One of the hardest things about leaving Edmonton is moving away from the Stollery Children’s Hospital. The Stollery Children’s Hospital and the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation have had an enormous impact on our family.
We have used their services for both of our kids. Everything from fetal echocardiograms to open heart surgery to 3D echocardiograms and spine X-rays. We have shared our story with nurses new to the NICU, University of Alberta healthcare students and even golfers. Kane is our main connection to the hospital, but Maverick has been in the spotlight a few times, like when he was in the PICU with RSV at five weeks old and the time he smoked his head after rocking backwards in his high chair.
I love everything about the care we receive there. Even when the news isn’t what I want to hear. Even when I don’t have a solid action plan because “we just have to see how he grows”. Even when, after Mav’s head injury, I was asked how things were going at home. Especially when I am asked questions like that, because the staff at the hospital are looking out for the best interest of kids. They care about families and work to support them, but kids come first. And I wouldn’t want it any other way.
I am so grateful that I have had the opportunity to give back to the hospital. My volunteer work began when I became a member the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit Family Advisory Care Team (NICU FACT). It involved a two hour meeting once a month and it got me out of the house (and out of my head) during the first two years of Kane’s life. That was where I found my voice as the parent of a hospital kiddo. I learned more about the inner workings of the health care system and how staff and families could support each other in making hospital experiences better for everyone. Since that first gig, my volunteer career has taken me all over the hospital with family mentoring.
I love peer mentoring because each time is a completely different experience. Sometimes a family has requested a visit, while other times I am just wandering around cold-calling people on the unit, letting them know that I am a family mentor and that I have been in hospital with my own kids. I can answer questions they may have about the hospital or my family’s experience, I can be a shoulder to cry on, or we can have a conversation completely unrelated to the hospital or our children. There are times I have walked away smiling and feeling like I have been chatting with an old friend and there are times I have left trying to conceal tears and appreciating where our family is at in our medical journey. But, each and every time, I am grateful that I have the opportunity to be present for someone else, whether it is their first time in hospital or their 265th day.
I honestly believe volunteering has supported my own mental health, as well. It has helped me work through some of the grief I have as the parent of a medically complex kid. It has helped me build relationships with other families and staff. I am grateful that when I walk into the hospital for one of Kane’s appointments I usually run in to someone I know and that makes it all just a little bit easier. Being in working groups with hospital staff has built my confidence in relation to asking questions and clarifying concerns when we are dealing with Kane’s next steps.
Below is a card I recently had my friend, Claire, design. It has artwork the boys and I created together and my favourite quote from Nancy Tillman’s picture book, You’re Here for a Reason. This quote sums up why I volunteer.
Last year, when we learned Kane was going to need another heart surgery, I joined Cardiac FACT (think NICU FACT but for cardiology). Even though we are moving to Canmore I plan to continue in my role by teleconferencing in to our monthly meetings because this is where we are at right now. Being involved helps me to navigate the system, know the players, understand the way the cardiology unit works and build connections with families who also rely on the cardiology.
The voluntography sessions I do with families staying at Ronald McDonald House are technically unrelated to my volunteer work with Family Centred Care at the hospital, but one has grown with the other. Both roles have helped me to further build my skills with supporting families. I am a better hospital photographer because of our family’s hospital story, but also because of the training and experiences I have had as a family mentor.
One of the hardest things about leaving Edmonton is moving away from the Stollery Children’s Hospital.
Not just because of the care that Kane receives, but because of the support I receive.
With the big move I am left wondering
whether how I will be able to support families in hospital, as well as whether how I will be able to visually document families in hospital. But more importantly, I am curious to know if anyone out there is interested in volunteering their photography services for RMH, because it feels like moving away is creating a space that needs to be filled.
If you are interested in photographing families please contact me or Ronald McDonald House. If volunteering in any of the Stollery roles I have mentioned is of interest check out Become Involved or follow the Stollery’s Facebook page where they post about upcoming volunteer opportunities.
If you have already found your volunteer niche I am so happy for you. If you haven’t found it yet, trust that you will.