Then I proceed to talk about all of the amazing things that I get to do to help babies, toddlers, teens, and adults with. We get to educate kids (and parents) on procedures, surgeries, and illnesses using medical kits and teaching dolls. We get to help distract and support kids during procedures, ie, shots, IV’s, caths, scans, and port accesses to name a few. We have a special “bag” of tricks that we pull from that includes iPads, books, light spinners, bubbles, breathing techniques, and guided imagery…and we’re trained on when to use each. We do medical play with kids to see how they are doing because we know that kids often “work through” their fears with play; so we’re assessing and then helping them to cope with what is troubling them. Then there’s the hard part – we help with death. We help kids (as patients) and we help kids (as siblings) understand about dying. We help patients and their families create precious memories to keep with them after the death, such as hand molds/prints, fingerprint charms, and locks of hair. As you can see, it’s not usually an easy explanation of what I do for a career, but after I’m finished, I generally have people in awe of what I get to do every day!
A very, very special part of my job is also to help with referrals to Make-A-Wish. I can’t take away that cancer diagnosis or that heart anomaly that will require lifelong doctoring, but I can help to get a smile by saying, “Have you heard about Make-A-Wish?” I want to tell them that the sky is the limit, but I restrain myself. I do, however, feel this way. The wishes that are granted are unbelievable. If a child has an idea, Make-A-Wish works so hard to make it happen. I also think it’s helpful to have such a supportive region that we live in.
It’s a wonderful talking point for families when they are coming back for treatment; you can see the strain and stress they are experiencing. It works especially well with those teens who want to be left alone because they just want to be a normal kid and not have to get medicine that makes them look differently or feel crappy. I’ll check with families on where the process is at and what they are thinking about for a wish. I also love to share with families ideas of wishes other patients have done. I feel that sometimes I am just as excited for kids to get their wish as they are because I know what a wonderful time they will have…just being a kid…and not worrying about coming to the clinic or being in the hospital. I do ask that they bring back pictures and tell us (staff) all about it, and they certainly do. After patients and families have done their wish, there’s often a new, refreshed presence around them. They talk of the great experiences and new Make-A-Wish family they now belong to. Almost always, families expectations of the wish have been exceeded. I have been trying (for around 15 years) to convince a family to take me along. I mean, you never know when you might need a child life specialist! No takers yet.