My spouse and I are both academicians and are professors in India. We had travelled over to the UK this May to give talks in a number of universities across the country. The trip was to last 18 days, and as it coincided with our 12-year-old son’s school summer vacation, we brought him along, something we have been doing since he was two years old!
During an afternoon off from our lectures, we were in Swansea and decided to have a family day at the Rhossili beach, about an hour away from where we were staying. We were walking along one of the many scenic paths, when our son, Esraaj, became distracted collecting tufts of wool from the nearby grazing sheep. He strayed away from the safety of the path and having reached a steep slope, he slipped on the loose gravel.
We’ll never forget watching him sliding down such a distance, hitting mounds and somersaulting through the air crashing onto the rocks at the bottom. It was traumatic!
When we reached him, he was unconscious and bleeding from several places, including his head. An elderly couple passing by came to our aid and helped to call the emergency services. Twenty minutes later, two helicopters, one coastguard vessel and about five cars consisting of police, paramedics and cliff rescuers arrived. They airlifted Esraaj and his mum Sunetra, to University Hospital Wales in Cardiff. At that time, all we knew about Cardiff was that it is a city in the UK, we had no idea about its geographical location. Much later, our hosts from Swansea University picked me up and took me to see my son.
Sunetra and I were in total shock. Esraaj had two fractures in his spine, two fractures on both sides of his pelvis, a ligament tear on his left knee, two injuries in his lung, a deep cut on his head and multiple cuts and bruises across his body. To be honest, it was a miracle that he didn’t sustain more serious injuries.
That night was incredibly stressful and traumatic for myself and my spouse. Apart from being worried about Esraaj’s condition, we wondered if Esraaj would be able to receive treatment in the hospital, what the financial implications would be, and the fact we were just nine days into a short trip in a foreign country, in a region we were visiting the first time and where we had no friends or families.
The next day, after being on our feet all night watching over Esraaj, a nurse informed us that we had been offered accommodation at the Ronald McDonald House Cardiff, a short walk away from the ward. I was in a daze, so I don’t recall my first moments of stepping into the House. In fact, the first three days we were just using it as a place to shower and one of us would sleep there at night before heading straight back to the hospital. We were still wearing our blood-splattered clothes until our luggage arrived a few days later from Swansea. We didn’t have UK mobiles, so just knowing my partner was minutes away at the ward was comforting.
By then, Esraaj had become medically stable. However, he had developed a pneumothorax condition. Doctors advised us that we shouldn’t travel for the next four weeks. This meant we needed to find wheelchair-friendly accommodation, at an affordable price, that wasn’t too far from the hospital.
But renting for just a month isn’t easy, and the nearest B&Bs with appropriate rooms at affordable prices were more than 50km away. On top of this, we were told that our travel insurance wouldn’t cover the hospital costs from Esraaj’s accident.
When things seemed so bleak, Annie from the Cardiff House informed us that their management had discussed our situation, and given the extreme circumstances, had decided to make an exception and allowed us to stay with them, even after Esraaj was discharged, till our flight back home in mid-June.
I cannot express our relief at this news. We realised we were no longer ‘nomads’, but had a place we could call “home”, where we could bring Esraaj back from the hospital, give him some proper home-cooked meals and where we could be together as a family.
During the next four weeks, we used the House as our ‘home away from home’. The communal kitchen facilities were absolutely wonderful and gave us the opportunity to meet other families going through crises, making us feel less alone.
The best thing the House provided us with was the closeness to the hospital. As people who had never visited the UK before, being able to see the hospital ward and knowing we didn’t need to battle our way through public transport and streets we don’t know, gave us comfort. It also allowed Esraaj to continue with his physio and visit the nurses for check-ups.
The staff were always smiling, cheerful and compassionate – always asking about our son’s progress and encouraging him to hit his milestones. We were always made to feel we were amongst friends, and it made our stay so special.
We headed back to India having made innumerable new friends and marvelled at the extent of compassion and empathy of people who helped us through Ronald McDonald House Charities UK. We are truly grateful to be provided with this amazing ‘home away from home’.