We are continuing to celebrate child life month with another fantastic giveaway. Every child life specialist, parent and medical provider knows how important it is to help distract kids during medical procedures. So, we have teamed up withSpellbound Augmented Reality Therapy for this next giveaway.
Win a copy of Albert, The Confused Manatee, and watch as the storybook comes to life.
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Twenty years ago, when Peggy Schuster started work as a child life specialist at Providence Children’s Hospital (PCH) in El Paso, TX, the child life program had just launched. Within a few years, Ana Aburto joined Peggy on the team, and for sixteen years now they’ve been a dynamic child life duo helping patients and their families at PCH.
I talked with Peggy and Ana recently about some of their experiences in child life, from their favorite parts of working as a child life specialist to some of the most important aspects of their role. They also shared some of their remarkable stories from working with patients in the last year.
Ana told me that one thing she loves about child life is how there are new challenges every day. “The most exciting part of my job is finding new ways to help patients,” she tells me. “I come from an educational background, and at times it becomes a teaching challenge for me; how can I use my creativity and the resources that I have to help these kids reduce their anxiety?”
One of Peggy’s favorite aspects of her role is her responsibility to focus on the patient and advocate for their emotional needs, which can get lost in the busyness of the hospital. “Often, medical staff end up talking more to the parents than the child. Patients have told us ‘I feel invisible.’”
Child life specialists have to stay closely attuned to what their patients are thinking and feeling. Their powers of perception are crucial, and can help turn a potentially scary and traumatic procedure into a smooth procedure with no tears. When they recognize what a patient is experiencing, they can come up with solutions to help the patient better cope with the treatment they’re going through.
Peggy had a recent situation at PCH that required her to cut through the noise of a chaotic situation to bring peace to a young patient. “We were working with a little 4 year old girl and we couldn’t get her to sit still for a procedure. She was screaming and crying,” says Peggy. The doctor and the nurses were trying to calm the girl down, but everyone was talking at the same time and Peggy could see that it was overwhelming for her.
“I asked them if I could try something—so they all moved back and I took out the SpellBound cards and was talking to her,” Peggy tells me. “She started interacting with the cards and she calmed down.” Peggy told the girl that she needed the procedure, but told her to keep focusing on the cards. Using the SpellBound cards along with relaxation techniques, the patient stayed calm and the doctor was able to finish the procedure. “Everyone was surprised at the cards and their effect, and looking at me like ‘Gosh, what did you pull out of your pocket… a magic wand?’”
When that girl was leaving the procedure room, she looked up at Peggy and told her mom, “That’s my favorite person in the hospital.”
During our conversation Ana tells me about the first time she used SpellBound with a patient. “It was during an IV start with a 3 year old girl that had a lot of anxiety,” says Ana. “The anxiety was being fed to her through the parent that was with her; they were more anxious than she was.” When it came time to put in the IV, Ana pulled out the mouse Journey Card for the patient to use.
“What she did surprised me,” Ana tells me, “because she used it to communicate to the nurses that she was feeling something.” Every time the girl felt something during the procedure, she’d touch the mouse to make it squeak. Ana, using her child life perception powers, noticed her doing this and asked, “Are you letting the nurse know that you’re hurting?” The patient said, “Yes.”
Using the feedback from the patient, the nurses were able to get the IV started after a few minutes. When they were done, the little girl left the procedure room to return to her family, who was waiting outside for her. “She was excited; she wanted to show them how she had managed to get through the procedure using the card,” says Ana.
“I thought, ‘Wow, this is going to work on every child.’ It was an eye-opening experience for me.”
Given that it was her first time using SpellBound, Ana was surprised at how easy it was to use and how well it worked. “I’m not a very technical person. I thought, ‘Wow, this is going to work on every child.’ It was an eye-opening experience for me,” she tells me. And she points out that all the elements had to work together to make it a successful procedure. “It was a combination of the SpellBound technology, the observing, and the teamwork.”
As Peggy and Ana have practiced as child life specialists over the years, some of the methods and tools have changed; when they started, there were no iPads, and certainly no augmented reality cards for distraction. But the core of their role is still the same as it ever was. They’re still observing what patients are experiencing, advocating for them, creatively finding ways to meet their emotional needs, and helping them cope with the fear, uncertainty, and pain of treatment. Today, they just have some new tools to assist them.
Kids go through a lot when they’re getting medical treatment at the hospital. And child life specialists like Peggy and Ana are the heroes that help make it a little better.
One four-year-old boy and his mom will forever be grateful for Brindi Dalton. Brindi is a certified child life specialist (CCLS) at Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital Long Beach, and one day she was visiting this little boy’s patient room.
“There have been so many situations where I didn’t plan to distract a patient, but I was asked to anyway because it was needed. I had nothing with me to use to distract,” Brindi says. Helping young patients cope with the unnerving reality of hospitals is where a CCLS is usually called into action.
That was the story here.
While in the boy’s room, a Registered Nurse (RN) came in to do a urinary catheterization, a procedure in which a long thin tube (called a “catheter”) is inserted to gain access to the bladder and drain its contents.
The boy had experienced catheterizations before and was not looking forward to this one. In the past, the procedure had invoked significant fear and anxiety for him. To help the procedure go smoothly, the RN asked Brindi to distract the boy from the unpleasantness.
But Brindi had no distraction tools with her. She wasn’t ready, but she was called to act, to alleviate the potential suffering of this four-year-old boy and his mom watching. What could she do?
This is one of the many nerve-wracking situations that certified child life specialists encounter on a day-to-day basis. The role of a CCLS in such situations is to provide emotional support for the child and their families through evidence-based methods. These interventions are aimed at educating the child and family on procedures while also reducing stress and anxiety through distractions, games, therapeutic play, and other mediums.
CCLSs have to be able to think on their feet and be flexible because they see many different patients and situations. That’s why every CCLS has a bag of toys, tools, and tricks to calm, entertain, and educate kids. Sometimes those tried-and-true tools become stale or don’t work as effectively with kids who have seen them before.
Brindi gives the typical dialogue for this scenario:
“Would you like to play with the iPad?”
“Want to read this book?”
Recently Brindi added the SpellBound app to her toolkit, and she’s noticing that it’s changing that dialogue to sound more like this:
“Want to see this card magically come to life?”
“Whaaaat!?! What do you mean?!?”
“The best word to describe it is probably ‘excitement,’” she says. Most kids have never seen anything like SpellBound before.
They haven’t seen animals and trees coming to life off a paper card before. The SpellBound app distracts patients away from the pain, fear, and anxiety by providing an immersive experience filled with joy and wonder. When using the app, Brindi has seen kids looking away from the screen and behind the device to see if the elephant is actually there or not.
Many times, CCLSs aren’t able to carry a bag of their best tools with them because they’re running from one room to the next, helping wherever they are called.
“A lot of these situations [are] very last minute.” explains Rita Goshert, the Clinical Operations Manager who supervises Brindi and her colleagues. “You’re walking down the hall and hear a crying child. You don’t have time to run back to your office to get something.”
This was exactly the scenario Brindi was in with the four-year-old boy receiving a catheterization. Brindi wasn’t flustered, though. She thought quickly and realized she did have a tool she could use. She had the SpellBound app on her smartphone and a SpellBound Magic Tree card slipped in her name badge.
“The patient loved it so much. He was smiling and laughing throughout the procedure. He was making the same sounds as the animals,” Brindi tells us.
The mother of the boy was absolutely shocked to see her son laughing through a procedure that was so uncomfortable. She later wrote to Brindi to say how appreciative she was of Brindi being there to help him get through a procedure that had caused fear and worry in the past.
It’s moments like these that fuel Brindi and other CCLSs with the energy and passion to do their best work. A CCLS’s job is so much more than just play. It’s about making a child’s day and teaching them about the treatment they’re going through, relieving a parent’s anxiety and answering their questions, letting the patients know that there’s someone there for them. CCLSs are quick on their feet and clutch in tense situations.
Yes, the doctors and nurses might administer the treatment, but the certified child life specialists are often some of the greatest unsung heroes of the hospital, and at SpellBound, we’re grateful to be a small part of making their job a little bit easier and a little bit more fun.