A big thing my supervisor has been showing me is having to help patients who are emotionally reactive. When a child doesn't speak the same language, if they are delayed, or if they are fearful of adults then being at the hospital may be a scary experience. While it is easy for anyone to dismiss another person's fears by calling them "irrational," I feel that it is inappropriate to do so for children. In scary situations, children need to be allowed to express their fears. In tough situations, children need to be told that crying, screaming, and being afraid are natural and 'okay.'
Another thing that I have had to deal with personally are my own hesitations I have while at the hospital. Sometimes being in a hospital can be a scary thing because of the various codes given over the intercom, language barriers, and the seriousness of medical problems all bring their own amounts of anxiety. Working in the medical field involves everything from life to death. Patients die, parents grieve, and their nurses and medical caregivers must cope with such losses. One example of a moment of anxiety occurred this week while I was walking down to a lower floor to meet up with the specialist I was observing. Before I reached the stairwell, I heard noises and lights going off in one unit. A 'code blue' was quickly called and as I continued to walk down the stairs, numerous doctors, specialists, and nurses ran up the stairs towards the patients' room. Sometimes it is hard to hear codes because it usually means that a patient has stopped breathing or has other life-threatening problems.
Other things include seeing an 8-month old child in the oncology clinic receiving a weekly chemotherapy treatment. One little 9-month old had SMA (small muscle atrophy) and the CL (Child Life) specialists were amazed he was still alive. Apparently SMA and CF (cystic fibrosis) patients usually die very young. Also, in DNR (do not resuscitate) meetings, parents must decide whether or not to keep their children on life support even after they code. I can't imagine having to decide whether or not to keep your loved one alive even after they cannot live without the support of machines. Seeing kids so young that are so sick or dying is sad and somewhat depressing. However, I really enjoy being involved in the emotional part of their healing process. I knew it might happen at one time and just last week, I heard a little girl tell her mom in a quiet voice that her friend was going home. Her mom commented, "Isn't that nice for him?" The girl replied, "but I want to go home! It would be more fun if it was me going home- not just him." I was glad that she had her mom to help her deal with her emotions, but sometimes it is the job of the CL specialist to help patients and families cope with overwhelming emotions. Sometimes parents become overwhelmed by the severity of their childs' situation and are not able to help their children adequately.
Therefore, at the same time that all of these things make me hesitant to enter into such an intense environment as a profession, they have fueled my desire to enter into the field of Child Life. If everyone felt anxious, overwhelmed, and scared by this intense profession, then children and their families will suffer. Sometimes I have to remind myself that while few things strongly scare me in a hospital, those same things, and many others scare children, which have harmful benefits in their healing process. I feel that I have a fitting personality and life experience to aid children and their families in their process of being hospital patients, some with light or serious health problems.
For instance, I am minoring in communicative disorders (deaf studies) so I know American Sign Language. A deaf patient was admitted a few weeks ago but not many people in the CL department know how to sign. (Actually only my supervisor and myself know ASL.) My supervisor had me talk with the patient and get to know her. When I went back a few days later, I was able to talk with her again, and I hung out with her a lot yesterday. Nurses and doctors are somewhat impatient with children sometimes (even without language barriers) so I was glad I could explain to her what was going on. Then on Friday, I was able to interpret for some CL workers, explaining the games we were playing and allowing them to carry on a conversation. At first I was really frustrated because I kept making mistakes, but then I slowly warmed up and started remembering things. She kept laughing at my mistakes so it was fun to joke with her and relate to her. When grown adults approached our signing as a strange thing, I began to realize how isolated she was. (It was a little strange when other patients became curious and stared at us signing though!) At times I felt badly for her because she was so isolated in a profoundly hearing environment, but then we became closer as we played games together. I was pleasantly surprised to have such a unique skill to share as a CL student, and I hope to see her next week and continue our friendship if she is still there. In the end, I have definitely learned that I cannot allow children to be treated passively so I am constantly feeling stronger about becoming an ally for them and becoming a Child Life specialist.