Child Life Heroes: Serving Patients Under Pressure
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 child life stories we hear at SpellBound and 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.