Colleague and friend, Teresa Schoell, is a child life specialist in upstate New York. She is featured in “That’s Child Life!” , a video published by the Child Life Council. She is also, first and foremost, a mother to Malcolm. She posted this story on FaceBook today, and with her permission (and Malcolm’s), I wanted to share it with all of you.
I just finished performing surgery on one of Malcolm’s beloved stuffies (a gift from the dear Justinn Walker). Apparently, JC the Lobster was quite anxious about the procedure, hiding in Malcolm’s arms while I threaded my needle.
“I’m scared it’s going to hurt,” came JC’s voice (with a marked similarity to Malcolm’s falsetto).
Then I heard Malcolm’s reassuring voice “Don’t worry, JC, we’ll give you sleep medicine so you don’t feel anything. Would a hug help you feel brave?”
A few hugs and and some invisible anesthesia later, the lobster was open on my table (prepped and draped in the usual sterile fashion….which is to say, laying on a couch cushion on my lap) Today’s procedure was to repair the distal fracture to the bendy wire in the patient’s left antenna, which supports movement and pose-ability.
Under general anesthesia I opened and peeled back the fabric, revealing the damaged wire. The sharp wire bits were realigned and repaired use med-surg duct tape, reinserted into the fabric, and sealed with a running subcuticular suture (sewed on the inside for a near-invisible scar). Procedure complete in 15 minutes with minimal stuffing loss. Patient resting comfortably.
I commend how Teresa invested in Malcolm’s powers of imagination and attachment by treating JC the Lobster with the respect one would give a live patient. When parents take their child’s attachments and emotional needs seriously, they model empathy, the glue that holds our society together.
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
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
Chapter 6: 17 Time Zones
Three planes and over 24 hours later, the North Island of New Zealand came into view as the plane made its way down through the clouds and circled for a landing. Excitement began to tilt the scales of anxiety as I disembarked and made my way through customs. Robyn, a member of the conference planning committee, had planned to meet me and escort me to the hotel. I scanned the group of people awaiting loved ones. I assumed that Robyn would be holding a placard with my name on it. No such luck. I milled around for about five minutes, before I heard a woman’s voice calling me.
“Dib?” her New Zealand accent changing e’s into i’s. Her cheerful smile and mom-like warmth were exactly what I needed to see,
I hugged her like a long lost friend.
“I can’t believe you came all this way to speak at our little conference!” she exclaimed, brushing her hand through her pageboy light brown hair.
“How could I turn down such a wonderful invitation?” I answered.
Robyn’s generosity along with that of the other conference planners was pleasantly overwhelming. The initial invitation to speak at the conference came from Marianne, the founder of the Hospital Play Association in New Zealand. Via e-mail, without ever having met me, she made an astounding offer. Not only were they going to pay my way to come to New Zealand, but she had heard that I was writing a book. She owned a house at Lang’s Beach on the North Island and asked if I would like to stay on for a month to do some writing. The dream of this house had been a rallying point for me during medical treatment. I would lie on the linear accelerator table receiving daily doses of radiation and picture my toes in the sand and a journal in my lap.
My hotel room on the upper floor overlooked the city harbor, where fleets of sailing boats graced the waters. A gift basket of New Zealand teas welcomed me as I entered the room. I unpacked and fell happily into the king-sized bed and slept.
Marianne was a wonderful host in Auckland. She supplied me with a list of places to go and things to do. She picked me up at the hotel the morning after my arrival and we toured some volcanoes, along with Robyn’s Hospital Play department at the local hospital.
The volcanoes were lovely and afforded great views, but nerd that I am, I loved seeing the lay of the land in Robyn’s hospital even more. In New Zealand, hospital play specialists have different training than American child life specialists. For the most part, they have backgrounds in early childhood education, and certification through the Hospital Play Specialist Association. Their departments are funded by both the Department of Health and the Department of Education, and their programs must meet the curricular requirements of early childhood education. This allows for an approach steeped in a thorough grasp of child development and how children learn.
I was pleased to see that every one of the hospital playrooms mirrored best practice in early childhood education. Each playroom recognized the bicultural nature of the country, embracing literacy and cultural objects from both the tangata whenua (people of the land – Māori) and the tangata tiriti (the people there by virtue of the Treaty of Waitangi – non-Māori). A huge handmade sign welcomed visitors in several languages, including English, Maori, Samoan, Hindi, and French. Beneath it stood a table laden with baskets. Each basket held items from nature, shells, rocks, pinecones, inviting exploration and touch. Continue reading
After the 99 degree weather in Japan, travel to Iceland called for wooly socks and a winter hat. During my first day in Reykjavik, I met with Dr. Drífa Björk Guðmundsdóttir, a psychologist who served as her country’s delegate at the first global summit on psychosocial pediatric care in 2014. She hosted me at Landspitali, the National University Hospital of Iceland.
Our morning together included a tour of the pediatric inpatient unit, physical therapy department, clinic and NICU, and an hour spent in conversation with some of Dr. Drifa’s colleagues, a physical therapist, hospital play specialist, nurse, nurse manager and social worker from a non-profit agency that serves hospitalized children and their families. We discussed best practice for helping parents support and prepare their children for hospitalization. It was clear to me that these professionals held many of the same values and goals for supporting children that we have in the US.
I enjoyed our conversation tremendously, but I must admit, I treasured my time with Sigurbjörg Guttormsdóttir (thankfully nicknamed Sibba, but pronounced “Sippa”!). Sibba is one of the two hospital play specialists, and she has worked at the hospital for 25 years. A kindergarten teacher who received training in Sweden and Oregon, she wrote a thesis on play materials to use with children. Sibba welcomed me to her playroom and proudly shared its history and resources, inviting me to sit down and play almost immediately.
Here is the game of choice, Rush Hour.
While teaching in Shizuoka, Japan, I had the pleasure of spending a morning with Hideko Konagaya, a hospital play specialist, at Shizuoka General Hospital.
Hideko hosted Maria Busqueta (a child life specialist and psychologist from Mexico City) and me in her bright and cheery playroom. Professor Chika Matsudaira of Shizuoka University assisted us by translating so that we could all communicate.
When we entered the playroom, two preschoolers already sat at a small table busily making slime. The children and their mothers gave us permission to photograph them.
Now I have made slime in my play course, but never slime as lovely as this! Hideko had set out brightly colored water in several plastic cups. She provided the boys with small glass jars (recycled baby food jars) and chopsticks for stirring. One at a time, Hideko and the children added rice glue, orange or lime essential oil for fragrance, sodium borate, and a magical touch of glitter. The mixture came together to create a wonderful substance that smelled amazing and was positively addictive – no one could put it down or stop playing. The boys stirred like mad, and then ran the slime through their fingers until it hardened enough to hold shape. They used cookie cutters and plastic tools to manipulate it. I broke a cardinal rule of mine and touched one of the boy’s slime without asking. I just couldn’t help myself! He was a very good sport. Continue reading