Driving the Camel: Installment #13 Abseil

 

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Dear newcomers to my blog,

Driving the Camel is a memoir that I am publishing as a serial on this blog. It follows my adventures as a child life specialist during a transformative year of my life when I battled breast cancer and travelled the world. It includes reflections on my past work as a child life specialist, my personal life and stories of the wonderful people I met on my travels. You can find previous chapters in the side menu categories (or scroll down on mobile devices) under “Driving the Camel: Adventures of a Child Life Specialist.

Abseil

I lay in bed that night, feeling unready to let this day be the last chapter of the Deb and Garth adventures. I thought about love, and how strange it was to feel my heart so full for people I’d just met that day. I was hard to put understand the connection and affection I felt for Garth. It was like I’d known him for years, or maybe even in another life.

I phoned him the next morning.

“I know I am not ready to abseil into a cave and swim out,” I said. “But would you be willing to give me a ropes lesson, so that I can try some abseiling in the light of day?”

Garth readily agreed and we set our sights on Saturday. That would be my last full day on the Island before I would head to the South Island for the last leg of my journey. That morning he picked me up and we drove back to the cave, both of us in high spirits and joking. He entertained me with a story of an intruder who’d awoken him the previous night.

“I heard this noise and I figured one of the chooks had gotten into the house again. So, I followed the sounds and opened the bathroom door, and there was a damned possum in there, hissing like it was going to eat me alive.”

“What did you do?” I asked.

“Well, I just sat myself down on the floor and started to sing it a lullabye. Then once it calmed down a bit, I got myself a blanket and tossed it over it and carried it outside.”

“So what you’re telling me is that you’re a kind of possum whisperer,” I laughed.

As we neared the turnoff for the cave, I decided it was important to be honest with Garth.

“I just want to tell you something. I am terrified of heights. I get vertigo, my knees turn to jelly, and I feel like throwing up.  But it is something I really want to face it today. I want to abseil.”

“Everyone is scared when they do this for the first time,” he said. “The difference between boys and girls is that girls are more likely to admit they’re scared.”

I hopped out of the car to get the gate, and then followed the car into the pasture. It was another perfect day, not a cloud to be seen and a warm breeze tickling the grass. Garth popped the boot and hauled out a tangled mass of ropes and gear.  I grabbed a helmet and secured the strap under my chin.

“So first, I’m gonna teach you a bit about tying knots. When it comes to abseiling, you’re only as safe as your knots.” He nimbly worked a small rope into the shape of a harness, telling me a story as he went about rabbits and holes and foxes. As quickly as he had fashioned the harness, he undid the knots and handed it to me.

“Your turn.”

I fumbled with the rope, trying to recall the story and moves. He watched patiently and guided me with a few hints now and then. It took more than a couple of tries, but he seemed in no hurry. When he deemed me ready, Garth helped me step into the homemade harness. We practiced on flat ground first, tying the ropes around a sturdy tree. Garth’s big  hands moved efficiently, as he hooked my harness to the rope and showed me where to hold on, and the art of leaning back and playing out the rope in my right hand.  

“Keep your feet shoulder width apart to maintain your center of gravity. Never let go of this rope without securing it. Here is how you hitch it if you need to free up your hands.”

His instructions were clearly demonstrated, but the tasks were unfamiliar to me, as I struggled clumsily with the equipment. He patiently guided me through each step until he felt comfortable with my technique.

Only then did we make our way up the wooded slope slanting back over the mouth of the cave. He hauled the heavy ropes and I did my best to keep up with him. We reached a plateau and Garth led us to the precipice of the cliff. We stood directly over the entrance to the cave, about 80 feet above. I looked down at the vertical rock wall, which we would traverse with the ropes. About 10 feet back from the edge, there were several stakes buried deep in the ground, remnants of previous forays over the cliff. Garth securely fastened two lengths of rope to the stakes.

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“How do you know these are secure,” I asked, not fully able to trust.

“Because they go down about six feet into the ground” he said. Good answer.

I stepped into my harness and prepared for my descent. 

“Don’t look down.” I told myself. “You can do this if you look straight ahead.”

Garth lowered himself backwards first. From there, he coached me as I made my first tentative steps in his wake.

The harness felt like a flimsy string cutting into me, rather than a secure perch. I gripped the rope with all my might, terrified that my weight would make it yank from my grasp.

“Easy does it,” came Garth’s voice from below. “Widen your stance. Lean back until your heels make contact with the wall.”

I did as I was told.

“Now take a step down,” he instructed.

Somehow, I thought he meant for me to look for a purchase in the wall. I looked down and spotted a passable crevice. I took a deep breath and jumped towards it, letting out the rope as I scrabbled for a foothold.

“That’s not what I meant,” he said, laughing. “Just walk down the wall one step at a time.

The jump had shot adrenaline through my veins, and my heart began to pound. My excitement was evaporating quickly as I scanned the lip of the cliff that was now about two feet over my head. Just like the plane ride, there was no going back. The only way was down and I was frozen, unable to go any further.

“I am panicking,” I told Garth. “I don’t think I can move.”

“Just hold on a minute. I’ll be right there.”  

He quickly navigated his way up the face of the rock to where I clung to my rope in a death grip. He steadied himself beside me and smiled.

“Let me tell you a story. The Dali Lama had this doctor. They were discussing health and the doc said to him, ‘You know what is wrong with people today? People today forget one very important thing. They forget how to breathe. And he took a deep breath in and out with the Dali Lama. And then he took another one.’”

As Garth spoke, I followed  the emotional stepping- stones of his story.  I breathed deeply and after a few moments I felt my panic begin to subside.

“I think I’m okay now.”

“All right, then. Let’s do it.”

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Garth returned to his spot below me. I took one more long, deep breath, set my feet shoulder width apart and began my descent. From there on, the exhilaration returned. I only had one moment when I lost contact with the wall. I spun in a circle, my feet kicking out for contact.

“I don’t like this! I don’t like this!” I squealed.

“You’re all right!” Garth called up, laughing at my distress.

His humor made me relax. He wouldn’t be laughing if I were in any real danger. I let the rope out until my feet felt the wall again, and then I walked backwards down the wall with ease.

When my feet finally touched the ground, I shouted “I did it!”

“Yes you did!” said Garth.

abseiled

Benefits of Skin to Skin Contact: Spotlight and Giveaway of The NuRoo Pocket — Child Life Mommy

While attending the Child Life Council Conference in Orlando, I had the opportunity to meet with Hope Parish and see her amazing baby wearing product, The NuRoo Pocket. Every caregiver and parent in a hospital or home could greatly benefit from this innovative product. Learn about how NuRoo was established, the benefits for parent and baby and how you […]

via Benefits of Skin to Skin Contact: Spotlight and Giveaway of The NuRoo Pocket — Child Life Mommy

Driving the Camel: Installment #12

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 Alpacas and Chooks

The house where Garth and Clair had recently retired  perched on top of a gentle hill, their farmland spreading out below. Cattle chewed grass by the side of a pond surrounded by cattails and high grass. As we pulled into the unpaved driveway, a black lab with a greying muzzle wiggled in delight as she approached the car. A great blue heron  perched on their well pump. It didn’t ruffle a feather as we passed it. Three alpacas peered at us from behind a fence. I turned to Garth.

“Are you sure Clair won’t mind being surprised by an unannounced guest?” I asked.

“Clair loves guests!” he bellowed. I wondered if she really did, or if Garth might be a bit clueless about the stress that unexpected guests can put on a wife. But the moment I stepped into their home, I could see he was far from clueless. Continue reading

Medical Staff Gotta Play!

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The recent Pokemon Go craze has hospital administrators  flummoxed by their employees’ behavior. Several hospitals have called for a ban on medical staff playing the digital game while at work, claiming that they are ignoring patient needs in pursuit of the free-to-play location-based augmented reality mobile game. There is no question that social media should never come before a patient’s medical needs, but the administrators may be missing an important point.

Adults need to play.

Yup, that’s what I said. Adults need to play.

Articles about burnout in the medical field appear every day on my news feed. Caring professionals exposed to repeated trauma working long hours in tough conditions with impossible patient to staff ratios face compassion fatigue and burnout on a regular basis. There are no easy answers, probably not one thing that can turn this phenomenon around. But if we look at the current Pokemon seeking behavior, it gives us a clue.

Think about recess at school and all the studies that show how increased physical movement and play greatly improve children’s ability to learn, function and lead healthier lives. Why should it be any different for adults? In fact, Alison Tonkin and Julia Whitaker have just published a terrific book Play in Healthcare for Adults: Using Play to Promote Health and Wellbeing Across the Adult Lifespan, that explores the role of play in adults’ health and coping. 

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They show how central play is to our biological makeup and evolutionary history. Play is a crucial ingredient of survival for all mammalian species (Tonkin & Whitaker, 2016). In the forward to the book, Suzanne Zeedyk, a research scientist and founder of connected baby states

We know these truths instinctively. However we relegate them to our private lives and personal relationships. Contemporary culture does not reserve an official role for play in our public, professional lives. Work is serious. Play is not.

That’s why this book is radical. Its editors have been willing to shout loudly about the importance of play in professional contexts.They have been willing to bring theory, empirical evidence, and practical examples to their claim.

Jon Loungo, a child life specialist at Maimonides Hospital Center in Brooklyn, NY, coined the term Tongue Depressor Challenge. It refers to providing medical staff (and often patients) with loose parts , and telling them, “Create something that shows how the hospital experience could be improved, in real or imaginary ways, and include at least one tongue depressor in your project.”  With this 3-D challenge in mind, I allow my imagination free reign in envisioning what the presence of play might contribute to excellent healthcare in hospitals. I picture doctors, nurses, administrators and technicians taking scheduled breaks throughout the work day. I picture play rooms set aside for staff that include expressive art corners, rock climbing walls, trampolines and ping pong tables.  Hey, and what about pet therapy?

Call me crazy.

 

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Rabbit Ray – Helping Kids with Needle Fears

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Esther Wang has a vision. As an entrepreneur, designer and inventor, she has learned first hand what it means to use creative skills to make the world a better place. Esther took up the challenge of “How can we help kids be less afraid of needles?” in Singapore, her native country.  She designed Rabbit Ray, an interactive, virtually unbreakable, washable patient interactive device that empowers even more than it teaches. Continue reading

Less anesthesia – More play for MRIs

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Erik Ranschaert and Ben Taragin

Dr. Benjamin Taragin knows a lot about what kids need when facing radiology scans. He has spearheaded the production of a miniature MRI model using toy building blocks, so that children can play about their experiences before and after scans. When I asked Dr. Ben about how this all came about, he shared the following narrative. We hope you will be inspired by his story and jump on board to help make his I Love MRI kits available to any child in need of an MRI.  Continue reading

Palliative Care: the Art of Companionship

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Photo by Ludvik Hradilek

Jiri  and Marketa Kralovec have been serving families facing illness and loss for many years. Their work through the Klicek Foundation in the Czech Republic has brought palliative care to parents and children who in their most difficult hours, crave witnessing and gentle care as a family unit. Below is a statement of their philosophy, their humanity threading through it like gold.  Continue reading

Parallel Process – A Rap Love Song to My Job

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During this past academic year,  fellow faculty members met in small inquiry groups to study our work in the advisement of graduate students in supervised fieldwork. The process was reflective, exciting, daunting and helpful. How do we assist graduate students in developing their personal and professional selves as they prepare to work in public and private schools, museums and hospitals? The lyrics to this song came to me as I tried to wrap my brain around the work that we do – and how to represent it to others who have never experienced the challenges and joys of advisement, as either a graduate student or a faculty member. Here is what came to me in the middle of a sleepless night.

 

Continue reading

Driving the Camel: Installment #11

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Dear newcomers to my blog,

Driving the Camel is a memoir that I am publishing as a serial on this blog. It follows my adventures as a child life specialist during a transformative year of my life when I battled breast cancer and travelled the world. It includes reflections on my past work as a child life specialist, my personal life and stories of the wonderful people I met on my travels. You can find previous chapters in the side menu categories under “Driving the Camel: Adventures of a Child Life Specialist.

…There was one more thing that Garth wanted to show me. He led me across the pasture and into a copse of trees that felt like an elven forest straight out of the Lord of the Rings. We hiked for a bit until I saw another large outcropping of rock. As we approached it, I could see a small opening in the rock face.

“The cave you just climbed through; that’s nothing. This is where I used to take kids abseiling,” he said. “We’d tie up a rope here, and drop them about 100 feet down into the cave. The stream you saw in the other cave – it comes out here. So, we’d lower them down and then they’d swim out.”

“A terrifying thought,” I said.  Continue reading

Driving the Camel: Installment #10

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Dear newcomers to my blog,

Driving the Camel is a memoir that I am publishing as a serial in this blog. It follows my adventures as a child life specialist during a transformative year of my life when I battled breast cancer and travelled the world. It includes reflections on my past work as a child life specialist, my personal life and stories of the wonderful people I met on my travels.

Cave Man

One morning mid week, I was struggling to figure out the electronics of the kitchen stove. The electric teakettle was easy, but I couldn’t figure out the touch buttons on the range to save my life. I reached for a book of manuals that Marianne kept amongst the recipe books. As I opened it, a small slip of paper floated to the floor.

It said simply, “For cave tours, call Garth” with his number scribbled in pencil.

“This is no accident,” I told myself. I had always loved caves, at least from the standpoint of a visit to a tourist trap in Bermuda when I was 11 years old.

I dialed the number and was greeted by a robust voice,.

“Garth here.”

I told him that I was interested in touring a cave.

“Well, I haven’t done THAT in a long while!” he said. “What is your level of expertise?”  Continue reading