At The Beach, Julia and Melody try to alleviate some of stress in the young patients by running programs at the facility when children have some time away from the doctors and nurses. They often host special events, such as having the Edmonton Oilers or the Disney Princesses come in to visit the children. They plan parties and special activities once a month, and have a family bingo night every Wednesday. Every weekday between 9:30-11:30 am and 1:30-3:30 pm, children are wel- come to come to The Beach and play. While some of the daily play is themed, for the most part, it’s intentionally left open-ended. “When children come to the hospital, control gets taken away from them. They don’t have choices – they have to take their medicine, they have to do this test, or that procedure,” Melody says. “Here at The Beach, we try to let the children have choice and control over the types of play activities. The goal is to build a child’s self-confidence, mastery and autonomy.”
And because nurses and doctors are often busy treating their patients, The Beach can fill the gaps. Kids come here to learn about any proced- ures they’ve experienced. There’s a medical play area, complete with a child-sized doll on a miniature hospital bed and toy medical equip- ment. “Children can talk about or play through the things that have happened to them at the hospital, like if they’ve had surgery or if they had to have pokes, a nose tube or any of those things.” Melody says. “We can assess and make sure they’re understanding what’s happening to them.” Doctors are not allowed and no medical procedures can take place here so it also provides a safe space.
The Beach is the only playroom that’s staffed in the hospital, and because it’s staffed, it gives the child life specialists the chance to interact with the children on a daily basis and informally assess them in a group setting. There are also child life specialists on all the in-patient units that collaborate with the rest of the medical teams to share important information. The child life specialists agree that, in a natural setting for a child like The Beach, children may feel more comfortable expressing their feelings, fears and any misconceptions of their personal experi- ences within the hospital.
For Julia and Melody, building relationships with parents and pro- viding support to them, so that they can in turn provide support for their child, is something they think is important to helping the whole family cope. That’s why The Beach provides a space for parents too. “It’s a place for parents to come and relax a little bit, see their child doing some of the normal things and network with other families,” Melody says “It can be a real source of support.”
As with Lorraine Willox’s work caring for surgical patients and adding value to the team, Julia and Melody’s work adds up to less stress for parents and better care for patients – something all members of the team at the Stollery take very seriously. “These parents are handing over the centre of their universe to a virtual stranger, who they know intui- tively is going to hurt them – to make them better – but ultimately, surgery means a stranger is going to be cutting into their body,” Lorraine says. “And that’s an awesome responsibility, and for them to have that trust in us. It’s something that we don’t take lightly.”
Child life specialists and nurse educators aren’t the only unsung heroes of the Stollery. There are many different departments – from social workers to psychologists to physiotherapists to doctors and nurses – whose combined efforts provide care for the children. “We work together as part of the whole team – we all work to help that child in whatever capacity that’s needed,” Melody says.
It’s programs like The Beach, and people like Julia, Melody and Lorraine that make the difference for families at the Stollery. They may not be providing direct medical treatment, but what they do makes a difference.
Written by Alexandria Eldridge.
Originally published in the Summer 2013 Issue of HEROES Magazine.