Medical care is usually available within a reasonable driving distance from home. Often there is a doctor or hospital right in the area. In some cases, it might be necessary to drive to a big city or a regional medical center for specialized care. I live on the east coast so I can drive to a clinic appointment in several major cities such as Washington DC, Wilmington DE or Philadelphia, PA and get home in time for dinner.
Traveling long distances for a medical appointment is typical is many parts of the country. I spoke with one mom who had to travel from Wyoming to Salt Lake City to visit her baby in intensive care. Another family drove across the desert to California every few months to see the team of specialists treating their toddler with reflux. I winched when I heard the trip report from the parents of an infant and toddler with reflux who traveled 3 hours each way, stopping constantly to administer medication, give bottles or refill the feeding pump for the gastrostomy tube. It can be an overwhelming experience to travel with a sick infant or child to obtain medical care.
The expense can be overwhelming too. In addition to gas, tolls and parking, there may be food and overnight housing expenses. A few families even need to travel by plane to obtain medical care.
There are resources for families traveling with a sick child for medical care or families in need of overnight accommodations when a sick infant or child is in a hospital far from home. The Ronald Mc Donald House Charities (www.rmhc.org) offers overnight housing near hospitals worldwide. I had the opportunity to tour a Ronald Mc Donald House a few years ago and I was quite impressed. There was something for everyone: a great room with a fireplace, dining area, a fully stocked kitchen, game room for the kids, play room for the little ones and a computer lab with internet access. The guest rooms were basic and small with a shared bath. A network of volunteers provides special meals, entertainment and events for the guests. Parents are connected to the nurses’ station or unit via a direct line in their room.
A Ronald Mc Donald House may be used for a variety of travel needs: it is an inexpensive and welcoming place to stay the night before a clinic visit or test. It is also a great place to stay when one parent wants to stay in the hospital near a sick child and the other parent and siblings want to be close by. Parents can take turns sleeping in the hospital or having a night off in a bed since we all know that no one sleeps soundly in the hospital! They thought of everything: there were toiletry kits for those who forgot their toothpaste, a stuffed animal or small gift for each child, a laundry room, cribs and even frozen meals for weary parents who missed a meal at the cafeteria.
Other resources for families traveling to obtain medical care include:
The National Association for Hospitality Houses Incorporated (www.nahhh.org). The website has information and links to organizations offering overnight accommodations for families and adult patients too. Use the Find Lodging link to locate a facility.
The Believe in Tomorrow Foundation at www.believeintomorrow.org offers information on accommodations and retreats for children with critical illnesses and their families. There is a listing of resources for military families as well.
It is always a good idea to visit the website of the hospital you are visiting. Most hospitals provide in-depth patient information from maps and parking options to services for patients and families. Often a nearby hotel will offer a discount for patients. The Ronald Mc Donald House Charities has established a network of Ronald Mc Donald Family Rooms. Located in the hospital, the family rooms offer parents and siblings a place to rest and relax. If you find yourself in a hospital far from home unexpectedly, ask the nurse or doctor for information or ask to speak to a social worker or patient advocate for assistance.
While you might be stressed and frazzled from the hospital experience, it is often helpful to reach out to the other families you meet in the waiting room or in the elevator. They are often a great resource. They might have already figured out the location of the computer with internet access or the gift shop with Pooh balloons. I remember stumbling into the tiny kitchen on the inpatient floor early one morning. There was another tired mom there wrestling with the coffee pot. I was able to show her how to tame it and get a hot cup of coffee out of the temperamental machine. As we stood there staring at the coffee slowly fill the pot, I mentioned that I was having trouble getting the entertainment system to work. No problem! She gave me some tips on which buttons to push and we were playing Mario by the time the sun came up!