Why I do what I do….

So I know I’ve talked many, many (MANY) times about how much I love my job, but it’s true; I have the best job in the world. As a child life specialist (especially one that works in an outpatient setting) I encounter a high volume of patients on a weekly basis (probably upwards of 100) and, although I have some amazing interactions and some not-so-amazing ones, very rarely do I see these kids more than one time. Because of that, I usually have no way of knowing if (or how) my interaction with a specific child made a difference in their life outside of their brief hospitalization. And, really, that’s fine. I didn’t get into the field of child life for the praise and admiration (because if so, it would be laughable at how LITTLE praise we actually get….) but instead I do it because I want to make a difference in a child’s experience HERE and NOW, at the very moment of high anxiety and stress. And if they then skip out the door, with the memory of me left behind, I’m honestly happy, because hopefully that means that child is leaving without a care in the world. But every once and awhile, usually in the midst of a stressful day (or week), when I’m having those kinds of thoughts like “this place (and everyone in it) drives me crazy..” something happens, like a little beacon from God, that reminds me why it is I do what I do. (And why it’s so darn special).

Yesterday was one of those days. After having some (not so fun) encounters with co-workers and dealing with some stressful phone calls, I was taking a break to walk our hospital therapy dog across the street so she could “get busy.” (I know, I know, my job sounds increasingly glamorous). As I neared the middle of the road, a car screeched to a halt and a woman rolled down the window yelling, “Christina!” I, admittedly, didn’t recognize her (like I said, I meet a LOT of people on a daily basis….) but then the back window rolled down and a freckled face, no front tooth, smile beamed out and I immediately recognized her. Patient P was an adorable, but HIGHLY anxious patient I’ve had the honor of working with twice. My first interaction with P was about 2 months ago. She was admitted and a co-worker called me as she was on her way down to the outpatient surgical unit for a (pretty common and not very invasive) procedure. “She’s an anxious one..” my co-worker warned me. And, not long after I hung up, I heard P coming around the corner, being wheeled in her bed as she cried her eyes out, with mom trailing after her. P was the type of 9 year old who was not easy to please. She looked at me suspiciously when I entered the room and continued crying. I concentrated on mom, introducing myself and explaining what child life could do to help. Then, I turned my attention to P. “Hey! What’s your name?” Tears. “My name is Christina! It’s nice to meet you!” More tears. Needing a different strategy I told P I would be right back, that I needed to go get something super fun. I came back with beads and string and sat right down on her bed. And what do you know, the tears stopped. P and I spent a good 20 minutes making bracelets for her, myself, mom, the nurse….you get the point. Not once did I mention the procedure, we just chatted casually. Once she got going, P was quite the chatter box. The therapy dog came. We had her jump up on the bed and snuggle P for another 20 minutes. We made the dog a name bracelet too. Only then did I bring up the procedure. The tears welled. We talked, I joked….tears dried up, smiles came out. I ended our encounter with giving her a stuffed toy to take back to the OR with her to “keep her brave.” (Of course then a name necklace was made for the bear as well…)

About 3 weeks later P came back for a follow-up. Our encounter was brief, as she happily told me “I’m not nervous this time!!” and, since I had plenty of other kids who WERE in tears about this or that, I quickly said hello, gave a re-fresher course of the anesthesia mask, hooked her up with some arts and crafts, and then was on my way. It was a 10 minute tops encounter.

Fast forward to yesterday. There was P beaming from the back of mom’s car, and mom asked if they could pull into the hospital drive real quick. I said sure and hurried to let the dog do her thing. When I came back to the hospital I was greeted with a big hug from P and 3 bags full of Webkinz. P proudly told me that the stuffed animal I had gifted her had helped so much, that, when she left the hospital, she told her mom that she wanted to collect new stuffed animals to give to the other kids who were just as worried as she was. My eyes welled. I noticed that she was still wearing her (backwards) name bracelet we had made 2 months previously. She then turned to her mom and said “tell her! mom tell her!” Her mom smiled and said, “You tell her, P!” P looked me right in the eyes and said, “When I grow up, I’m going to become a child life specialist. I’m going to be just like you.” Cue tears overflowing (stupid pregnancy hormones…) I gave her a hug and told her that she would be an EXCELLENT child life specialist, and that any hospital would be lucky to have her. Mom went on and gushed about how wonderful child life was, how impressed she was, and how P has been talking about being a child life specialist ever since, even telling the kids in her class all about it.

And that is why I do what I do. Not for the praise, not for the admiration, not for the “oh we were so impressed with you” (although, admittedly it feels good and is nice to hear), but for the little 9 year old who looks me right in the eyes, standing straight and tall, and proclaiming that she too would one day be a child life specialist. Because we are always in need of more passionate girls (and guys!) who are committed to making the hospital a less scary place for our kids. And P? Your bright smile made my week, girl, and you are going to ROCK the world of child life one day.

Child Life Internship/job help

unnamedThis little blog of mine gets a LOT of child life traffic, especially as deadlines for internships, grad school applications and interviews draw near. And as much as I LOVE getting emails and answering questions; helping out in any way I can, some of you have expressed the desire to send me your application/resume/child life philosophy/etc to look over and critique. And this takes a LOT of time because I want to do it RIGHT and give each application packet my 100% attention (plus I’m just a stickler when it comes to grammatical mistakes and run on sentences. As much as I may use them here…..)  Doing this on top of working and taking care of Miss Leah is extremely time consuming, BUT I really love the idea of helping out in any way I possibly can, especially when it comes to seeing my beloved field of child life grow and expand. So! All that to say, I have developed a little side business here. If you are interested in having me look over/critique/help you with your application, resume, child life philosophy, essay questions, etc. OR even do a mock phone interview, please email me for details on pricing (I promise, nothing is too expensive) at cbecker211 at gmail dot com.

For anyone else, questions about child life, internships, grad school advice, etc, will of course be happily answered at any time at no charge. 🙂

*Disclaimer: I will NEVER tell you what to say in your essay or philosophy as this needs to be your own individual thoughts and ideas! This is more to help you with making your application really stick out amongst all other applicants.

**Disclaimer #2: Obviously I cannot guarantee you an internship, job, or acceptance into a child life program, as much as I wish I could.

***Disclaimer #3: Should I find that in the (unlikely) event that you are applying for an internship/job at the hospital where I currently work, in order to remain impartial in our process, I will be unable to give any in depth help.

 

On dealing with death…and then moving on.

unnamedI’ve said time and time again that I love my job. I seriously would not be able to leave my own child day after day if I wasn’t doing work that I felt SO strongly about. But there is one part of my job that I hate. A part of my job that makes my stomach cramp up when the phone call comes though. Where I feel clammy and awkward and out of place. And that is bereavements. Death is, unfortunately, a part of working at a children’s hospital, but it is (luckily) a part that I am not forced to deal with on a daily, or even monthly, basis. But every once and awhile I seem to hit a “death streak” where I happen to do a few bereavements back to back and I seem to have hit that streak now, having done two bereavements in the past two weeks, both dealing with pre-school age males.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with child life, our role during a death is two fold. First, we are a sense of support for the family. We are there to comfort, to talk, to grab a glass of water, to hold a hand; basically whatever the family needs. Many times that includes talking with any siblings the patient had; explaining death in the best possible way and keeping them busy and occupied while their parents and other adult members of their family grieve. The second part of our role during a death is making a memory box for the family, should they choose to have one. Our memory boxes contain a hand mold (or foot mold if it’s a baby) or ink print and a lock of the child’s hair. We are the ones who touch the child, making the mold or print, washing the ink off their hands, and making the mold/print as “pretty” so to speak as we possibly can so that it can be a special keepsake for the family. This second part, the part where I am working with the patient, is the part that is the most emotionally exhausting for me.

During grad school I took a class on Death and Bereavement. During the class we talked a lot about this unfortunate part of our job as a child life specialist and I tried my best to prepare myself for something that is really impossible to prepare for. During the class, however, I was most concerned with the first part of our job during a death. How would I know what to tell siblings? What if the family doesn’t want some stranger there during their time of grief? What if I say something awkward or insensitive? That was what worried me the most and, to be honest, I thought very little about the second part of our job. The part that requires me to be (usually) alone in the room with a child who has died. The part where I touch their hands and press their little fingers hard into a mold. The part where I look at their patient sticker and notice that they just recently celebrated a birthday. The part where I leave that room and have to immediately put a smile on my face as I walk in to see my next patient.

Today, as I held the hand of a young boy in my own, ready to do his prints, I thought about how I would be the last person to ever lovingly hold his hand. I found myself looking at his clean cut nails and wondering when his mother last cut them. Having no idea that this horror was just around the corner. Being a mother myself makes every bereavement more vivid. I hug Leah before putting her down and my mind jumps to horrible images of her dying during the night. Of someone doing her hand molds….and my stomach seizes and I am overwhelmed with fear. Because, I’ll be honest, it’s impossible for me to be a part of a death and then move on with my life without any lasting effects. I remember every bereavement I’ve done during my time as a child life specialist. The death where the family was prepared. The one where they told funny and touching stories and even laughed a little. The death of a tiny baby and how frantic his mother was while she waited for her husband to arrive. The death of a father where I struggled to fit his hand prints on paper while his children watched. The death of a young boy while his two siblings ran around the ER….the list continues and each detail is etched in my brain where they will most likely stay forever.

So today I will let myself unwind. I will let myself mindlessly watch Dance Moms while Leah naps. I will let myself eat that extra large bowl of ice cream, should I so choose. I will work out hard at the gym and let my mind wander. And, if I need to, I will think about it all later and I will let myself cry. Because that’s what helps me. That’s what helps me return to work tomorrow with a smile and a renewed sense of love for my job. Listen, all you future child lifers, dealing with death sucks. Touching a dead child? No one should have to do that. But guess what, it happens. And through it all, I still think child life is the greatest profession in the world. Because, even doing this part that I hate the most, we are still loving, serving and supporting patients and families. And that’s what makes our job so uniquely special.

Tis the season

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas! Well…besides the sunshine and the 80 degree weather, but such is life in South Florida. Sometimes it’s hard to keep track of the changing seasons, as they tend to all run into each other. However! The past few evenings/nights have been downright chilly! Last night we actually had to shut the windows a little because it was so cold, even with our feather duvet on our bed! Woah Florida, you’re really bringing winter this year!! 😉

Even with the perfect beach weather in December we still try to fill the house with a cozy Christmas feel. Holiday candles burning, Christmas music on the Pandora station 24/7 and lit up Christmas trees. I’ve got a stack of Christmas cards sitting on the coffee table that I’m determined to get out by the end of the week so at least most of them can get to where they are heading before Christmas Day. I’m always so good with being on top of the actual ordering of the Christmas cards, but then I down right stink at actually getting them out on time. It always comes down to running out of stamps. And then it takes me a week to remember to get more at the post office or grocery store. Why don’t I stock up on stamps BEFORE it’s time to send the cards out, you may ask? Well, that would obviously make logical sense, but sadly I run into the same problem year after year.

These past few weeks have been INSANE at work. It’s hard to explain just what being a child life specialist means during the month of December. I don’t think anyone can fully grasp the craziness unless you yourself are a child life specialist. But I’ll try to break it down for you. Imagine hundreds of people, churches, organizations, etc calling you to set up a date and time to come in for an activity, performance, or just to hand out gifts. And then imagine, once your calendar is booked with said groups, still getting call after call from upset people who feel you are being a Scrooge for not letting them come in to visit with the patients. And then imagine donation after donation being dropped off. Seriously, the moment we are called down to security (frantically searching for a flat bed along the way), load up, and are on our way to bring the toys to our storage room, we are called down yet again to pick up more toys. And then, on top of all this, we still have our normal units and patient load to take care of on a daily basis. As well as our other side jobs (like pet therapy) on top of it all. I come home from work on a daily basis and collapse on the couch, not wanting to move or look at another toy for the rest of the day. Let me say this, as CRAZY as it is, we LOVE the joy it brings to our patients, and, in the end, that’s all that matters. Although I get stomach ache stressed at the 19th phone call of the day from some upset church group that I have to tell we don’t have space for, I still love my job. I love seeing a random group of employees from some bank company glow with excitement as they decorate stockings in the playroom, I love seeing a patient’s face light up with glee as they watch a Christmas musical performance, I love to see a parent’s eyes fill with tears when their child is handed that one toy they’ve been asking for all season; I love it all. But, let me tell you, it is EXHAUSTING and I can’t say I won’t be happy once December 26th rolls around! I’m working part day on Christmas this year and I am psyched. It might sound weird that someone is actually excited to work on Christmas, but, let me tell you, it’s going to be a great day. We have this wonderful Santa that has been coming in for years and we get to spend the day being Santa’s elves and walking him around to visit and give gifts to every single child and sibling in the hospital. And I am so excited that I get to be a part of the joy Santa will be bringing to those kiddos on Christmas Day!

And then we are off to VT the day after Christmas to see my family and (hopefully) meet my sister and her husband’s new little bundle of Christmas joy! She is due this Friday and we are all waiting on pins and needles for her to make her grand arrival!

Until then I plan on running around the hospital while trying not to lose my sanity under our ever expanding pile of Barbie dolls…..

Halloween 2013

Although last year was technically Leah’s first Halloween, this year was her first Halloween experience. And let’s just say she ROCKED this Halloween.

The day started with me at work dressed as a pumpkin. Working at a children’s hospital is always more fun on a holiday because there is this palpable excitement in the air; both with the patients as well as the staff. We do a lot to make the day fun for the kids; funny hats/bandanas given to them to wear into surgery, Halloween costumes given out, parades being conducted, costume contests among the staff and pumpkin decorating contests….let’s just say it’s a blast.

The afternoon continued with a Halloween community party at my hospital, where I took Leah in her adorable pumpkin costume (at this point I was no longer wearing my matching pumpkin costume so sadly no matching mommy/daughter outfits). Leah’s homemade costume was given to me by the mother of one of our amazingly adorable patients and I was more than happy to continue the tradition of having my own amazingly adorable daughter wear it for her first Halloween experience. Every year our hospital has this crazy cute tradition where a local window washing company has their employees dress up as superheros and repel down the side of the building. They then pose for pictures with all the kids and it is adorable and so fun to watch their awestruck faces. Leah cracked me up at the party. Our hospital’s lobby was insanely packed and yet she walked proudly and confidently through it all while gazing around at everyone around her. We escaped after she got knocked down one too many times, but not without a struggle with letting her carry her pumpkin all the way back to the car. Which took a looooooooonnnnnng time.

And then came the grand finale; trick or treating. We weren’t sure how Leah would do, but let’s just say this girl was in her element. She proudly carried her candy bag like a little purse slung up on her arm, marching up to the front door to stand directly on the welcome mat. Time and time again Brett or I would try to move her back so she wouldn’t get whacked by the door being opened, and time and time again she would kick and scream and go back to her spot right on the welcome mat. The door would open, she would grab a candy (or a handful…) and then stick it right into her bag. This girl was just made to trick or treat. Although we didn’t get the “trick or treat!” phrase down in time, we did manage to get a few thank yous in there, (“tank twos!”) so that’s something. Brett and I also had a blast trick or treating since we managed to meet all our new neighbors we haven’t had the chance to meet yet since we moved in last February. And let me just tell you, we have some amazing neighbors! I also loved having trick or treaters at our house for the first time EVER, although we were grossly under prepared for how much candy we needed. Whoops…at least we know for next year!

Overall, it was a super successful first “real” Halloween with Leah. Can’t wait for many, many more years trick or treating with this cutie!! 🙂 Hope you all had a wonderful Halloween!

Leah runs.

So I’ve been horrible at blogging lately. I have not one but TWO amazing pumpkin treats recipes I’ve been meaning to share (one pumpkin cookie with a maple glaze and one pumpkin cupcake with cinnamon cream cheese frosting-I wasn’t kidding with my pumpkin obsession) but I just haven’t gotten around to it. But I will soon, I promise, because both were AMAZING! I made the cookies for a co-worker’s baby shower and was soon after bombarded with recipe requests and then made the cupcakes for a bake sale, where they sold out in minutes. So let’s just say that both were amazingly delicious.

But backing up to last weekend…..Leah and I ran our first race together!! I’ve been wanting to run a 5k with her for awhile now, but most races have a strict “no jogging stroller” policy. So when one of our therapy dog handlers told me that she was planning on running a race where you can register your dog I figured, “hey, if you can run with your dog I bet you can run with a stroller!” and low and behold, I was right. This race was a blast. Those fine ladies I ran with are all handlers for our hospital’s therapy dog and it was so fun running together with our favorite pooch. It was hilarious because our beloved therapy dog is so used to listening to her handlers one at a time (we hand her off throughout the day) that she seemed a bit overwhelmed at first with having all her favorite girls together! She would look back and forth between us all and I could just see her thinking, “All my girls!! I’m so happy!!” It was so much fun seeing all the other dogs running and walking as well. And as much as I loved running with Leah, I can see how it would be a bit annoying to run with her during a “serious” race (AKA one I was running to attempt to get a good time) because you get sort of stuck between and behind groups, leaving you to slow down and shout “umm excuse me!” or attempt to run around them in the grass so you don’t run over anyone’s ankles from behind. But this race was just for fun so it didn’t bother me at all when I had to get creative with my stroller weaving techniques. And Miss Leah? Well let’s just say that she had a blast! Not only did she get to be out jogging with mommy (one of her favorite activities) but she also got to run next to so many of her all time favorite animals, dogs! It was so cute as we ran towards the finish line, where spectators were clapping and cheering, to look down at Leah clapping in the stroller and saying “Yayyy” to herself. She’s not modest when it comes to cheering on her own accomplishments. The other thing I learned? I make some super weird/funny faces when I run and talk at the same time. We came home with a camera full of race photos (thanks to my photographer husband!) and yet almost every single one of them I am making some weird face or doing something odd and crazy with my hand. I always run with one arm pushing the stroller and the other arm swinging and yet I never before realized that I seem to have perfected this lovely half raised limp hand swing with my free hand until I saw photo evidence. So thanks for that, Brett. Now I’m all self conscious of my arm swing form whenever I run!

So over all, crazy faces and odd arm swings aside, the race was a blast. I can’t wait for (hopefully) many more fun races with this babe in the future!

Firsts

image4

image5

When you have a baby, you spend a lot of time thinking about their “firsts.” First tooth, first word, first step…all the first milestones that you look forward to and celebrate. But, unfortunately, life is filled with other “firsts.” First broken bone, first heart break, first ER visit….These are the firsts that we hope our children are able to avoid and the firsts that break our hearts when they regrettably happen despite our best intentions otherwise.

Saturday night (well, technically very early Sunday morning) we experienced two horrible firsts; the first time my heart stopped in complete and utter panic and our first ER visit with Leah. Backing up, Saturday we had a pretty uneventful day, minus the fact that Brett broke out in a horrible rash due to what we are 99% sure is a mango allergy. We were supposed to have dinner with friends, but as Brett’s rash continued to spread we decided that a quick stop at a CVS to pick up some allergy meds might be a better idea. During the day I noticed that Leah’s nose was a bit runny (but she is teething, so that’s pretty common these days) and she coughed a few times, but her spirit was high and she did not seem to be any different (well, besides the 4 hour morning nap she took, but it was rainy and dark and long naps aren’t that rare for this kid so it didn’t tip me off!)

Fast forward to Saturday night. Talk about a mother’s intuition, but around midnight I shot up in bed in a complete panic, my heart racing. I sat up so fast that I woke up Brett who looked at me with concern and said, “Is everything alright?” I answered “I don’t know..” and sat there for a few minutes, trying to slow my heart rate down. Now sweating, I got out of bed and turned the fan on and then got back into bed and tried to fall back to sleep. I was just dozing off, not 45 minutes later when Brett rushed into our room, Leah in his arms. The sound that was coming out of Leah’s mouth is something I never hope to hear again. She was gasping for air and her eyes were open in a wide panic. I snatched her out of Brett’s arms and tried to get her body to calm. At this point, hearing her gasping and barking cough, I was 99% sure she was having a stridor attack that comes from having a nasty case of croup. However, after what felt like forever (but was probably only 2 minutes) of not being able to get the attack to stop I turned to Brett and said, “We need to get to the ER now.”

This is one of those times, looking back, that I think; “Hey, we are a pretty good team in an emergency situation.” I had never felt this level of panic before, and I don’t think Brett has either, and yet together we stayed relatively calm. Neither of us freaked out, which is rather shocking to me as I tend to be the freak out type. We jumped into action, pulling on whatever clothes were lying around (on a different note, I later asked Brett, “How the heck did I change with Leah still in my arms?” I have no idea how I did this as I have no memory of actually getting dressed…but somehow I managed to calm Leah in my arms while changing into yoga pants and a t-shirt….talk about being in super mom mode). Luckily, we live about .5 seconds from the hospital where I work (literally, as in it’s at the end of our street) and as soon as we ran into the ER waiting room I saw a nurse I knew well (she came to Leah’s baby shower over a year ago!) I walked right over to her and called her name. She took one look at us, heard Leah’s gasping and bark and ushered us right back. A part of me felt a bit guilty at being able to skip what was a very busy waiting room, but the larger part was just feeling thankful for the fact that this nurse whom I knew just happened to be working that night and just happened to be out in the waiting room when we walked in. Within minutes the doctor was in our room, Leah’s attack was coming to an end, meds were given and prescribed, and we were on our way back home. Everything over and done with in a matter of 45 minutes.

So now we’re home with our sick baby who is barking like a seal, but who hasn’t had an attack since Sunday morning, so hopefully we are in the clear. It breaks my heart to hear her cry every time she coughs because I know that deep cough is hurting her little lungs and throat and I am helpless in making her feel better. All I can do is offer unlimited snuggles and cart her around on my hip in a sling, even when my back starts to cry out in protest (this kid is getting heavy!) We’re off to the pediatrician’s office today for a follow-up and hopefully she will be well enough to start her new school tomorrow!

So a “first” was experienced this weekend, one that I hope we never have to repeat. Let’s hope that the next “first” is a positive one. Like maybe a first step?? This kid’s getting pretty darn close!