September 20, 2017
By Katie Doering
Katie Doering has been teaching at the RMHC Toronto School since it opened in 2003. She grew even closer to our cause last November when her daughter, Eleanor, was hospitalized in the intensive care unit at SickKids. This is her story.
My husband, Alan, and I have three daughters – twins Eleanor and Evelyn, who are four, and our youngest daughter, Annabel, who is two and a half. You can imagine that life with three children only 21 months apart can be a little crazy, but nothing prepared us for the chaos that we would experience last November.
On Sunday, Nov. 12, after a completely normal day of events, Eleanor woke up screaming with a fever of 40. When her symptoms had not improved by the next day, I took her to East York General. We were admitted for what they thought was a bad case of tonsillitis. But on Wednesday, a CT scan revealed her airway was dangerously narrow and we were rushed to the SickKids intensive care unit with little understanding as to what was wrong and why she continued to run a high fever.
When we arrived at SickKids, Eleanor was not conscious. She was in a diaper, and her favourite elephant and blanket were soiled. I had not showered or slept more than an hour at a time for four days. I had hardly seen my other children. Alan was an emotional wreck, something I had never seen in our 17 years together. We were terrified and exhausted.
It was then that our nurse said we should use the RMHC Toronto Family Room. I’ll never forget her words: “The best thing you can do right now is take care of yourself because we don't know what we will face in the morning when El wakes up.” I looked at my husband, and we decided to start taking shifts in the chair beside El’s bed.
I went to the Family Room and washed El’s blanket and elephant, and I had a shower while I waited. Doing the laundry provided me with some measure of control during a time of unpredictability and fear, and those few minutes in the shower provided time for me to reflect on the situation and brace myself for whatever was to come. None of this would have been possible without the Family Room.
Over the next few days, as we experienced countless tests and saw so many doctors from so many different departments, the RMHC Toronto Family Room became the home base for our family. My parents, my siblings and our other children used it as a place to play, eat, chat and meet. Alan and I used it as a place to sleep, bathe, and meet with Evelyn and Annabel, whom we missed terribly.
The beauty of the Family Room is that it is right in the hospital, so you feel safe going there knowing you are two minutes away from your child’s side. It was the Family Room staff who saw me at my most vulnerable, and they knew exactly how to listen, how to comfort and how to help me pull myself together so that I could get back to my daughter with strength and a smile on my face. They showed me how to move with confidence to face the unknown.
Anyone who knows my husband Alan knows sleep is very important to him. I can say without a doubt that Alan’s ability to get sleep in the Family Room – 24 hours a day – was the single factor that allowed him to stay strong for El. When she was eventually diagnosed with Kawasaki disease, a rare childhood illness which can lead to significant long-term cardiac issues, it was Alan who stayed up during her intensive night treatments which required constant and careful monitoring.
Fortunately, Eleanor has fully recovered. We are so grateful that the Family Room was there to help us at the worst time in our lives. Having worked at RMHC Toronto for the past 14 years, never did I think I would use its services. But my journey with Eleanor reinforced for me that scary things can happen to any family, and it’s vital to have the RMHC Toronto Family Room there for families in crisis.