridge overflowing with food are what I found. Church groups bring in whole meals several times a week, and you can just help yourself! At no time did I come into the kitchen and not find three flavors of desserts, little snacks, and drinks on the counters.
Breakfast options to grab for a quick meal on the run, even ingredients to make something up are stored in neat little baskets along with disposable dishes. Everything is stocked and displayed with the idea of convenience and comfort in mind.
Personally, I didn’t get to eat much of the meals, since I eat so differently, but I found a little corner of the fridge where I could stash some plant-based milk, plus some hummus and guacamole that rounded out my meals nicely. I’m afraid I grabbed too many cookies for my own good some days, but I was humbled that so many people work together to make this place work smoothly! Yes–providing a meal for someone in need really is a ministry!
While staying at the Ronald McDonald House I just appreciated so many things!
It was super stress-relieving to know I had a place to crash at the end of the day.
I didn’t have to rebook every day, and it began to feel like my home away from home.
I got to where I’d drive home just to sit at the counter-bar for lunch. Sitting in a restful place calmed my nerves, and I needed that.
The location was just down the street from Children’s Hospital, and only 3.2 or so miles from UT Med Center, where Austin was recovering. I walked down to Children’s Hospital one day to visit a friend in the ICU, and it was a pleasant walk.
Around the Home and Property
The atmosphere in and around the home we found to be peaceful. Greg came and stayed one night, and he agreed. Even though it’s downtown, only a couple of blocks from campus, it’s located up off the street a little bit, so that makes you feel more removed from the noise. I will say that I did hear some racket from college kids a couple nights. I understand there are frat houses close by in the area, so you will see and hear college kids around.
I enjoyed spending time outside of the Ronald McDonald House. Each house has a small gated playground, and tastefully landscaped gardens to sit in. I particularly liked the covered swings in a gazebo-like area in the flower garden. Listening to birds sing, looking at the purple clematis and lilacs, and soaking in the morning quiet–that really helped to start my day on a peaceful note before heading to the hospital.
I knew that both houses boarded several families, because I saw names on the check-in board, and I saw cars in the parking lot. But I didn’t see other families until I’d been at the Ronald McDonald for a week or more!
That morning I ran into a husband and wife who’d already stayed in the home for nine weeks! Wow. They’d had a premature baby, and were in town while their little one grew strong enough/healthy enough to go home. I later met a father to twins in a similar situation–who’d also been in town for 8-9 weeks at that point. What a blessing to have a good place to crash!
I almost forgot–the Ronald McDonald House has a complete laundry room! You don’t have to pay to use it, and they even have all of the soaps/sheets/stain removers–everything you’ll need! This may have been the best feature! Small miracle, they even stocked my brand of laundry soap, which is surprising, because I don’t use dyes/perfumes. I’d thrown in enough clothes for a few days, so I felt extremely grateful that I didn’t have to go hunt down a laundromat.
When you have a health emergency, it’s truly that–most people don’t show up with a packed bag and everything they need. They just go to the hospital!
Especially parents with small children on the hospital, where they are needed often–those parents can’t always just go home and come back. Health statuses can change quickly, and it frankly gets very stressful, expensive, and exhausting! Austin wasn’t a minor, and I could leave and come back, but I didn’t see the point of driving all the way back home every day, since I spent all the day in the room helping him.
Would I stay at the Ronald McDonald House Again?
Would I want to?
Of course not–because that would mean I had a critically ill kid in the hospital, and I’d rather just skip that!
But if I had a child in a hospital where they had a Ronald McDonald House nearby, I definitely would stay again. I’d recommend it over a hotel, to be honest, because of the peaceful atmosphere. I can see many perks to a hotel stay, but they get pricey. Also, I’ve never known hotels to provide so much hospitality, expecting very little in return. I believe any family who is facing the hospitalization of a critically ill child would feel very grateful for all of this!
The Ronald McDonald House is funded by donations.
I found the history of this particular Ronald McDonald House fascinating. Read about the history here.
Tell me what you think?
Have you ever stayed at a Ronald McDonald House? Do you think you ever would?