Eat. Sleep. Volunteer. Repeat.

Honestly, I love hospitals. They’re clean, so you’re less likely to get a cold than at other jobs. They’re safe, because you need a badge to swipe in everywhere. If there’s any type of emergency, it’s handled quickly.

At least, that’s my logic, and has been what I have witnessed at the hospital that I am volunteering at this summer. I’ve asked my friends from camp how they feel about the hospital, and no one else seems to feel the same way. Their responses of fear, discomfort, and aversion towards hospitals all make sense given our traumatic medical histories. And yet, I am still drawn towards hospitals. I can’t wait to work in one.

I have been so incredibly busy at the hospital over the past month and a half. I wake up, go there, come home, nap, do some homework, and go to bed. While it has been exhausting, I absolutely love it there. I’d say that 75% of the time during my usual days and life I’m pretty tired (seizure meds/it seems like the mental strain of writing and researching has caused more fatigue recently). It’s easy to see. But at the hospital, 75% of the time in fully energized, and that’s easy to see! I go to the hospital to volunteer five days a week and spend the other two days catching up on sleep/doing homework for the online courses that I have this summer.

While my apartment is only about a 10 minute drive away from the hospital, my bus commute is 45 minutes. The time passes by pretty once you hop on, though, and there’s always interesting people watching. A few people have struck up conversations with me about a cough or bunion (gross) that they have, and I soon realized that the scrubs that I wear have led people to believe that I am some sort of a nurse or doctor with more medical knowledge than I actually have. I’ve just politely listened and nodded, and told them that they should probably call their doctor.

Monday – Wednesday I am running around on five different floors, but on Fridays and Sundays I am just on one set floor. I get to work on all five active floors this summer, which exposes me to just about every single type of condition and illness out there. You’d be surprised by the number of young kids who get cellulitis. My favorite floor by far is the oncology floor, and that’s because of the relationships that I get to build with patients and their families when they’re admitted for longer periods of time. I suppose that’s a bit selfish of me. It has been tough for me not to disclose my personal connection to, and the bond that I feel between brain tumor patients and myself every time I work with one and their families, but, professional boundaries exist for a reason.

Almost all of the floors have a playroom for the younger kids, which allows them to stay in some sort of state of normalcy for their age and development if they’re not on any precautions, and are allowed to leave their rooms. These rooms have age appropriate toys for kids from infants all the way up through elementary age with just about anything you can imagine. Arts and crafts, pretend kitchen play supplies, cars, castles, books, puzzles, board games, you name it, it’s there. The face of a patient when they get to go in the playroom for the first time is Christmas morning meets first day of school because it can be so overwhelming with all of the different, stimulating options, especially when they are used to being stuck in such a plain room. Two of the floors have teen rooms as well, which I was happily surprised to find out about. I’ve heard about a slew of hospitals developing adolescent/young adult cancer programs, but I’ve never really seen anything in action. These rooms would be the closest things to that, with video games, iPads, Kindles, a foosball table, and a couch for teenagers to hang out on with other teen patients when they want to leave their room and just relax. There’s a ton of technology in there, and definitely didn’t come cheap. It’s really nice!

Monday – Wednesday when I’m on all five floors I volunteer specifically with the schoolroom. I typically work with either our patients who are admitted for longer periods of time, or our outpatient kids who come in for treatment during the week on a regular basis. Depending on whether the child is inpatient or outpatient, we work in the classroom, down in the outpatient treatment center while they’re receiving their intravenous treatment for several hours, or bedside up on one of the floors where they’re admitted. We might work on anything from testing for kindergarten readiness through identifying shapes and colors via an iPad app, to developing alphabet and handwriting skills, all the way up to geometry lessons online. Other days, we might work on reading by reading aloud together, or simply have some fun by playing board games. Everything is strategic, whether the kids realize it or not. If I know a child could use some help with their fine motor skills, then I might bring in the board game Jenga to play because it requires the planning skills to select a particular wooden block to remove, but more importantly, you need to grasp and remove that block carefully with precision.

On Fridays and Sundays when I am just on one floor and with Child Life specifically, I am either bedside with kids, or in the playroom. When I’m with Child Life, I am able to offer parents the chance to take a break, and take some time for themselves. They can go to the cafeteria, to the quiet room to rest, or even go home for a few hours and know that someone will be there with their child. Parents typically resist and say that they are fine at first, but after I spend some time playing with their child while they are in the room, and they realize that I am a safe person to entrust their child with, something changes in them. A wave of relief washes over them as parents finally give in to themselves and allow for self-care. I can’t imagine what it is like to have a child in the hospital, especially for weeks or months at a time, but knowing that I am able to help parents take a break and take some time away from being on-call 24/7 while I do something that I love to do, play with kids, is an incredible feeling.

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