Stories that tug on our heart strings are not infrequent in our social media feeds. Stories that involve sick or suffering children, when I am fortunate enough to have the luxury of four healthy sons, really hit home with me. The closer to home they are, the stronger my empathy: Local families, families who fall within just a few degrees of separation, families who bear similarities to mine.
My feelings have likely been magnified by a trip to the paediatric ICU a few months ago. I was meeting with someone at the hospital coffee shop when my sister called. She’s a doctor in the PICU. Knowing I was at the hospital she invited me up to say hi. The person I was meeting with showed me the way.
We were through the doors, I’d probably taken about twenty steps and passed maybe three or four rooms: Babies surrounded by equipment and tubes and wires; their families soaking up time which is more precious than anything; doctors and nurses performing procedures, discussing courses of action, or speaking with parents. I was taking it all in and didn’t realise my pace had slowed. My escort turned to me and said ‘I’m sorry, are you alright? I should have warned you or something. I forget it is confronting for a lot of people.’ I sped up, told her that wasn’t necessary, and that I was fine.
It was silly of me not to do an ounce of mental preparation. But, I mean, I knew where I was going. I know what the PICU is, and I have a general idea of what goes on there. I had a child of mine in the neonatal ICU once. It was fleeting and I never truly feared for his life, but I did get an insight into the lives of the people who had their babies admitted long before my son, who wouldn’t leave for long after.
This visit however was significantly more eye opening. Sobering. An experience that heightened my respect for anyone who works in such an environment, and the incomprehensible responsibility they have to the children in their care and the families of these children. It was an experience that made me empathise with others and be grateful for my unremarkable life in a way I didn’t know I could.
Recently, I scrolled upon a page on my Facebook feed seeking donations to support the family of a very sick baby, Connor McCabe. I have never met and I do not know Connor or his family. Connor’s mum, Bianca, happens to be a friend of a friend of mine. It was this friend who shared the page. Connor also happens to be in the PICU at the hospital where my sister works. I felt compelled to donate and make the difference I could.
I’ve been following Connor’s page for just over a week, and I’ve already noticed something different about what Bianca shares. I am aware that Connor has two heart conditions and what they’re called, and I know when it’s been a particularly rough few days or when promising news is delivered. While these details help me to have better insight into the situation, what really gets me to empathise is the communication of the logistics and practicalities on the peripheries of this little boy’s health issues.
I’m well aware that these obstacles are not unique to Connor and his parents. But this was the first time I had gone further than picturing one of my children being this unwell, and was able to picture the surrounding implications.
In one of Bianca’s updates she said that the worst thing is that the world outside keeps turning. A family in this situation cannot afford for both parents to cease work to simply be with their child. In fact, Connor’s father is working multiple jobs and misses so much. He has received calls while at work to inform him that his son is currently being resuscitated. I cannot imagine. Connor is often without his father, Bianca is with Connor but often without her partner, and Jase is without his partner and son while doing what’s necessary and working multiple jobs. Connor deserves the strength of both parents, and both parents deserve the strength of each other and to soak up time with their child. Any amount of money we can afford to spare will ease the burden for this particular family.
Sometimes it’s hard to see the difference we can make with one small donation to just one family in such a situation. It’s then that I reflect on The Starfish Story:
One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed a boy picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean. Approaching the boy, he asked, “What are you doing?”
The youth replied, “Throwing starfish back into the ocean. The surf is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.”
“Son,” the man said, “don’t you realise there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You can’t make a difference!”
After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it back into the surf. Then, smiling at the man, he said…” I made a difference for that one.”
I remind myself that my donation, no matter how small, makes a difference to Connor and his family. If you’re in a position to do so, please consider giving what you can, or help spread the word by sharing the Facebook page. You will make a difference.