Kiwanis Family House
Guest Blogger

Emily Chirk

My name is Emily, and I am a member of the Board of Directors for the Kiwanis Family House. You might be surprised to know that I am just 20 years old, enrolled in California State University at Sacramento, and a member of Circle K International at Sacramento State , the collegiate division of Kiwanis International. 

When I first learned about the Kiwanis Family House, I knew right away that it was a project I could passionately support.  From my experiences as both a child and an adult patient,  I knew firsthand what it was like to be in the hospital and that regardless of age, it is never easy to be on your own during a medical crisis.

In my short life, I have been hospitalized a total of five times, being admitted most recently in August of 2011.

At this point, I wasn’t the awkward 13 year old that screamed when blood was drawn, but a 20 year old woman living on her own in Sacramento, over 300 miles away from home, balancing school, a part time job, an internship, and serving as a director for the Kiwanis Family House.

This time, there was no long wait in the ER or poking and prodding. Instead, I woke up in the hospital already wearing a hospital gown. Not understanding where I was, I instinctively panicked and attempted to untangle myself from the sheets, but found myself restrained by multiple people telling me to calm down. It wasn’t until someone shoved my glasses on my face that I realized the arms that were holding me down were those belonging to several of my friends from college.  I was told that I had had a seizure and as I collapsed I had hit my head, knocking me unconscious. The seizures were believed to have continued while I lay on the floor for the next 12 hours before being found. I was told that the level of muscle death in my body was dangerous and that I needed to be monitored to ensure that I did not go into renal failure.

For the next few days, I was not allowed to leave the bed for long, as I had weakened muscle function in my legs. Each day, I sat in the bed, fiddling with my toy beaver, a ball of brown fluff from my childhood hospital stays, waiting for my friends to return. And they did, every day. They would come and visit me for an hour or two, until the nurses made them leave. For the 10 days that I was in the hospital, I listened to the gushing of the IV in my arm and waited for my friends to come see me.  When they were there, I wasn’t in the hospital anymore. When they were there, I wasn’t a 20 year old at risk of renal failure. When they were there, it was as if it were a normal day, and we were all playing card games at someone’s home and accusing each other of cheating.

My friends would sit through rush hour traffic daily to make the trip from Davis to Sacramento, even if it meant they could only see me for a few minutes. It didn’t matter to them that the roundtrip took over a quarter a tank of gas that they couldn’t really afford–what mattered to them was that they were there for me because they knew that even though I wouldn’t say it out loud, I needed them there with me.

I am happy to report that I am now on the road to recovery, and I credit the support of those close to me for the speed and completeness of my return to health.  I was one of the lucky ones—my support system was nearby.  Many of the patients who come to UC Davis Medical Center and Shriners Hospital travel from hundreds or even thousands of miles away, and the need for affordable temporary housing for their loved ones is critical. 

Mother Teresa once said that “loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty.” At the Kiwanis Family House, our focus is not just on the patients, but on their support systems as well. We make sure that the patients never have to feel empty and alone by keeping their families close and we make sure that the families know that they are not unwanted and that our home is their home. The Kiwanis Family House is where the heart of human compassion lives and flourishes.

Emily Chirk is a guest blogger from one of our certified nonprofit partners Kiwani’s Family house