20 minutes of normal

By: Markita Suttle, MD, Division of Critical Care – PICU Nationwide Children’s Hospital

As a physician in the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) I get to see and do amazing things! I come to work each and every day to save kid’s lives, and it is hard to imagine a cooler job than that. Some of the sickest children you can imagine show profound resilience and leave our unit with their parents without even a little scratch. Some of those same children do not and those losses never get easier. Their faces stick with you, their parents’ tears never fade. A little over a year ago I cared for a perfectly healthy toddler that had a history of congenital intestinal malformations that was admitted for an elective surgery. There were sadly complications with the surgery and she developed shock and multiple organ failure, ultimately dying in our unit. Her poor mother was devastated and the image of her that night left a long-lasting weight on my heart, so much so that I contacted her around one month later to check in and offer her a follow-up meeting to sit down with her daughter’s doctors and discuss what happened in more detail. Several months later she agreed to come back to the hospital to talk and though I was prepared to discuss the sad and unhappy details of her child’s death, mom spent the majority of our time discussing her experience at The Columbus Ronald McDonald House. Her face lit up when she talked about RMHC! I remember her saying, “No matter how bad things got in the PICU, I always had somewhere to go for even 20 minutes of normal.” She raved about the comfortable atmosphere, the supportive people, and the useful facilities. She commented several times that having a place to do her laundry made her feel like a mom again, because it was hard to be mom when your child is on a ventilator and hooked to machines. My patient’s mother went on to share that because RMHC had meant so much to her family, she has since started a fundraiser to raise money for Ronald McDonald House Charities. Her family had begun to collect pop tabs within their home for donation, but word had quickly spread throughout their community and soon after their entire township was contributing pop tabs.  Her ultimate plan was to donate all of the pop tabs each year on the little girl’s birthday as a means of honoring her memory, while supporting the charity that supported them during the hardest time in mom’s life. Mom showed me a photo of the tabs (see below) her family had collected to that point in time, but I’m sure their stash has since grown by leaps and bounds since then.