CCLS on the other side of pain 

As a CCLS, I’m no stranger to pain. Chronic pain, acute pain, sudden pain – it’s all in a day’s work to help our little superheroes overcome their hospital visit. Lately, however, I have been on the other side of pain as a patient.

In August of 2016, I woke up one morning with dull neck pain. I hadn’t done anything particularly odd prior to this morning, so I just shrugged it off as “I must’ve slept weird”. Little did I know that my assumed diagnosis was wrong & that this wasn’t just going to go away after a few days.

I’ve tried everything to rid my neck pain; everything! Cortisone injections, 2 MRI’s, X-Rays, visited a spine specialist, acupuncture, acupuncture with electrotherapy, changed my pillows, changed my diet to be sugar-free, visited a holistic doctor, two rounds of physical therapy treatments, muscle relaxers, chiropractic adjustments, regular massages, regular yoga, regularly applying peppermint oil on my neck – everything. All of this and yet the neck pain stays with me every minute of every day. Some days are better than others, but I can’t remember the last time I was a zero on a pain scale.

The most frustrating part of what I like to call my “neck pain saga”, has been the lack of support I’ve felt from doctors; many of which writing off my neck pain as just stress related. I know that I’m not stressed, especially not enough to have chronic neck pain! But no matter how much I’ve told my doctor’s this, they insisted it was, just stress related. One doctor even told me to ” suck it up, everyone lives with pain and this is just part of getting older”. Needless to say, this entire journey with chronic pain has been draining, expensive, and in some way a learning experience.

This last year of pain has taught me a great amount and I truly feel that it’s made me a better CCLS. Here are some tips & tricks I’ve learned along the way:

  • The freezy spray really works! When getting my Toradol/lidocaine injections into my neck the freezy spray really takes the sting out of the initial needle poke. However, the actual liquid medication going into the muscle is clearly felt.
  • Deep breathing exercises have saved me. While getting injections, waiting for diagnostic results, having my neck manipulated, laying in an MRI, and even sitting in traffic feeling the burning neck pain; I wouldn’t have been able to get through it if I didn’t know how to breathe. Click here for more on deep breathing  
  • There are lots of apps that help you track your pain. My favorite has been Symple. Tracking my pain has helped me find patterns in my pain and really be mindful when assessing how I’m feeling. This can definitely be a helpful tool for teens when transitioning to adult care from pediatrics.
  • Sometimes all I needed was someone to validate my pain – not tell me how to fix it. Having my pain be dismissed so frequently by doctors made me question how real my pain even was. Which is, of course, ridiculous because I’m the only person who can feel my pain and believe me: it’s real and always present. Now when my patients tell me that they are in pain I always, first and foremost, validate their pain.
  • It is incredibly frustrating to be told that I am in pain because of something I have control over (i.e., “you have neck pain because you eat too much sugar”, “you have too much stress; you need to relax”, “your posture isn’t perfect”, “you stare at your phone too much”, “the pillow you use is too fluffy”, “the pillow you use is too flat”, “you’re seeing a chiropractor? you should see a spine specialist”, “you’re seeing a neurologist? you should go do acupuncture”, etc). Whenever addressing someone’s pain, be mindful of how you’re wording your kind advice/suggestions. I know it’s coming from a good place & I certainly appreciate the concern. However, the last thing a person in pain wants is to be kicked while they’re down by being told they’re doing it all wrong.
  • Talking about my pain isn’t always comforting. Being asked on a daily basis by friends and family how my neck feels brought on more feelings of guilt and disappointment, rather than comfort in knowing others care about my health. Especially with chronic pain, whenever I’m asked how my neck is doing I know the other person wants to hear “I feel great! the pain is gone! Thank you for asking” but to say that would be a lie. Instead, I say the truth, that I am still in pain, which then leads to feelings of guilt on my part and disappointment on their part. Trust me, from personal experience and having witnessed my patients this last year, when the pain does get better the patient wants to tell the world!

As for my pain, luckily, by some random movie-like coincidences, I stumbled into a new clinic where I finally feel like I’m being taken care of. I’ve even been given an actual diagnosis; cervical kyphosis – not just stress related! I am still undergoing treatment at this clinic but I am very hopeful that this is where my neck pain will end.

Have you ever experienced the patient side of pain/healthcare? What are some things you were able to apply to your work with children afterward?

CLC2017

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It’s almost time again for the national Child Life Conference and this year it’s in Las Vegas, Nevada! To see the (super exciting) program for conference click here. I still haven’t decided if I’m going to be attending this year’s conference, but if I don’t, the Association of Child Life Professionals has a wonderful backup plan for those that can’t make it all the way to Vegas this May. After you register for the conference, for $50 more you can purchase the “All Access Pass”. With this pass, you are able to watch all of the sessions that were at the conference and receive professional development units (PDU’s) for them! I purchased the “All Access Pass” for last year’s conference (which I was able to attend in person) and I HIGHLY recommend it. You have 1 year before the sessions expire and you can watch them all on your own time at your own speed. Now if we can just get them to mail us our complimentary tote bags and SWAG from all of the exhibitors we’ll be all set!

Whether you’re planning on attending or not, here are some conference tips:

  • Students: If you’re financially able to go to conference, GO!!!! I cannot stress this enough. I truly wish someone had told me when I was a student to attend one of these conferences. They’re incredible and you’ll leave ready to take on the child life world! Plus, not only is it a great place to network, and learn, it’s also something you can add to your resume that will prove to potential practicum/internship coordinators that you are truly interested in the field of child life.
  • Looking for a new job? Go to the conference! As I mentioned above this is a great place to network and there are even boards where you can post up your resume for potential interviews!
  • For those who cannot attend this year, try and do the all access pass! This is the option I’m leaning towards and yes, it’s not as fun as actually going to the conference, but the sessions this year really are phenomenal. Look at the program and highlight the sessions you’d be interested in – if you highlighted your entire program in yellow like I did, get the all access pass!
  • For those of you that are going to the conference, HAVE FUN! I was in Las Vegas last year for vacation – in fact, that is where the photo above came from! I highly recommend the Beatles love cirque du Soleil show – I laughed, cried, and fell in love again with the Beatles – 100% worth it. I also highly recommend checking out red rock canyon, which is about an hour outside of Vegas. They have tours and breathtaking views – do your research and get your desert fix.
  • Hurry! Prices for the conference will rise on April 1st, 2017! Register ASAP! 

 

Favorite Find

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I am so excited to have signed up for a 3-day kids yoga teacher training which is coming to Miami next month. Let me start off by saying I’m not a yoga teacher nor would I consider myself a yogi. My experience with yoga is nothing more than the occasional free class at the park or gym every now and then. Maybe a back bend or two at home when I’m in need of a good stretch, but nothing more.

About a week ago I stumbled upon Rainbow Kids Yoga – a company that focuses on giving its students the tools they need to teach yoga to children and families around the world. By glancing at their class schedule, it’s easy to see Rainbow Kids is everywhere – around the US, Europe, South America – everywhere!

How can this class help me as a child life specialist? These are just a few items on the agenda that I know I can use in my day-to-day work as a CCLS: Making yoga work for different age groups, breath and yogic breath for kids, yoga for children with additional needs, relaxation and guided imagery for children, meditation for different age groups

Aside from enhancing my clinical skills, I will also be able to teach children yoga on my free time if I desire as I will have “Registered Children Yoga Teacher (RCYT) status”.

*Cough* *Cough* To all those child life students looking for credentials to spice up their resume’s and stand out in a crowd of applications – look into this! 

Stay tuned for a part 2 of this post after I complete the training!

For an overview of the training click here: http://www.rainbowyogatraining.com/3-day-kids-yoga

You can see the class schedule & register for the upcoming class in Miami here: https://events.bizzabo.com/201924/agenda

 

Let’s talk about burnout


Looking through my blog you can quickly notice that it mostly contains the good in the field of child life. Naturally, I am not a negative person thus I don’t highlight the bad – i.e., being called for support after 3 failed IV attempts, not having necessary resources to fulfill patient needs, getting a referral to “entertain” a patient. Though definitely annoying, there’s bad like this within any career in one way or another and it’s just something you learn how to handle. However, I’m going to take a deep breath and write this post about the ugly that I’ve experienced during my time as a CCLS  burnout.  

Some of you may remember that up until February of this year, I was working independently in a pediatric emergency department at a children’s hospital within an adult hospital. I began working there 1 month after my internship and had to quickly learn the ropes of the ER flow, culture, and procedures/diagnosis, as well as educate the staff on my role, advocate for resources I needed to fulfill patient needs, and personally adjust my life to being a new young professional! That is a lot for anyone and much more so for someone working in an independent child life program. I did not complain or see this part of my adventure as daunting – I was excited and ready to take on this challenge! This is what I had studied for. This is what I had done internships for. This was my calling.

Day in and day out I juggled all of my new challenges and with sweat, tears, and so much love, I had successfully implemented my role as a CCLS amongst my ER team. I knew I was doing something right when the ER physicians would fight over who “got me” for their upcoming procedure;”You had her last time! My kid is terrified and I need her to help him be still for these sutures!” Music to any child life specialist’s ears, right?

The needs of any emergency department call for more staff to be on shift in the later hours of the day which is when most patient’s visit the emergency room. That being said, my shift was from 3pm – 11pm, Monday through Friday, and every other weekend (Saturday and Sunday shift, same hours). Looking back, this was the poison that caused my burnout – my schedule.

I began to feel desensitized towards my work and my interactions with patients and families began to seem routine. I felt as though I had reached a plateau in my clinical skills – I knew what I knew and what I didn’t know I didn’t have another CCLS to seek advice from so I didn’t feel I was growing. I’d spend entire shifts in and out of long procedures only to then be frowned upon by higher-ups because I had “only” seen x number of patients that day. As time went on I also felt I’d dwell on the little things (the bad) much more than I once would. I hated that I felt this way so early on in my career. I hated that I didn’t have another CCLS to speak to about professional and clinical issues I was facing. I hated that I didn’t have the support/understanding/resources from higher ups in my hospital. Most of all, I hated that I had to work the shift that I did and that it was poisoning my love for child life.

My black cloud (schedule issue) was especially hard for me because everyone else in the department – physicians, nurses, ED techs, respiratory therapists, patient transporters, medical scribes, even my two child life assistants – they all worked 12-hour shifts! I was the only employee in the emergency department that worked 40 hours a week, odd hours, weekends, with direct patient care. I collected data, research articles, and proposals of ways I could alter my schedule (working four  10-hour shifts versus the current five 8 hour shifts) and presented this to my manager. Unfortunately, I was told my proposal did not meet the needs of the department and so no changes could be made.

Now I know what you might be thinking (because I thought it too) – I signed up for this! Yes, I absolutely did and I was eager and ready to do so at the time. But after a year and a half of working 5 days a week in such a fast-paced and high-stress environment, it happened. I became burnt out. I did my research and unfortunately found lots of information on how to avoid burnout but very little on what to do when it actually happened. I was completely lost and disheartened – I knew I loved being a child life specialist. I loved the way I was able to help kids in crisis – I knew what to do, what to say, and I did it so well that physicians would wait their turn for me to help their patients.

Maybe I should’ve posted on the child life forum about my burnout, maybe I should’ve presented my research and data to the director of the ER, maybe I should’ve found a new job before I ever even got to that point. The thing about burnout (for me at least) is that I didn’t realize it was happening until I was already down the rabbit hole and by that point, I didn’t have the passion or drive to try and get myself out.

So how did I get myself out of burnout? I spent a LOT of time on the child life council’s web page searching the forum for data on emergency room child life hours, searching for the articles on burnout, and searching for the slightest indication that there was another CLS  out there in the same predicament I was in. That’s when I found my cure – the child life council’s mentor/mentee program. I submitted my application and was accepted into this incredible program where I was partnered with a mentor – a veteran child life specialist!

The way that the program works is that you highlight different areas that you would like support with. Then from January – June, you and your mentor have a monthly phone call (or meet in person if able) to discuss your issues. You’re also able to attend a monthly webinar which focus on different issues many may be facing (i.e., communication skills, leadership skills, etc.). I cannot begin to explain what an incredible impact this program had not only on my career but in my personal life as well. I finally had the support I had been craving all along and with it, I found my passion, drive, and confidence to be proactive towards my career goals.

Fast forward to present day, I did end up leaving the emergency room as I felt it was very important for me to work as a part of a child life team. I am very thankful and still do feel blessed that I had the opportunity to spend two years in the ER. I wouldn’t trade it for the world! I truly learned so much about medicine, the importance of teamwork, and about myself. I’ll always miss my old department and especially all of the amazing people I worked alongside. Though I did hit a low while I was there, I have an abundance of positive memories of my first two years as a CCLS which outweigh the bad and the ugly in hindsight.

I find comfort in knowing that the child life council offers a program like this one for its members. For anyone in search of guidance, support, or wanting to further their professional skills – I highly recommend this program! For information on the mentor/mentee program, click the following link:http://www.childlife.org/professional-development/mentor-program

Let’s talk about camp!

Back in March, I mentioned I was working at one of my hospital’s week long camps for patients with special healthcare needs. Now that I have some more free time having finished with school, I’m ready to let you all in on the magic I witnessed during my week at camp.

Our camp is a (free) week-long spring break camp for children that need a little extra help breathing from the use of a ventilator and their families. This includes children with tracheostomies – needing a ventilator, C-PAP, Bi-PAP, or oxygen to help them breathe. The campers come from all over the world to spend their spring break doing fun activities such as going to the beach, going to the pool, going on a yacht around  Biscayne bay, and having a dance party at the hard rock cafe!

This may sound nice to anyone, but this camp has a profound positive impact on the lives of its campers. Due to their medical condition(s), many of these campers are not able to do the activities they do at camp when they’re home. Our camp is fully staffed with volunteer nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists, nurse practitioners, high school volunteers, nursing school volunteers, and a child life specialist (guess who!). It is thanks to so many medical professionals volunteering that these campers have the opportunity to bathe in the ocean or in a pool. For many of the campers, our camp is the only time of the year when they are submerged under water.

Our camp also gives the campers, their siblings, and their parents an opportunity to realize that other children go through similar medical experiences – just like them! With this tone of equality and normalization set within the first day of camp, it allows the campers and their families to relax, let their guard down, and just have fun!

Needless to say, I was blown away by the immensely positive impact this camp has on the lives of its campers, their families, and the dozens of volunteers that spend their spring break vacation dedicated to this organization.

To all child life students: this is a perfect example of how to stand out in the child life world. Not only would it look impressive on a resume, it will also help you with your personal professional development and medical knowledge. I’m not going to lie, I know that for my hospital’s camp there is a big commitment for those volunteering (in the end totaling 90+ hours). But, in my opinion, it’s worth it! There are camps like the one my hospital hosts all over the country and for various medical specialty populations. Had I known about this camp earlier on in my adventure in child life, I would have totally volunteered!

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I did it! 

After two long years of what felt like infinite research articles, mastering the art of APA format, and lots of hard work, today I walked across the stage and graduated! I now officially have my masters degree from Nova Southeastern University! Ahh!! 😍

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Today was also very special because I was able to meet my classmates in person! Our program was completely online so many of us had never met face to face before. We did it, girls!

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34th annual child life conference 


As many of you probably already know, this year’s national child life conference was in Orlando, Florida. Only 4 hours away from where I live, I was very exited that conference was in my home state this year. Unfortunately due to a prior engagement I was only able to attend the conference Thursday and Friday, but thankfully I got a lot done in those two days and I have my All Access Pass purchased.


There were many exciting things going on this year at conference. One of the most things exciting being the reveal of the Child Life Council’s new logo and name! We are officially on the way to becoming “The Association of Child Life Professionals”!


Another fun surprise at conference this year is that I was able to meet some of my blogger friends like Child Life Mommy !!


Overall I had a fantastic time, learned a lot, and met some very inspiring child life-ers in the field.

I’m still not sure if I will be attending next year’s conference, but Vegas is always a fun idea!

Grad School Update

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I am so excited to announce that I will be graduating this summer with my masters degree in developmental disabilities with a concentration in child life from Nova Southeastern University! During my time in grad school, I received many e-mails from prospective students asking about graduate degree in child life. Here are some of the FAQ’s I received.

  • Which program is better? Nova’s or Bank Streets? Deciding which university to attend for grad school depends on you and what you are wanting to gain with your degree – there is no right or wrong answer. From my understanding, the program at Bank Street is solely focused on child life while the program at Nova is focused on developmental disabilities with a concentration in child life. Again, this all depends on what you’re wanting to achieve with your degree.
  • How were you able to complete the internship requirement for Nova if you’re already working as a CCLS? Because I am already a certified child life specialist, I was not required to complete an internship.
  • I’m horrible with online classes, how do you manage? I’ve never been a fan of online classes either, but keep in mind that graduate school is very different from undergrad! Grad school is all about reading independently, researching independently, writing papers, and an occasional lecture here and there. While I would have never picked up an online course during undergrad, I am so happy my entire graduate school curriculum was able to be done online. I never had an issue with miscommunication with of my professors, I was able to stick to my normal work schedule and attend class/do homework on my free time, and there was no added stress of driving to school and finding parking. Whenever I needed assistance with anything academic, I received prompt answers via e-mail or telephone. It’s 2016, take advantage of the technology available for us!
  • How was the application process? I started at Nova during the fall of 2014. In order to apply for the program, I had to write a personal statement about why I’m interested in the program, provide 2 letters of recommendation, provide my official transcripts from undergrad, and have a phone interview.
  • What has been the most difficult part about grad school? Grad school is something you need to really want to accomplish for yourself. There is a lot of reading, a lot of papers, and not as many quizzes and exams. By now I let out a sigh of relief when my paper only needs to be 10 pages long! Prioritization and work-life balance are key for staying on track with grad school. Many students completing this program are also working full-time jobs/beginning their careers so you can’t exactly call out from work to pull an all-nighter before a deadline (well, maybe… just kidding!). I can honestly say what I found most challenging about grad school is learning how to perfectly write in APA format! No matter how much I double checked my work, I’d always get a few points off here or there because I wrote out someone’s first name rather than just writing their first initial. However, like all things you learn and become accustomed to new ways of doing things. If you’re having trouble with APA, here are a few of my favorite websites:

Worth it: 003

 

 

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I found this hidden in my drafts & thought it would be great to post for today’s throwback Thursday! This was written about a year ago when I was still working in the pediatric emergency room. I love this post because stories like these happen all of the time thanks to child life specialists!

(The patient’s name has been changed for privacy.)

When I walked into 6-year-old Bettys room to do an IV teaching, she was nowhere in sight. I asked mom if she was in the bathroom when Betty started to scream from under the sink.  (Side note: Can you imagine being so scared that you hide under a sink?! )”No!” “I don’t want the needle!” “You’re not going to pinch me!” I then crouched down and sat in front of Betty to introduce myself; “Hi, Betty – my name is Diane and I’m a Child Life Specialist. I don’t have any needles with me, but I did bring my bubbles. Do you like blowing bubbles?” Betty nodded. We started to blow bubbles and Betty hesitantly popped them from under the sink. After a little, I said “why don’t you come out from under the sink so that you can pop them better… I’ll make a big one for you!” “Okay!” Betty said & came right out from under the sink.

As we continued to pop bubbles, I started to ask Betty about her  hospital experience. It was her first time, she felt very sick, and she was very worried they might give her a shot.  I validated her feelings and then began to talk to Betty about the different ways we were going to help her feel better while she was in the hospital. I told her about the urine test she did, the flu test she did, the strep test she did, and about her upcoming IV. Betty was now aware that the IV meant that there was going to be a “pinch” involved and that the most important rule for getting her IV was that she could not move her arm because her veins (aka, blue tunnels) are very slippery. Betty also made the decision to play on the iPad while they started her IV so that she didn’t have to watch, and she wanted her nurse to count to 3 before the pinch.

Our plan was in place. I told Betty I would go let her nurse know that she was ready and she nodded & hopped up on the bed. Betty did GREAT with her IV, you would have never thought she was hiding under the sink screaming just 10 minutes before. I was so proud of her and how brave she was with getting her IV!