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.