This past summer my daughter was in the hospital for about five days. She is fully recovered and healthy, for which I am very grateful. I learned from that experience that hospitals feel very different when you’re the parent/caregiver than when you’re the patient.
When I was diagnosed with cancer, I spent a few days in the hospital, connected to a variety of machines, tubes going this way and that. I was scared witless and all I could think about was getting out. At one point I almost begged my doctor to let me go.
Seeing my daughter in the hospital was exponentially worse. I don’t know how other parents feel in the same situation, but I felt very torn. I wanted her home, of course, but I was terrified for her to leave. In the hospital, she was constantly monitored and checked.
What could I possibly do to help her pain at home? How could I know if a fever was serious or normal? I felt completely incompetent.
I wanted the entire staff of doctors and nurses to be within an arm’s reach at all times. Needless to say, my husband and I lived in her room. We took turns staying the night, one of us driving the 30 minutes to our house to catch a few hours’ sleep and then 30 minutes back.
As I was heading back to her room one early morning, I wondered how parents of very sick children coped. What do you do if you don’t live close to a good hospital?
Just two years before, we lived in Anchorage, Alaska. If my daughter’s illness had happened up there, we would have needed to take her to Washington or California to find the specialists and equipment that was close to home in Chicago. And we would have had to stay in a hotel for at least a week after the hospital stay, maybe two weeks, before she would have been able to travel again. Even a cheap place would have cost more than $1000.
As life happens, it’s hard to keep perspective. But as I’ve had time to reflect I know that my family and I are very lucky to live where we do, to have health insurance and access to surgeons and equipment, all within easy reach of our home.
Many people don’t have this access and they end up spending thousands of dollars on hotels in order to be close to treatment centers. This is especially true for the families of people with cancer. My best advice to anyone diagnosed with cancer is to be in touch with a major cancer treatment center, which may involve travel for you and your family.
The American Cancer Society, which describes itself as a “global grassroots force of more than three million volunteers” has partnered with Extended Stay America to provide caregivers and cancer patients a place to stay if their treatment is far from home.
The ACS and Extended Stay will offer 20,000 free stays and 20,000 more $12 per night stays to eligible families. If you are interested, contact the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345.
The ACS has offered free, temporary lodging to families through Hope Lodge for some time. In 2013 they provided 265,000 free nights. Extended Stay America is helping by offering 40,000 more free or very inexpensive stays through the ACS.
If you know someone with cancer, let them know about this program. The American Cancer Society’s web page is here.
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