Dr. James Suen, the acclaimed ENT surgeon and author at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences who removed the squamous cell cancer from my neck seven weeks ago, arranged for Jeanetta and me to spend a night at the Home for Healing in Little Rock last week.
That follow-up visit to work on improving my voice and testing my ability to swallow led us to this two-story brick-and-stone house directly across from UAMS.
It proved in every way to be the respite I'd been told to expect.
I was surprised to discover, rather than a hotel-like setting, it really is laid out like a fully furnished, sprawling home, complete with well-stocked kitchens with dining tables, freezers, slow cookers and ice makers, comfortable living rooms, a prayer room and laundry rooms on each floor. It even has a business center and spa center with free haircuts and facilities (and a massage chair).
There's an inviting covered porch where guests can visit and a serenity garden kept by the Master Gardeners of Pulaski County.
Since this 15-bedroom nonprofit home opened in 2003, it has provided everything those with hospitalized family in intensive care, or fighting cancer, or premature infants in neonatal intensive care could need during their stays.
Some, like us, stay for a night while others remain for weeks, or even many months, all at no charge.
In that regard, some have compared the Home for Healing with the philosophy of Ronald McDonald Houses for children undergoing medical care. Attorney Sam Perroni of Little Rock had such a comparison in mind when he proved instrumental in helping see the home become a reality two decades ago.
The home has allowed 5,000 guests from every Arkansas county, 35 states and seven foreign countries to experience peace and refuge during particularly trying times. It quickly became clear to us that, under the guidance of director Kristin Trulock, this home has achieved its mission.
While my appointment with Dr. Suen was at UAMS, guests at the home also are patients at CARTI, Arkansas Children's Hospital, Baptist Health, CHI St. Vincent and other medical facilities in central Arkansas.The home provides 10 rooms for cancer patients and their caregivers, and five for parents of infants in NICU and family members with a loved one confined to intensive care. Each bedroom has its own TV and private bathroom.
After checking in, Trudy from the office led us to our second-floor room and on a brief tour. Our group kitchen had two refrigerators, each stocked with food supplied by other guests. On virtually every item was written an invitation to "eat me." One bag contained a fully cooked roast and vegetables. Plus there were all forms of snacks and drinks.
Trudy said she'd worked at the home since June. "My favorite part of this job is the peace I find here and the wonderful people I get to know."
Later that afternoon we met Ginger and John Brown of Fordyce who were playing cards in our shared living room. They'd come for his extended cancer treatment six weeks earlier and would be at the home for two more. We tried to imagine what a stay like that would cost at a local hotel.
After visiting about our medical conditions, we wished we were staying a little longer. It became apparent how easy it would be to adapt to a fundamental goal of the Home for Healing: to share with others during trying times like a supportive family would in an informal setting designed to achieve that.
So how do they pay the considerable expenses for a home like this without charging?
The answer is through financial support from grants and fundraisers like their popular annual Halloween gala called the Monster Bash and an annual golf tournament. This home that serves thousands beset with medical problems also has many supporters, boosters and sponsors. It meets far too many needs of those facing family crises not to have an army of caring people standing firmly behind it.
Our room was sponsored by the Hall family, according to a plaque hanging beside the door. Like each of the other rooms, an artistic, hand-sketched encouragement was hanging on our door. It read: "It's always hard until it becomes easy."
There are many who volunteer time and effort to serve in any number of ways, including providing food and snacks.
Dr. Suen, who has been among the home's avid supporters since it began, said financial pressures to make ends meet eased when a benefactor paid off the home's mortgage a while back, freeing it to no longer have to charge for lodging.
A plastic container in the lobby enables those who choose to leave a contribution that helps cover incidentals. After our experience, we decided to make this special home among our favorites to help support in the future. Take a look for yourself: homeforhealing.org.
Now go out into the world and treat everyone you meet exactly like to want them to treat you.
Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at [email protected].