We walked hand in hand across the road. Walking away from the building where our son was. Leaving him in the hands of surgeons. I could feel the shadow of the building behind me as I walked. It was as though the building was getting taller and leaning over my shoulder. Guilt. How could I just walk away and leave him there? But as everybody kept telling me I needed to look after myself as well. I zombie walked the ten-minute journey to Ronald McDonald House.
Ronald McDonald House is the McDonald’s charity. You know those little boxes full of pennies on the McDonald’s counter? Well they all go towards funding the building and maintenance of specially made apartment blocks across the country. The apartments are near hospitals and are for parents and families to be able to stay near their children during their stay in hospital. I had never heard of them before having Zach. I had no idea where those pennies went. That apartment was a safe haven for us. It became a rock in some very unsteady waters. Just knowing I could walk ten minutes down the road from the Evelina and have warm shower, clean comfortable bed and fresh clothes was amazing. When I left the wards in the afternoons to catch a nap it was at our room in the Ronald McDonald House. Emmanuel organised all of our clothes and belongings into the draws and wardrobe so that when I got back there It felt a little bit like home.
We arrived at Ronald McDonald House and walked through the reception area. Emmanuel nodded to the receptionist and said hello. He had made friends already. Typical Emmanuel, he made friends everywhere we went. I love that about him. We went to the lifts and down to the end of the second-floor corridor. All the rooms were named after famous London land marks. Our room was the Tower of London. It sat opposite the laundry room and a shared kitchen and dining area. The room reminded me of a Premier Inn hotel. It was clean and comfortable and a little bit like home, but definitely not home. We don’t have an en suite bathroom for starters.
When I got back to the room I burst into tears. Emmanuel held me as I sobbed into his shoulder. He is going to be fine, he told me. “I know”, I mumbled back with my voice muffled. We sat on the bed and talked. We discussed how strong he was and how we know he will fight through this. I told Emmanuel that I a good vibe from his surgeon and had a good feeling about him. He said that it was reassuring to hear that from me. I often have a ‘gut feeling’ about things that tend to be fairly accurate. But it doesn’t stop your mind wondering. I kept thinking that the electricity would cut out and his bypass and breathing machine would stop mid-surgery. I thought his anaesthetist would lose attention and Zach would wake up half way through. Or that the surgeon would get shaky hands and cut something wrong. I couldn’t stop the onslaught of terrible thoughts. The worst was the image of his tiny body looking limp as he fell asleep right before we left him. His tiny body being cut open. His tiny little hands laying open without me holding them. I would have sat with him in the operating theatre if they had have let me. Just in case he had a sense of where he was, he would have known I was there with him. I would have held his hand as they took the blood away from his heart. I would have watched as they let a machine take it and become his heart for a period of time. I would have watched as they put a ‘line’ in his neck. I would have watched as they placed electrodes on his head. I would have watched as the numbers appeared on the monitors. I would have stayed through all of it and sat by him if they would have let me.
I took a shower and got into some fresh pjs. Emmanuel put on some lounge clothes as well. We had some snacks in bed and decided to play a game. Emmanuel had bought an Emoji card game from the supermarket. You had to guess the movie from the Emojis. We laid in bed and laughed as we tried to guess the movies. The first one was a crown and a Lion so I shouted “King Lion!” The actual title of the movie is of course ‘Lion King.’ We laughed together. It was such a small thing but we found the game funny. I needed to release the tension and keep my mind off what was happening. I also needed to just be with Emmanuel. I felt like I had not been close to him for a while. Not sharing a bed made me feel far away from him. He was my anchor and I was drifting. We finished the game. My stitches sore from laughing so hard. We curled up together and slept. Our phones on loud sat next to us ready for the phone call from the surgeon.
At 5.31pm the surgeon called my phone. I answered within one ring.
“Hello” I said with a high-pitched urgency to my voice.
“Hello, everything went well with the surgery.” Said the surgeon
“He is being sorted out now and will be ready to move to PICU soon. You should be able to see him in half an hour or so.”
“Thank you so much. Thank you.”
“You are welcome.”
We hung up. I turned to Emmanuel who was waiting. “Everything went well, He said. We can go now.”
I showered again and got myself dressed. So did Emmanuel. We both grabbed another snack and a drink on the way out of the door. A proper meal was something we would not have for a while.
On the walk back to the hospital I felt so relieved that the surgery had gone well. The surgery was over. It was done. We just had to get through the recovery and we could soon be home. I wanted to run to the Evelina. We both called and messaged family on our way. Letting them know things were ok.
We arrived at the Evelina and out of habit nearly went to the Savannah ward, but remembered ourselves and found our way to the ‘Big Lift’ at the back of the hospital entrance area. The lift was empty as we went up. As we left the lift, we turned right into the small cupboard area to hang up our thick winter coats and wash our hands before entering the Paediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU). We stood together holding hands and waited as the doors opened to the unit. Zach was in bed four. We walked through, looking around to locate bed four. We found it and walked forward.
If you would like to know more about the Ronald Macdonald houses charity follow this link. Donate.