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.

Sophomore Year In Review

This year completely flew by! I can’t believe that I’m halfway done with my undergraduate career. I feel like the first semester just wrapped up. If I could, I would rewind to the end of the first semester and start over from there again. I’m a nerd..I absolutely love school, and would stay here forever if I could. I would probably attend the biomedical, business, engineering, and marketing classes just to see what they were like if they didn’t conflict with my schedule. Well, we know that I would attend the biomedical.

But school isn’t just learning, though, it’s the social opportunities that come with it too. I had a fantastic job working on campus this year and got to meet to many incredible people with such drive and passions that I never could have guessed that I would meet coming into the year. While I won’t be returning to work there next year, I don’t regret working there for a minute, and I found my roommate for this summer and next year because of that job. Speaking of that roommate, we both moved into our new apartment yesterday, and it’s awesome.

I wrapped up sophomore year with a 4.0, and made the Dean’s List both semesters. That leaves me with a 3.9 cumulative GPA for the two years that I’ve been here. Woot woot! I TAed for a course this year as well, and really enjoyed working together with the professor and PhD student on that. I take a lot of pride in my academic work, and it is pretty obvious that I also find a lot of self-worth in my academic success. I used to derive my self-worth from being the best on the tennis court, or whatever other sports arena that I competed in as a serious athlete, but ever since my back and brain surgeries I have not been able to compete in those same ways. The classroom has since become my arena, and exams and courses have become my competitions. I of course find self worth in character traits, friendships, and other aspects of life and myself as well, but I would be wrong not to point out the obvious and glaring importance that I place on academic success.

My favorite course this year by far was one of my Child Life courses called Children Facing Health Care Challenges. While it was only a brief overview of psychosocial assessments of hospitalized and chronically ill children, and techniques to support their coping, I learned a lot, and have another course with the same professor in the fall. As someone who considers themself to be chronically ill, I thought that all of the information was spot on, and that the professor did an excellent job delivering the information, even though the course was taught online.

There was one course, though, Early Childhood Intervention, that I struggled with this year for a reason that surprised me. While the course focused on an age group (0-3) unrelated to any treatment or medical procedures that I could recall or even had any health problems with at the time, a particular unit of the class focused on trauma, and I continuously experienced flashbacks from my surgery and other hospital visits as we went into detail about PTSD and how trauma can effect children down the road. I think that the professor noticed, because she came up to me after several classes to ask me mundane questions, as if she was waiting for me to disclose that I was struggling to her. That was really difficult for me, because I hadn’t had any flashbacks in what felt like months, even though it had unfortunately only been weeks, and then I had to sit there and have them multiple times a week.

I am now starting to get my thoughts together for my honors thesis, and that is very exciting. It will be on the topic of end of life for school-aged children and adolescents. I have my committee fully formed, and now it’s time to get in the research zone. I’ll be spending much of my free time reading to get a jump on that so that I can defend this spring as a junior and get it out of the way instead of stressing over it as a senior. I have quite a few friends who are seniors who are preparing to defend this spring as well, so we can research, drink coffee, and complain together.

In other news, tomorrow will be my first day volunteering in the Child Life department at a children’s hospital out here, and I am ecstatic! I am spending the summer out here in Arizona, and I have been warned that I just might melt. I was excited that my scrub pants were black, ie no awkward sweat stains when I take the bus to get there, but then I was told that it gets so hot that no color is truly safe from sweat stains, which was terrifying to hear. Regardless, wearing scrubs feels like wearing your pajamas to work, and I am all about that.

Is It Really for the Kids?

My university is hosting a dance marathon to benefit the children’s hospital downtown. 

“What is the Dance Marathon?

                 The Dance Marathon is an annual event…that raises charitable donations for the children’s hospital.  It’s held on February 22.  It challenges students to dance for 12hrs straight from 2pm to 2am.

 What is the Dance Marathon attempting to do?

                 The Dance Marathon is about fundraising for a very noble cause, the children’s hospital in a similar fashion as Relay for Life, March of Dimes, etc.”

I saw the posters and signs around campus and was taken aback. I felt cold towards the idea and couldn’t understand why. It was almost as if I felt offended..I probably was..and still low key kind of am. Friends have asked if I signed up or plan on participating in the event this week and I snarkily responded with something along the lines of “I am the kids,” or that I just flat out didn’t like the event. I couldn’t understand why I felt that way, though. It was confusing because the event is after all benefiting a good cause..sick kids. I like helping sick kids – I am and or was a freaking sick kid! So what was wrong? The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the event benefited a bottom line more than it benefited patients at the children’s hospital themselves. From the patient perspective, it makes complete sense. I believe in events that boost patient moral, not ho$pital bottom lines.

I emailed the event coordinator and offered up some suggestions for next year. Never once as a patient at a children’s hospital had I come across a fundraising event that cheered me up. People cheered me up! Although patients will benefit from the programs and innovations funded by donations raised, patients themselves are not directly impacted. A handmade gift like a blanket or a visitor, not a checkbook, made the biggest difference. I feel like the dance marathon will give students the false illusion that they are taking part in an event to benefit patients when all they will be doing is dancing and raising some money here and there. Students could be doing much, much more. If they want to really help kids at the children’s hospital, then they can start by interacting hands-on with the patients themselves. They could take on a patient to mentor..become a pen pal via email..write cards..draw pictures..actually interact with patients. Patients aren’t a reason to dance. I suppose one could argue that dancing all night could be an effort and celebration where people dance for those who can’t or no longer can..but I am choosing to not see the event that way. Healthy people without a chronic illness or personal experience with a patient have to interact patients firsthand to try and grasp the reality of a patient’s life. Sick kids are not a reason to dance. Think about the kids first, and fundraising second. I want people to understand that writing a check or dancing with friends has nothing to do with the actual kids they want to help.

I received a warm response from the event coordinator explaining that the purpose of the event was to unite the student body, and create an event where students could connect [with each other] and participate in a valuable service opportunity. So, I guess students aren’t dancing for the kids after all. They’re dancing for their own conscience.