Magic of creating a healing environment

I’ve had so many rewarding and humbling moments as a child life specialist that I often felt like I won the “career lottery.” I often thought about how grateful I was to be given the opportunity to make a positive difference at a time when a child or family is the most hurt, confused, angry, sad or frightened. This isn’t something that is easy to express, because at the end of the day, our hearts will always go out to the families we support. We’d rather they not be hurting physically and emotionally.

For me, helping a child or family cope through a medical experience gives me a sense of purpose and gratitude for life. Most of the time, this help is serviced directly with the child and family. Other times, I get to assist them “behind the scenes,” like an elf on a mission. On one particular occasion, a phenomenal charge nurse on the intensive care unit I was working on reached out to see if I could work some of our “child life magic.” I can’t remember her exact words, but it was something to that effect. Charge nurses have a huge responsibility of having updated medical and psychosocial information for all patients on the unit during their shift. They are constantly assessing staffing to patient ratios, jumping in to help their colleagues with clinical critical care needs, and resolving issues that could disrupt the wellness and safety of everyone on the unit. I’m sure the list goes on and on, but that’s just a quick snapshot. I was not surprised this charge nurse was in the know and looking for ways to support this family. She’s an exemplary team member!

The patient’s condition was fragile and with a new room opened up, it was in the child’s best interest for their safety to be closest to that main nursing station where most staff are located. For this family, whose child was on this intensive care unit, the idea of moving them with ventilators (machines to assist patients with breathing) was extremely unsettling and it took more than one conversation before the parents and team were on the same page. I think it’s always important to try to imagine what they are going through - How scary it might be to give permission to the team to move your child. What if something went wrong? 

As child life specialists, we aim to help normalize the hospital environment and reduce anxiety for the whole family. We try to take the “scary” out of the environment or give tools to help families cope with it. From the nurses taking care of the patient, I learned the little one’s room at home was adorned with monkeys. I went on a hunt for monkey items and was lucky to find a board book and a small plush in our in-kind donations from our community. I recruited some awesome volunteers to help make a banana banner. I created an “All About Me” poster and posted this poem, written for them:

Monkey see, monkey do,
We like monkeys just like you,
Just like a monkey you have found,
a new place you will hang around.
It looks the same as you can see,
Just more monkeys are at Station B.
If you need care on the fly,
They are close to swing on by.
Monkey see, monkey do,
Same great care with a different view!

I was told it meant a lot to the family and they really appreciated it. Thank you to those that donate in-kind items to children’s hospitals. I know that it is rare to get to see the kids or families that receive your gifts. Your generosity is what allows child life specialists and other health care colleagues to bring a little “magic” to brighten a family’s day.

I have learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. - Maya Angelou

I hope when they entered the new room they felt cared for. I hope they felt heard, understood and validated. I hope they felt comforted. I hope they felt the love in personalizing everything for their little one and family.