Helping non-verbal patients have a voice

I recently had a patient that was unable to speak after a surgical procedure. She was developmentally appropriate and had no prior history of hospitalization so all of this was new and very frustrating for her. Her nurses came to me asking for help because she was having a very hard time communicating with them.

Here’s what I knew: she enjoyed playing on the iPad but did not have the strength to hold it up to type, she didn’t have the fine motor skills she once had to be able to use a marker/paper to write, and she had no family at his┬ábedside to┬áspeak for her. I began to think of what she┬ácan┬ádo rather than what she┬ácan’t….┬áthat’s when my creativity light bulb lit up!┬áI created ┬áa communication chart for her.

One thing that she could do is move her arm/hand around and point. That was perfect! I found a chart with a couple of key phrases and emotions on it via google images by searching “communication chart”. I also created an empty template for her and her nurses to include more personalized phrases. I put both sheets into a sheet protector with a piece of cardboard in between so that it was sturdy and ta-dah!

My patient and the medical team working with her loved this communication chart and it truly helped her have a voice again.

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┬áis 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┬áaround ┬áBiscayne 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┬áthat 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:┬áthis is a perfect example of how to stand out in the child life world.┬áNot 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┬ávolunteering (in the end totaling 90+ hours). But,┬áin my opinion, it’s worth it! There are camps like the one my hospital hosts┬áall over the country and for various medical specialty┬ápopulations. Had I known about this camp earlier on in my adventure in child life, I would have totally volunteered!

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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┬áof 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┬áBetty started to scream from under the sink. ┬á(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 ┬áhospital experience. It was her first time, she felt very sick, and she was very worried they might give her a shot. ┬áI validated her feelings and then began┬áto 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┬áaware 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!

 

Camp Erin

Over the weekend I volunteered at Camp Erin, a bereavement camp for children and teens that have experienced the loss of a loved one. Because I am a CCLS, I was a “clinical point person” at the camp – someone that the children in my group could turn to if they were feeling overwhelmed or wanted to discuss some deeper emotions that they were feeling. My group consisted of nine 6-8 year old girls (yes, VERY young)! We did art therapy, music therapy, and even pet therapy! All with the goals of identifying emotions and learning about our feelings as well as doing nice things for our loved one. One important thing that I noticed this camp provided was the opportunity for these children to realize that other kids go through this too & that they are not alone in their grief. It was so heartwarming to see the girls comfort eachother and really connect with the activities that we were doing. 

Camp Erin was an amazing experience and I definitely encourage all of you Child Life-ers out there to volunteer! If not as a clinical point person, then as a Cabin Big Buddy! It’s great experience (& will look so impressive on any application/resume)! 

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Worth it: 002

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Earlier this week we had a little 5-year-old, let’s call her Emily, visit the ER for constipation. After 2 unsuccessful enemas, the doctors and nurses decided it would be best to just have her drink a medicine that would help do the job of the enema. Little Emily would drink a sip, cry about how bad it tasted, and then spend the time┬ábetween sips┬ábargaining┬áwith her mom for alternatives to avoid taking another sip. During this chaos, one of the ed techs called for me. I went in and introduced myself. Emily was shy and serious┬áupon meeting me, but as soon as I brought out my bubble wand she was all smiles! Leaping up to catch the bubbles, giggling, and smiling from ear to ear. Once all the bubbles popped, she looked at me to blow more – I told her that in order for me to blow more, she needed to take a sip.┬áImmediately┬áshe grabbed the cup from mom’s hand, took a sip, and I blew┬ámore bubbles. When the bubbles popped and the giggles stopped, she said she didn’t want anymore sips. I encouraged her to take another this and then I would blow a BIG BIG bubble. She smiled again and took another sip. I then blew a big big bubble. This went on for a few minutes while she drank the rest of her medicine. In the end, I congratulated her for being brave and drinking her medicine even though it didn’t taste good and since she was so brave, I gave her her own bubble wand to take home with her. The parent’s were relieved that their visit to the ER didn’t end with their little Emily crying all the way home.