CCLS on the other side of pain 

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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?


Yoga + Child Life – Part I

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You may remember at the end of last year I enrolled in the Rainbow Kids Yoga teacher training ( see post here ).  Let me start off by saying I am by no means an expert Yogi! I enrolled in this course not to deepen my practice or ditch child life to become a yoga teacher but rather to use the theory of yoga in my day to day as a CCLS. Fast forward 7 months after the Rainbow Kids Yoga training: it’s worth it!

I use the skills I learned with Rainbow Kids Yoga almost on a daily basis with my patients. So, what did I learn and how am I applying it to child life? For starters, it’s important to realize that yoga is more than just poses and flexibility. In fact, I don’t use yoga poses at all with my patients. What I do use is deep breathing exercises and guided imagery practices.

I have so much information and resources to share on this topic that I’ve decided to break up this post into 2 parts so stay tuned for more!

As a lover of free resources, I have set up a google drive where I’ve uploaded tons of freebies from on this subject. Click the link below to view:

Part I:

Deep Breathing


Any wise 7-year-old will be quick to tell you that breathing is important – we have to do it to stay alive! And while this is quite true, our breath also has a big impact on our mind and how we cope with experiences.  image-4722.jpgSee this picture example of how our breath changes as we become stressed. This is where yoga comes into action! By teaching children different breathing exercises during times of stress/anxiety, they will be able to slow their breathing thus helping them cope, remain calm, and feel a sense of control.

There are TONS of kids breathing exercises you can find with a quick google search. For example one of my favorites is Snake Breath – take a big breath in and as you exhale make a “Sssss” sound as long as you can. Another favorite of mine is Lion Breath – take a big breath in and as you exhale stick out your tongue and make sure to make your meanest lion roar face. Find inspiration online or make up your own! I made up Bubble Breath – inhale and pretend you’re blowing one really really big bubble as you exhale // inhale and pretend you’re blowing out millions of really little bubbles as you exhale. For some little ones the concept of “inhale” and “exhale” may not be appropriate so change up your terminology to something like “smell the flowers, blow the leaves” or “smell the birthday cake, blow out the candles”.

In an effort provide a visual for the patients and to help me remember so many different breathing techniques, I created a laminated breathing cards with different clip art depicting the type of breath.  Shout out to Gretchen Blackmer for the inspiration for these breathing cards 


Another great tool to use to show patients the effects of breath is to use a  Hoberman Sphere.This is one of my favorite resources to help kids really understand how lungs open and close with each breath. Plus it’s an overall really cool toy and instant rapport builder in my opinion. I’ll guide my patients in doing the different breathing exercises with the Hoberman sphere so they can see the full effect.

Another great tool I’ve used to support my breathing exercises is the book “Breathe, Chill: A Handy Book of Games and Techniques Introduced Breathing, Meditation, and Relaxation to Kids and Teens” by Lisa Roberts. This book breaks down various types of breath and how/when/why to use them. After I purchased this book I read the testimonials on the back and saw one of them was written by a CCLS! Just goes to show how beneficial yoga practice can be in the field of Child Life. You can find this book here on Amazon. 51NfLPIAGjL._SX346_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

I’ve had many kiddos that really enjoy doing these deep breathing practices before/during/after procedures. I even had a patient choose my breathing cards over my iPad for distraction during her first IV! Not only do these skills help them cope with the present situation, but they walk away with a new coping technique in their pocket for future use & that’s what child life is all about!