Archive for Volunteering
It should come as no great surprise that we have a soft spot for our little guests. If you look at our cover photo on our Facebook page, you’ll see a picture of Maria and Teresa – The Twins.
Granted, they didn’t come to Richmond to see us. They came to see the fantastic doctors at the VCU/MCV Hospital. The Twins were born conjoined, and stayed with us for a while as they prepared for their eventual separation. Students from VCU made dresses for them to wear before and after their surgery, art students made plaster casts for the doctors to use during planning sessions, and everyone connected to the project seemed to take a personal interest. And it was quite the project, there were hundreds of people involved, and it was quite interesting.
Maria and Teresa are from the Dominican Republic. They came to Richmond through the hard work of World Pediatric Project. WPP actually started here in Richmond, and help find solutions to healing critically ill children in developing nations. Sometimes that means initiating programs in those countries, and sometimes that means sending children to a hospital here in the United States that has the staff and knowledge to help them.
Maria and Teresa are, by the way, not the first young guests of Hospital Hospitality House of Richmond who arrived with passports. We’ve seen children and families from Honduras, Belize, and many other foreign countries. Our only rules for guests is that they must live outside of a 30 mile radius of downtown Richmond and be receiving care from an affiliated hospital.
That often means children.
It is for this reason that an entire floor of Hospitality House has been designed for children. They come to us for chemotherapy, for treatment of birth defects, for emergency care, and more. But they’re still kids, and this floor provides them with a kitchen where family members can whip up homemade meals, with a family room where they can sit around like at home, and a play room furnished with enough toys to invite much-needed play time.
Even if you have cancer or a heart defect – if you’re a child you need your family and you need to play. That’s an unwritten Hospitality House rule, but one that we never, ever, ever break.
We’re fortunate to be located in a town with such amazing medical facilities. We’re practically across the street from the main campus of VCU/MCV, and they are one of at least a dozen world-class hospitals that each provide cutting edge care to patients. These patients are often youngsters. VCU/MCV has even broken ground on The Children’s Pavilion, a huge facility dedicated to providing care for our little ones. They already have Children’s Hospital of Richmond, but this will add a new spot to meet the growing need here in town.
Civic leaders here in Richmond recently debated creating a free-standing Children’s Hospital in our city. They invited leaders from some of the most innovative children’s hospitals in the country. Many argued that we have a distinct need for one in Richmond, and many argued that hospitals like VCU/MCV are already meeting that need.
We’re not sure either way, but we know that there will always be room for their patients here.
We have a great deal to be thankful for this Holiday Season, and we don’t have many requests this year. Sure, we could always use a little more laundry detergent and some more volunteers to share time with our guests. And it would be great if we could manage some nights with a higher vacancy rate at Hospital Hospitality House of Richmond, but this is what we do and we’re glad to do it.
2012 has been, though, a banner year. We haven’t totaled the numbers, but it seems that we have had a ton of people coming by to cook a meal, call bingo, or engage our guests in song. We’ve had amazing donations of supplies and funds to help us in our mission, and in one case, an entire truckload of paper goods from Georgia Pacific. We had great turnouts for our Fancy Hat Party, for our Gilbane Restaurant Walk, and our Savor Dinner. We met wonderful friends, old and new, and raised funds that will get us into 2013 with a little less pain.
Maybe that’s what we need for Christmas this year: A promise of continued success for next year? That spirit of giving that so many have shown this past year.
We are one of the largest Hospitality Houses in America. We’re one of the oldest. We are also the largest in the country that survives solely upon your generosity. And the folks who come to us in their time of need are the true recipients of this generosity.
It’s relatively easy to put someone up for the night. Change the sheets and give them a key. It’s harder to supply them with food, toiletries, and the few items that they may have missed in their trip to the hospital. It’s harder still to provide them with a sense of security and fellowship when they’re under the strain of medical crisis.
And this is where so many of you become so vitally important.
We need for all of you to continue to help us in the coming year. Our wish list comes close to being full with your donations of goods, but it never goes away. A donation like a truckload clears a hurdle, but it eventually runs out. An event helps us to raise funds, but we have to pay the bills in January just like all of you. A group cooking dinner makes for a great evening, but we still try to plan something for tomorrow.
All of that being said, we’re getting ready for Santa. There are cookies to bake, presents to wrap, and we’re trying to warm up for some Carols. We’re going to do our best to make this a wonderful holiday for our guests. You are all in our hearts and thoughts as you join with family and friends. We hope that we’re in yours.
Happy Holidays from Hospital Hospitality House of Richmond.
We’ve had some pretty good blows in Richmond over the past few years. Irene, Gaston and Isabel to name a few. We were reminded of that this week when we saw something down the street from Hospital Hospitality House of Richmond. There is an advertising agency here in town called The Martin Agency. We’ve met some of them, and they’re a group of very creative, fun, energetic people. You’ve no doubt seen some of their work. They created the GEICO gecko, the “This is Peggy” commercials, and some other great work.
Martin is a pretty good-sized business, with several hundred employees. In addition to their place here in Richmond, they also maintain a small office in New York City. One of the guys at Martin rented a U-Haul and invited his coworkers to help him to fill it with water, clothing, food and other stuff. This guy was then going to personally drive the truck up 95 to donate to relief efforts for Hurricane Sandy. Pretty cool, right? Well, the supplies got snapped up pretty quickly, and this guy came back with some stories about what he’d seen. He figured that those folks needed more help, so he organized another run. This time, he was blessed with a donation from Hilldrup Moving and Storage: An 18-wheeler with a driver.
Now THAT’S cool!
We have talked about this before, but thought that we’d run through it again: You need to be prepared if they’re calling for serious weather, and especially if you are living with a medical condition.
So what do you do?
The old adage is that when the forecast looks bad everyone runs to the grocery store for bread and milk. And they do, for some weird reason. If you look at what’s going on after Sandy (and what has happened here a few times!), the biggest issue for most people is the lack of power. So your milk isn’t going to do you a whole lot of good. You should focus your shopping on bottled waters, canned goods, and dry things that will keep you going without needing to be refrigerated.
We often hear of fires after a natural disaster, and those are quite frequently man-made. When your power goes out you’ll still need heat, and we will go to great lengths to get it. Whether it’s a fire in your fireplace or a gas heater, you need to be aware and alert that an open flame is an invitation to add a disaster to a disaster. This is equally true of generators and that extension cord that you snaked over to your neighbor’s house. You should also be cautious with heaters that could potentially give out toxic fumes.
Are you sufficiently stocked up on your required medications? And do those medications require refrigeration? Most of them will be okay for a few days, but have a back-up plan. In addition to having enough, you also might find it difficult to see your doctor for a few days, so plan accordingly.
Now, this is a worst-case scenario, but what if you have to be rescued? Many of the people impacted by Sandy were caught off-guard by rising floodwaters. And nobody plans for their house to catch fire, right? If you have to be rescued you are going to want to take important things with you. This includes medications and medical records. If these are life-saving medications, you may want to invest in some sort of medical alert or I.D. bracelet or necklace. This will tell emergency responders to look for your meds if you aren’t able to tell them yourself.
Lastly, keep up hope. The folks in New York and New Jersey are in a bad way, but they’re moving forward. They’re cleaning up, trying to get their kids off to school, and trying to get their businesses open. Why? Because that’s what we do. Much like many of the guest that we meet at Hospital Hospitality House, it is only in their time of greatest crisis that we see people’s truest character. And it’s generally more powerful than any storm.
We get to meet people from all over the Richmond area. Volunteers, patients, and families come to us from all over the State of Virginia. We also cross paths with visitors from around the world. As we have seen time and again over the past year or so, the doctors, interns, researchers, and other staff at MCV and the institutions attached to Virginia Commonwealth University are performing some amazing research and procedures. From the latest in transplant technology to life-saving surgeries, cancer research to reconstruction, those men and women are doing things that are drawing in people in need from across the globe. The process of healing seems to cross all barriers.
Except the language barrier.
Being sick and away from home can be scary enough, but imagine if the medical professionals trying to help you are speaking a foreign tongue? A complicated procedure is going to involve exams, consultations, recovery care, medications, rehabilitation, and goodness knows what else. The language barrier is often just as “mission critical” for the physician as for the patient. There can be errors in medication dosage, frustration for patients, and the potential of misdiagnosis.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are almost 50 million people in this country alone who are not fluent in English. In a tragic Florida case, a man trying to explain his sudden dizziness to paramedics used the word “intoxicado”. The responders wrote this off as being drunk, and the man suffered a cerebral hemorrhage. A study in Pediatrics found that when there is a language barrier one in five patients had errors in translation. Often it was not even so much the translation of words, but rather the nuance of phrases, or regional colloquialisms.
At a pediatric clinic in Northern Virginia, a mother told of waiting in an emergency room for hours for a translator. Her young son was having an asthma attack. The wait for a qualified translator could sometimes be a matter of life or death. While there are laws and some insurance providers will pay for translation services, it is knowing who qualifies as a translator that is the stumbling block.
Yeimarie Lopez saw the barrier first hand when her own grandmother was being treated for cancer. In addition to the difficulty that the family matriarch faced, other members of the family who were less than fluent were having trouble with care, or didn’t understand recommendations that they, too, be screened for the disease. Lopez is working on a research project to examine Latinos and their challenges in navigating health care. She hopes to crate a foundation that will continue advocacy after her graduation.
Being in medical crisis is going to involve a great deal of communication and dialog. There is also complicated terminology, and speaking the same language may not always mean that a patient understands what the doctor is talking about. The geographic barriers of native tongue further compound it.
At least smiling is a universal language.
In case you missed it, we had our annual Fancy Hat Party last week. It was a great success, and everyone seemed to have a fantastic time! The hats this year were as amazing as ever, and Lynn Sherr was a remarkable host. She regaled us with stories about her exciting career, and we’re certain that many will be anxious to get their hands on her new book, Swim: Why We Love the Water. We should have some juicy photos and some donation results in the weeks to come.
Today we’re at Hospital Hospitality House of Richmond. Just about every room is full, we’re low on laundry detergent, and we’re waiting to hear back from some volunteers for a dinner next week. In other words: “Business as Usual”.
When the hats were put away, Sherr headed back to New York, the chairs were stacked, and everyone went home, we went back to The House. Guests were coming back from treatment, we met some guests grabbing some fresh air, and some of our folks were getting ready to roll over some rooms for new arrivals.
We were fortunate to have some great volunteers this past week. Folks from the Hilton Garden Inn Downtown Richmond came by to serve a delicious meal. Our guests were very thankful, and eagerly filled their plates. When the Hilton crew left, there were some board games, some watched American Idol, and we recommended a book for one of our newer guests. We’ve gotten to know our library pretty well.
We have a great deal of fun at Hospital Hospitality House, and we meet some great people. It can be very rewarding, and hearing the stories of our guests puts our lives into perspective every day. The pollen on the car isn’t so important when you’re waiting for a heart. Your favorite jeans being in the wash is small change if your child is in the hospital and you’re away from home. Our relationships with others take on a much bigger meaning when we see the fear and the loneliness in the eyes of our guests.
The Fancy Hat Party was for them. It was to raise awareness of what we do every day, what they face every hour, and to hopefully raise funds to meet the very real and immediate needs that they have. But they didn’t come to our party. They stayed at The House.
For better or for worse, for right now it is their home.
Have you planned your ensemble yet? Our Fancy Hat Party is coming up this Friday, and we still have tickets available! Last year we raised over $40,000 towards the House. We’re hoping that this year is equally as successful. It will certainly be as fun!
“Round or square
Or tall and flat,
To wear a hat.”
William Jay Smith
We always have a guest at our Party. A few years ago Jenna Bush, daughter of George W, joined us. The evening didn’t have a hint of politics, but was all about fancy headwear, smiles, and sharing for our guests at the House. Last year we spent some time with Steven Cojocaru. Cojo gave us some fashion critiques, had us roaring with laughter, and even donned a Fancy Hat himself.
This year we are being joined by Lynn Sherr. Perhaps you’ve heard. Ms. Sherr was a reporter for WCBS-TV, and gained a national reputation with PBS at WNET in New York and WETA in Washington. She even hosted the ‘MacNeil-Lehrer Report’. Pretty heavy stuff!
Sherr is probably best known for her work on ABC and the years of fascinating reporting that she did for 20/20. While working with the news magazine show, she won several awards. She had notable pieces about anorexia, a young lady from New York who went from homeless to Harvard, and a great interview with astronaut Sally Ride.
Many of her reports have focused on her favorite topic: women. She is a proud feminist, and has even written two books about a personal hero, Susan B. Anthony. While covering the “Women’s Lib” movement early in her career, she realized that she kept referring to the participants as “they” and “them”. It wasn’t really they or them as much as it was “she”. She was a woman striving for equality in a man’s world.
Sherr has also written about another type of hero for her: giraffes. She is rather tall, and blonde, and in 1997 wrote Tall Blondes: A Book About Giraffes. In 2006 she published Outside the Box: A Memoir about life on television, losing her husband to cancer, and her own battle with the disease. Very funny, very insightful, and very poignant.
She has a new book, Swim: Why We Love the Water that should be out any minute.
We hope that you’ll be joining us at the Fancy Hat Party. It is always a great time, always festive, and we get the second greatest guests in Richmond. The first greatest are obviously the ones that we see every day.
Swiss psychologist Carl Jung was trying to define the relationship that seems to connect us all. He coined the word “synchronicity” in the 1920’s to describe “temporally coincident occurrences of acausal events.”
Simply put, he felt that there was a relationship between everyone’s minds, ideas, and events.
Hungarian author Frigyes Karinthy wrote a series of short stories in 1929 where he hypothesized that our world was “shrinking.” Advances in communications, travel, and friendship networks would connect any two individuals through five acquaintances. Con-artist David Hampton bilked a group of wealthy New Yorkers out of thousands of dollars in the 1980’s by pretending to be a famous actor’s son. He was able to name-drop enough that his story was plausible. The tale became the inspiration for the stage play and movie Six Degrees of Separation.
Have you ever played the Kevin Bacon game? You can do it with just about any actor, but for some reason it’s more fun with Kevin Bacon. Name an actor and connect him to Bacon in as few steps as possible. We were watching Phineas and Ferb with the little guy and the special guest was Jake Gyllenhall. The next episode featured an appearance by Taylor Swift. What the heck.
Taylor Swift is selling tons of albums (if you still want to call them that). She appeared on Phineas and Ferb, who also featured Jake Gyllenhaal, of the movies Brokeback Mountain and Jarhead. In Jarhead, his father was played by James Morrison, who had a recurring role on the television series 24, starring Keifer Sutherland. Sutherland starred in a movie called Flatliners with Oliver Platt and, you guessed it, Kevin Bacon. The Taylor Swift-Jake Gyllenhall link is somewhat of a stretch, but you get the point.
Kevin Bacon has taken all of this with a great sense of humor, and has actually turned it into something good. Using the concepts of Karinthy, Jung, and a popular college drinking game, he started SixDegrees.org. He says that it really is a small world, and we all make a difference. His website allows anyone, anywhere, to donate, fundraise, or volunteer. You can purchase a “Good Card” that can be redeemed as a donation for one of over a million charities. They’re pushing the $4 million mark.
We posted earlier this week on Facebook about a remarkable series of kidney exchanges. Rick Ruzzamenti was at his yoga studio and the desk clerk mentioned that she had recently donated a kidney. It wasn’t like she didn’t have another one. Ruzzamenti learned that 400,000 Americans need dialysis every day to survive, and found that almost 100,000 were on a waiting list for a transplant. Kidneys are somewhat unusual in that you can safely donate the entire organ, success rates are high, and most people can function quite well with just one. So he jumped on board.
What he set in motion was a chain-reaction organ swap involving 60 people, 60 separate operations, in 17 hospitals across 11 states. A woman in Long Island got a kidney from a donor in California. Her friend donated his kidney to a woman in Ohio. The Ohio recipient’s daughter-in-law donated hers to a young man back in California. The best friend of the young man in California donated hers…
And on it went.
All of these folks became forever linked through the National Kidney Registry. It is a large database of donors and those awaiting transplant, and was started by Garet Hil. Hil saw the immediate need when his own daughter was diagnosed with kidney failure at age 10. He found out that he would be incompatible for her as a donor less than two days before a scheduled surgery, and his frantic search was on. He has an extensive background in finance and data logistics, and his service as a United States Marine gave him a perseverance and grit to get things done.
These 60 people will forever be linked by the decision of one man to selflessly donate a kidney, and by the ingenuity of another to give him an avenue to do so. But what of the little acts that we do every day? When someone helps out here at Hospital Hospitality House of Richmond, they interact with our staff, our guests, and their families. Each of those people reach out to their friends, families, and co-workers. Each of THOSE people reach out to their friends, families, and co-workers, and on it goes. One small act creates a synchronicity that makes our world just a little smaller, but extends a net of goodwill a little wider.
It’s usually the same routine:
- Pick up the little ones.
- Home for homework and a recap of their day.
- Dinner with some crying about vegetables.
- Bath time and a story.
- Put them to bed.
- Do laundry, answer emails, prepare lunches for tomorrow, pay some bills, call the sister…
Did you notice that we missed something? The kids have a bedtime, but what happened to ours?
Ask yourself some questions:
- Does the alarm scare you awake every morning?
- Do you wake up every day still feeling tired?
- Do you fall asleep during movies or while watching TV?
- Do you go on vacation to sleep late?
Maybe YOU need a bedtime.
Studies have shown that sleep is a fantastic cure-all, and a lack of sleep does the body no good. From the sweet feeling of rest, to the peace of mind, to the physical effects: sleep is necessary for health and happiness.
Most experts say that the average adult needs somewhere between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night. Some people function well on as little as 4 hours, but some may need at least 10. Several hours of uninterrupted sleep has been shown to reduce fatigue, improve memory, help to deal with emotional trauma, and perhaps even boost the body’s immune system. A study in the medical journal The Lancet said that nearly a quarter of all adults feel as if they don’t get a good night’s sleep, and a full ten percent of our adult population would qualify as suffering from insomnia. Insomnia and other sleep disorders (like sleep apnea) have been shown to increase the risk of depression, hypertension, and heart disease.
A recently published study reported the link between sleep and certain cells in the body. Your body produces a sort of white blood cell, called a natural killer cell, which your body will release to fight invasions of foreign cells, like cancer. Subjects who were kept awake or had disrupted sleep patterns had lower or depressed levels of these cells in their body. So in an age when almost anything can cause cancer, a good night’s sleep can help you fight it!
Do you dream at night? Many of us dream of flying (means something), of being naked in a crowd (means something), or being trapped (means something). All Freud aside, many of us dream of talking to loved ones past and present, and re-live emotional situations in our lives. Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley have been looking into the relationship between sleep and emotions. What we dream may help us to resolve emotional issues, help to ease painful memories, and may be a key to lessening the devastation of post traumatic stress disorder.
So how do you dip into this fountain of youth? Try starting with these five simple steps:
- Give yourself a bedtime. Every day has to end at some point, and it should end when you say so. Some things may get put off until tomorrow, but you’ll be better equipped to deal with them if you have a clear and rested noggin.
- Turn everything off. That means everything. Some people benefit from a sound machine that simulates crashing waves, and some relax to the whir of a spinning fan. That doesn’t mean a television, a radio, or a phone. Almost half of all smartphone users check their social media updates after they’ve gone to bed. You go to bed to sleep, not to network.
- Eat for sleep. It is never a good idea to eat and then fall out. You should give your body some time to digest before you hit the hay, and avoid items with caffeine or lots of sugar. These items make you stay awake.
- Relax. A common cause of insomnia is anxiety triggered by what you have on your plate tomorrow. You should review your day and plan your tomorrow before you make the decision to catch some shuteye. Before you strap into your jammies you should do something to clear your head, like meditation, deep breathing, or perhaps reading something that is totally unrelated to your anxiety-inducing plans.
- Exercise. We seem to slip this into every “wellness” blog or post, but it’s true. Some time during your day, you need to exercise. A perfect routine would find you enjoying a brisk family walk after dinner/before bedtime. We know, good for your heart, reduce the risk of stroke, maintain a good weight, etc etc etc. Truth be told, when you exercise your body releases a chemical called dopamine. Do you know what dopamine does? It drives learning, controls some voluntary movements, and helps to combat depression. Your body should like dopamine.
So pull out the comfy sheets, fluff up the pillow, and grab your favorite pajamas. We like the ones with the feet in them. To quote Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast.” We’re going to need for you to be at your best. Get some sleep.
We spend a great deal of time saying Thank You to all of the wonderful people who volunteer for us here at The House. We’re also very thankful to have the opportunity to help so many people in their time of need. Every once in a while, some of those folks thank us!
Here is a sample of some of the notes that we’ve received:
“My stay in the hospital each time has been easier because you take care of my family. Because of you I can rest, knowing that my family has a wonderful place to stay.” Denise B.
“Our precious daughter had stage 4 breast cancer and went home to be with the Lord, but not before she delivered our precious grandson. He was born at 31 weeks and remains in the NICU at MCV but is doing very well. Thank you for providing such a wonderful service for patients and their families. We appreciate the part you had in making our stay wonderful.” Ron & Lori D. San Diego, California.
“My husband, Kenneth, had unexpected surgery and I was apprehensive about staying in a strange place alone. After Regina confirmed my reservations she helped me to be relaxed and completely at ease. “ McChell A.
“HHH is a place where miracles happen; the people I’ve met while staying here are against all odds. It’s a haven for the world.” Margaret D. First female patient at VCU to receive the Freedom Driver, a portable artificial heart.
“My husband was at MCV for 6 weeks following a catastrophic automobile accident. You made a terrible situation more bearable; from your warm smiles and welcome to your pleasant manner. We have been living a miracle, and each of you are a part of that.” Ruth G. Earlysville, Virginia.
“My daughter was a student when she was attacked and robbed. When I got the call, I was told that I would not make it to Richmond before she passed. I stayed at HHH with my adopted family for two months. You made my stay during this horrific ordeal easier. Without you, I don’t know how I would have made it through this period of my life.” Melanie W. Jarratt, Virginia.
We are very grateful to be able to reach out and provide for people during these times of crisis. The letters from our guests contain all of the tragedy and details of what brought them to us, and not all of their stories end happily. When we open the envelope and read, though, we smile warmly at the thought that we were able to be A Home Away From Home, and they will always be a part of our family.