Reflections from Charla Jestic
I was a “frequent flyer” patient of the pediatric unit at Mercy Hospital in St. Louis when I was surprisingly diagnosed with very severe Ulcerative Colitis. I showed up at the E.R., and for almost two years, I would be lucky to get a 2-3 week “vacation” at home before being back at Mercy for week-long stints. I was trying to navigate approaching 18y/o, trying to finish my senior year of high school and plan for college, yet sharing the hospital floor filled with children much sicker than I was. As you can imagine, it was a very emotional time for both my family and myself. I was adjusting to a life-altering diagnosis while my family would spend every minute, every day sitting at my bedside, holding their breath, wondering what my future would look like.
Mercy was an AMAZING hospital with really great resources for patients and family, one of which being the Ronald McDonald Family Room! I remember the days I would have the energy or motivation to get out of bed. I would always want to walk down the hall to the RMFR. I loved those days! Even if I could only last 30-60minutes in the room, it was such a positive mental escape and made me feel normal and not just a sick patient. The volunteers were ALWAYS kind, welcoming, and even seemed excited to see me walk myself (and my IV) down to the door. It gave my family such a mental boost too. We would play games, eat yummy snacks and get a cold drink while seeing someone other than a doctor or nurse and hanging out in a living room and kitchen you’d find in a cool Airbnb!
My mom would go home as I was falling asleep at night and show back up usually before I would even wake up in the morning. There was not a single day she wasn’t there at my bedside, so the Ronald McDonald Family Room allowed her just as much freedom as it gave me. She never wanted to be out of eyeshot of my room in case my doctor came with an update or a nurse came to take me to another test, but on days I was too weak or in too much pain to get out of bed, the RMFR allowed my mother a getaway! She would get to engage with sympathetic volunteers, other families going through similar situations and get a different perspective than the finger-painted fish picture on my hospital room wall. Aside from the life-saving doctors and nurses, the Ronald McDonald Family Room was by far the best part of every hospital stay.
I will never be able to give enough praise to the organization and volunteers involved in making this available for patients and families. My mom was SO grateful for the amenities available and saw how much I would light up when we could utilize the Family Room that she has been a volunteer for several years in that very same room we both spent so much time in. She is now paying it forward to the new generation of families and patients that need that smiling face, shoulder to cry on, and a glimpse of hope that we needed all those years ago.
Thank you, Ronald McDonald House Charities, and all the selfless volunteers that continue to bring smiles, hope, and a brief moment of relief to everyone affected by traumatic life experiences!