Tuesday, 31 January 2012
Our son Travis was born at 24 weeks old in our local hospital in Luton and Dunstable. A few weeks after the birth though it became apparent to the doctors that something wasn’t right and he was in severe pain in his stomach.
At only two and a half weeks old the doctors put him on medication to try and treat him but they soon realised that this wasn’t working as effectively as they had hoped, so he was transferred more than 30 miles away from our home in Stevenage to Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge.
I went with him in the ambulance whilst my partner Roger followed by car.
When we arrived at the ward, Travis was settled in and the doctor told us that they wanted to monitor him before making a decision on whether or not to proceed with the surgery.
Initially I was allowed to stay on the ward for a few days but I was told that if a child was brought in from further away than us or in a more critical condition we would be moved. Luckily we were able to stay for three days, so this answered the initial stress of the question of where we going to sleep that night.
After three nights we had to make the heart wrenching decision to leave Travis and go home. As we didn’t know about The Sick Children’s Trust and Acorn House we felt we had no option but to make the 60 mile round trip every day for the next 12 days. The stress of doing this was immense, but we had three other children to care for and consider.
In the middle of December the doctors told us that the medication still didn’t appear to be working, and one month after he was born the decision was made for Travis to undergo surgery.
The hospital found me accommodation for one night so that I could be there when Travis woke up but then we had to go back to the round trip to home every day for the next three months.
I can’t even begin to tell you the gut wrenching feeling of being torn between your newborn baby who you desperately want to be there for, and your younger children who wonder where mummy and daddy are going each day.
After his surgery Travis was moved to a ward where I was allowed to sleep by his side and it was here that we learned about The Sick Children’s Trust’s Acorn House. We decided to try for a room so that my partner could stay here and bring over our other children who were just 18, 14 and two. We were worried about the effect it would have on Warren, our two year old in particular, as he was so young.
Having to cope with a toddler in this type of situation was so stressful. Luckily with my eldest being 18, she looked after Holly during the week and then Holly and Danielle would come join us at Acorn House at the weekend, but Warren was different. I couldn’t explain to him what was going on and he didn’t like being on the wards and we didn’t really want to put him through that, and let him see his little brother in that environment.
Acorn House was a life saver for us. Warren loved spending time in the playroom and also in the garden. It was a relief to me to be able to cook him healthy meals here too, and at the weekend when the girls would visit we could all spend time together as a family.
Travis was too sick to come to the house at first and I was only allowed one hour breaks with him away from the ward, but even if it only meant spending 20 minutes in the house it was worth it. To have Warren engrossed in a DVD whilst I fed Travis gave me the sense of normality I was craving so badly.
I also used the rooms to express milk; private space was great. And the phones in the room meant that I could contact the ward to let them know that I was on my way over with food. The washing facilities were also a necessity for us. Travis’s condition meant that he had a short gut and couldn’t digest food properly so he used to leak out onto his clothes. Initially, one of the main reasons we had to drive back and forth from home each day was to do the washing but with the facilities at Acorn House it meant we didn’t have to worry about this and every precious moment could be spent with our children.
Travis is home now and exceeding all expectations. When you have a sick child, as well as all the family and emotional issues you go through, you don’t really think about the practical side of things such as the cooking and cleaning, not to mention finances. Having four children meant I needed space for my children and Acorn House made our life so much easier. I just wish we had known about it sooner.
Angela Hamilton, Travis’s mum
Sunday, 15 January 2012
As every pregnant woman does, I had a romantic vision of what becoming a mum would be like. I saw my husband and I leaving the hospital with a baby carrier and balloons with our newborn baby ready to start our new family life together. So, when I went into labour 10 weeks early in December 2010, I knew things would not happen the way I had hoped and life would never be the same again.
Emily was born on Christmas Eve 2010 weighing only 3lb 11oz. Within a few weeks of her birth we were told the most shocking news that any parent could imagine; Emily had a life-long illness, cystic fibrosis.
After moving between several different hospitals, Emily needed surgery and was transferred to the Royal Victoria Infirmary (RVI) in Newcastle, over 50 miles from our home in North Yorkshire. For the first week we travelled the stressful journey daily in all weathers just to spend a few hours with her, but the cost of petrol and my husband’s work pressures meant we couldn’t continue to do so.
Chatting with one of the nurses on the neonatal unit we were told of accommodation within the hospital grounds that had rooms for parents, free of charge, so we could be close to Emily. Everything was arranged for me to stay at the house so Mark could return to work. One afternoon I was taken over to Crawford House, a ‘Home from Home’ funded by The Sick Children’s Trust with a fully equipped communal kitchen, living room and a laundry.
At first I was so nervous, I was worried what the charity house would be like, I didn’t want to be alone whilst my daughter was so sick, would I be safe there on my own? I imagined it to be like student accommodation with sticky carpets, dark corridors and dirty bathrooms. These worries couldn’t have been further from the truth, the house was welcoming, big and airy and above all clean and safe.
The staff were so considerate and gave me a room where there were no families so I didn’t have to lay in bed at night listening to other peoples’ babies crying whilst I wished I had mine with me.
My room was freshly decorated and warm, and I felt safe as soon as I closed the door. The bathrooms were spotless and the shower was better than the one I had at home. The first night I met some of the other families staying there. I heard of sadness and fear as well as determination and strength. That night I cried not just for my own situation but also for the other families and their own sad stories.
Until that day I never knew Crawford House existed but in just 12 hours I saw how amazing this charity home was for so many people. The Sick Children’s Trust allowed me to be with my daughter whenever I wanted and for the first time I could be a mum for Emily and do simple, caring tasks like breastfeed her or just give her a cuddle. This was really important as I didn’t feel like I knew her yet.
Many nights when I couldn’t sleep I would walk over to the unit and sit and chat with her, something I couldn’t have done if I was 50 miles away. I finally started to get to know this strong minded little person and didn’t have to worry about anything but being there. With Crawford House having so many people in similar situations to mine, it was easy to make friends and everyone supported one another. They understood how hard it was and for the first time I met people who actually knew what I was going through which really helped; I didn’t feel alone anymore.
One wet, cold afternoon I returned to the house upset after a small setback with Emily and was greeted by one of the staff. She took me into the office and didn’t just offer me tea but a shoulder to cry on (literally). She held me so tight and gave me the warmth I so needed. The ladies took time to get to know me and went above and beyond their job description, offering practical and emotional help and support when I needed it most. Later that day I found a bar of chocolate left in my room by them to cheer me up; that one small gesture will never be forgotten, it meant so much to me.
On the weekends Mark, my husband would come to visit and we would stay together and spend hours sat around the table in Crawford House catching up and discussing Emily’s care. To sit and have a meal together when we had spent all week apart was wonderful. I was conscious of the fact I needed to keep myself in top shape because I was breastfeeding Emily so it was great to have a proper kitchen and not just a microwave to prepare food in. Canteen food is alright every now and then, if expensive, but in the house I could make home cooked meal, something I would never have had time to do if I was travelling up every day.
After a crazy week of medical talk it was nice for Mark and I to have the peace of Crawford House, it allowed us time to have a catch up without all the commotion of the hospital. I found it so stressful being in a hospital environment all day every day, remembering to wash your hands all the time and with people coming and going, so having some privacy was a tonic. Coming to terms with news is hard enough but when your immediate world never stops around you, it’s impossible to allow your head time to catch up and think. As a result I craved privacy and having space for Mark and I to just be together and talk through things gave us time to think about Emily and her ongoing care. I hated crying in public, the thought that I might be judged by people for being weak meant I spent hours putting on a ‘mask’. I often walked back to my room and just sat and stared at the walls, it was quiet and I could finally cry, not just for Emily and what she was going through but for me and what lays ahead for us all.
Looking to the future we are going to have to visit the cystic fibrosis team every six weeks and we have chosen to keep coming to Newcastle instead going to our local hospital in Yorkshire. The care here is above and beyond what we expected and this is also due in part to the warmth and support we received from The Sick Children’s Trust.
The cystic fibrosis is something we need to come to terms with and learn about but at the moment we have our brave, beautiful baby at home where she belongs and that is all I ever dreamt of. I will never be able to repay the charity for its unconditional kindness and I will always be grateful for the room they gave me when I needed it the most. You never know these charities exist until you need them and I want to let as many people as I can know that they need our help.
Kate, Emily’s mum