Thursday, December 27, 2012


I held a newborn baby at work.

Innocent, fragile, untouched by the world. There is something so magical about the skin of a newborn; soft, pink, smooth, not yet marred by the hazards of the world.

I have many scars, and they all tell a story. One on my right middle finger from the times I sliced out my finger tip using an ice shaver. Or the one on my left forearm from bubbling solder during a stained glass accident. Most scars fade over time, some so small you can barely notice them, but others remain pronounced forever.

One of the things that marvels me about the world is the transformation of innocent newborn to the person they will become. Particularly when I look at those... whom society might not deem as appropriate or desirable. It never ceases to amaze me that often my co-workers and I are willing to forgive the four year old who is cursing and pitching a fit, recognizing that he is the product of his environment and often a victim of poor (or no) parenting. Yet, when we are faced with the 12 year old who is sullen and rebellious, judgment quickly ensues.

We all bear scars, emotional, physical, psychological;  while I believe we are all ultimately responsible for our actions, it's hard not to be feel sympathetic. What about those people who have never known security, empowerment, or unconditional love? Those who have not ever experienced feeling like they are worth someone, or taught right and wrong? When do we start accepting responsibility for helping them see a better path.

I've been thinking about my own scars a lot lately. There are many unpleasant things in my past, events and circumstances I might think I want to forget. It's hard to feel ties to your past, particularly when it comes to relationships. There are things people have done, things that I have done, things that have happened, that still sting. That scar is still there, and always will be I suspect, but acknowledging can be difficult when trying to differentiate between scars and emotional entanglements. When I think about Situation X, does it still make me angry? Yes. But do I consider myself as having moved on and past it? Yes.

For example, there was a significant controversy at my parent's last church.The details are unimportant, what matters it that I was hurt, and my friends were hurt, and most importantly, my family was hurt. Not only were we hurt, but our lives were forever altered and changed. I believe God can bring good in a horrible situation, and I know that no one was truly faultless, but to see my parents and siblings have their entire lives uprooted and changed because of someone else's (misplaced) vendetta. It's crazy how quickly miscommunication and misunderstanding can spiral out of control. What starts as petty rumors are fueled by those who are angry and end up changing the course of a church or an individual's life.

That experience altered my relationship with God. I walked away from the church for several years, uninterested in an organized religion that could be so tainted by bitter and vindictive people. My faith was so entrenched in the 'religious' experience of my childhood that it took me almost six years to rebuild my spirituality separate, though informed by, a structured belief system. Am I still actively angry and bitter at those people? No, by the grace of God. But I bear the scars.

So when things pop up that touch those scars, I react. My hot buttons? Being lied to and then told I'm an idiot/being treated like I'm stupid. People hurting my family. Betrayal from friends. Friendship should mean more than going with the status quo. Friendship should mean trust and loyalty. Not blind trust, but a general faith in the good of the other person.

I bear a lot of scars, in many different aspects of my person. Some are of my own making. Yet, I've learned I wouldn't want to change or remove any of them. They are reminders to me of where I've been and how far I've come. In many cultures, scars, particularly battle wounds, are a badge of honor, signaling the bravery and courage of the person. I view my emotional scars of proof of my endurance and fortitude. Proof that I've taken risks, and I haven't just sat on the sidelines watching others live.

They can just be frustrating to work around when they rear their ugly heads.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Exposing the jugular

Maybe we like the pain. Maybe we're wired that way. Because without it, I don't know; maybe we just wouldn't feel real. What's that saying? Why do I keep hitting myself with a hammer? Because it feels so good when I stop. ~ Grey's Anatomy

I was once accused of being a 'sadistic b****" who got her "kicks off seeing children suffer".

It was an ex who, after having a frank discussion years later, admitted that the comment was reflective of his own pain, not of me. Yet for years the comment haunted me, making me doubt myself. question every decision, every motive. Even to this day I think it and twitch.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Visitng a Hospital 101

It's that fabulous wonderful time of year. Holidays, family gatherings, present giving, and eating galore. Nothing like the month of December to remind people of their blessings and inspire a desire to give back.

Working in a Children's Hospital means a time full of activities, visitors, and high census of patients. We are quite fortunate that even with several other larger children's hospitals in the area, we usually have an overflow of groups that wish to brings gifts to our patients at the hospital. However, we run in to a lot of the same problems, so I thought i'd give a little visiting 101 for any of you who are thinking of spending some time at your local pediatric wing, so you can avoid looking like an idiot... and keep from incurring the wrath and scorn of your local CCLS.

1. We get very full, very quickly. While we are certainly very very grateful that you are inspired to give during this time of year, please remember that everybody else and their families are thinking the same thing. Seriously, we get calls in August and September to start booking slots. So if you are very determined to come, call early and have flexibility in your availability. If we are not able to accommodate you for a full visit, please consider just making a flat donation of toys for our playroom, that is something the kids can use year round.

2. We only book one or two people a day. Having visitors is actually very stressful for us- having a full visit means at least 30-45 minutes ahead of time getting report from nurses and assessing our census, another hour or two of touring groups, and then clean up afterwards. Its a large time commitment so we can only really take a few people at a time-- so please don't be angry if we can't just 'squeeze' you in. Update: If we tell you no, PLEASE do not just show up and expect to guilt us into taking you around. *true story*

3. We love when people call with specific ideas of what they would like to bring/do, but please always run the ideas by us first (and don't take it personally if we veto an idea). The problem often is that outsiders have a great idea of what they want to do, which may or not translate to practicality. For instance, we love that you are a champion bagpipe player, but playing in the hospital... not such a great idea. Flutes? Yes. Bagpipes? No.

4. Along that line, flexibility is key. Look, to be frank, we can tell the difference between people who are giving out of the goodness of their hearts and those who have an agenda. People who are giving because they want to do something for other people are usually willing to alter their plans to fit what meets our needs best. We are ALWAYS grateful to recieve gifts for our patients, but not every idea is feasible. Please defer to us--- when we tell you it is NOT possible to only identify those kids with certain illnesses and give them gifts... we mean it.

5. We don't discriminate. EVERY patient is offered christmas/hannuakah/kwanzaa/halloween/easter/thanksgiving/etc activities regardless of ethnicity and religion. We love everyone.

6. The 'little bald kids' are very rarely the sick ones. Everyone coming into the hospital wants to see the cancer kids, but honestly- most of the time that is a very low percentage of the our population, and often those kids are relatively healthy. Pediatric cancer, as a whole, has an average cure rate of 80%; many of our other, full hair-headed kids, face more dire odds. The teen age girl with long brown hair is just as appreciative of your gift as the bald headed five year old. And guess what? They are all scared and all don't want to be at the hospital.

7. Always ask before you take pictures. Most places have very specific rules about photo consents. Even if a parent says it's ok, we can not legally allow you to take pictures of their child without proper documentation, and it's a hassle. Pictures of your group? Sure. Posing in the playroom to show off the toys you donated? Great! But unless you have a full marketing package (aka... you are a professional sports team, or hospital sponsored event), taking pictures of patients is just not appropriate.

8. Along those lines... remember these are kids just like yours. This isn't a trip to the zoo to see the rare animals; these are real human beings who are scared, tired, and sick. Imagine how you would feel if you were in their shoes? Treat them with the same dignity and respect you would want.

9. Using a hospital visit as a way to 'teach your kid a lesson' is so inappropriate (see tip 8).  We completely understand you want your kids to appreciate their blessings and to realize there are others less fortunate. My hospital wing is not the time or place to do that. It is offensive to subjugate the families and make an example out of them. Send your bratty kid to the humane society, or send them to boot camp. Do NOT call me and complain that I can't open a spot in two days because you want your child to realize they have it so much better than others. Seriously. #endrant
    9a. please have proper child care for your little kids. Most hospital have an age limit for visitors--- its' for your kids safety. It is frankly just not smart to bring a four year old to the hospital and expose them to all kinds of yuckiness. Hire a babysitter, or leave them with a non-rider.... for those theme park enthusiasts out there.

10. If you have to change your date/cancel please let us know ASAP. We are holding a spot for you that could be filled by the many other people we have to turn away.

11. Please remember the hospital is open 365 days a year. If you can't fit in the holiday visit because of our schedule, we would be more than happy to have you in the other 11 months. In fact, here's a secret, the families will love you more and the kids will be even more excited to have a random present in May than in December when they are expecting it.

*** All hospitals vary in their rules and policies. Always check with your specific point person rather than taking these things at their literal value.

*** We are SOOO appreciative of our visitors, and don't get me wrong, most people who come are amazing. We could not do our programming without their generosity. However... these are just some ideas to avoid being the 5% of people who call and make us want to pull our hair out.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Tales from the Kiddos: Careful what you ask

Conversation a while back with a former frequent flyer (aka a patient who used to come in a very regular basis). She had come to visit with her mother after school (elementary age).

Bethany: Hi Katie* (Read: Not her real name). I've missed you! How is everyone in the family?! How's Papi?
Katie: He's good...... Gassy as ever.
(hysterical laughter from all as mom turns red in the face)
Mom: Katie! You can't say those things.... I mean, it's true, but still!!

Moments like this are why I love my job.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Tales from the Kiddos: The great water syringe caper

Following the heels of yesterday's post, I had to share a little moment from today.

I was asked by a coworker, a nurse, to help out with a patient. This preschool aged boy, we'll call him John (Read: not his real name) had just found out that he was in fact not going home today and thus would not get to visit his favorite relative. He was sitting in the room, alone, pouting, and refusing to do anything he was asked. AKA let's call the child life specialist and see if she can work her magic.

No pressure or anything.

I entered the room and sat on his bed giving him choices of activities: art, blocks, puzzles, video games, movies, everything met a flat refusal. As he threw a pillow across the room, his pent up anger obvious and I decided I needed to give him an outlet for letting out his emotions. I racked my brain with some of the options... building a tower of blocks that we could then knock down, seems a bit dangerous to have hard objects that could be thrown, playing voice games where we get to scream our heads off sleeping baby next door, nope, Making a frustration journal, nope a bit too mature for this kid...  and then it came to me.

I simply stood up and promised I would be back in a minute. (Child life 101: easiest and fastest tactic for establishing a relationship with a patient is to promise to return, leave, and then come back.. Trust and follow through demonstrated in one easy motion. Bonus points if you promise to return with an item (i.e. toys, prizes, movies) and come through).

I grabbed a piece of paper, drew a simple bulls-eye target with sharpie, came back in the room and taped it on the wall. As a I grabbed a magic marker John sullenly told me 'I don't want to do arts and crafts"

"Well good, you're not going to, this is for me. So can you tell me... what is making you angry right now?"

"I want to go to (insert relative);s house"

"Ok" I say as I write it down on our target. "What else?"

Following his prompts I wrote the few things he came up with and then promptly put the marker down, nonchalantly went to the 10 ml syringe I had previously filled with water, took a few steps back from the wall, and proceeded to squirt the water, full blast, at the wall and target, splashing both of us, the window, and the mirror in the process.

I wish I had a camera to document the look on his face.

He was so totally shocked by what I had just done that he completely forgot to keep up the 'tough guy' act. Not what you were expecting me to do at all huh?

"Do you want to try?"

Eager nod, happy smile, bounding out of bed to try his hand at squirting away his anger. We then proceeded to work on tinting the water, making squirt art, learning our colors and mixing the primaries, and eventually talking about his admission. I won't say he didn't have more tantrums throughout the day, but at least the throwing things stopped!

Moral of the story: You will NEVER beat kids in the "who can be the most sullen and angry" contest; you have the change the game. Nothing changes the game quicker than doing something totally unexpected, like shooting water at the wall.

Child life specialist FTW

Side note.. it's been a good week. I don't get to say that often. Honestly, life has been frustrating and somewhat overwhelming for the past few months, and work hasn't helped. A mixture of difficult cases including the passing of a patient with whom I was close, administrative pressures, policy changes, budget cuts, it all adds up to a stressed out Bethany. But... it's been a good week. Multiple happy cases, encouraging news programming wise at work, and opportunities to spend quality time with amazing friends. It's a brief reprieve from the negativity that has surrounded me lately... but I'll take it.

Tales from the Kiddos: Cookie Vampire Bites

Side note: you might have noticed several posts on here disappeared overnight. Without going into too much detail, there have been some issues at work regarding appropriateness of sharing information via social media (In general, nothing related to me personally). It has me very wary of anything work related on this site. Granted, any information/pictures I have referenced have been former patients and with their express permission. (Not to mention I'm always super anal about making sure Im not even remotely disclosing specific information like their name, age, or treatment information). However, to be on the safe side i have removed any post that has a trace of questionable material and will repost them once they are 100% ok. :)

My mom and I had a conversation tonight, during which I related a few very amusing patient anecdotes. Her response was the same was most other people when I share my crazy work related tidbits "It's a shame you can't write a book about these things".

Obviously much of my experiences can't be told in detail, but one of the reasons I originally started this blog was to have an outlet for sharing my experiences during my internship. I am now well past that time in my life (and fully employed, wahoo), but at some point my focus drifted away from the child life aspect and my blog instead became an outlet for my own theological/psychological musings. I don't intend to stray too far from this formula; I believe a blog should be a reflection of the individual, but when appropriate I would like to take an opportunity to share some of the gems from my job. I mean come on, sharing the "Bethany got sprayed with a coke enema gone loose" story never gets old. #noImnotjokingIwishIwas #lookupcokeenemaifyouareconfused #justanotherdayinthelife

So to start us off I would like to share today's "Only in my job" story

We have a young patient who has been at the hospital for an extended stay, as such most of the staff have 'adopted' him. Not going to lie, it's a shame I can't take pictures of him, but for your reference, think of the cutest baby you have ever met.... and multiply it by about three. You're getting close. I like to describe him as old enough to be deliberate in his actions, but young enough to not always know better.

This munchkin, we'll call him Roger (Read: not his real name), is incredibly intelligent for his age, a joy to be around, but unfortunately in that stage of life where mealtime becomes synonymous with playtime. Inevitably it becomes my job to feed him dinner (oh please, twist my arm ;) ), and afterwards clean him up and change his clothing. We've been doing this for a few weeks now and I've developed the system: 1)Wipe hands/mouth, 2) Remove soiled shirt 3) Put on clean shirt 4) remove high chair tray and stand Roger up, stripping the dirty pants 5) With one arm holding Roger in place, use other arm to pull on new pants.6) Follow up with a very high pitched "Yay" and hand clapping, emulated by said child. The high pitch is necessary and a well executed hand clap is the sign of a good child life specialist. #truth

It's a complicated maneuver but one that we have had down for a few weeks now... until tonight. Steps 1-4 went relatively well, slightly difficult as Roger had a mouth full of half chewed cookie slobber, but we had success removing the offending clothes without smearing Miss Bethany in cookie goo (not so much yesterday when I walked out unaware it was on my nose and in my hair). Yet, as we moved on to step five I felt Roger lay his head on my shoulder. Oh Cute.. he's showing me some love was my thought, until two seconds later I felt the rascal open wide and chomp down as hard as he could.

Yes, I now have a toddler hickey... and yet not only do I now sport an odd vampirish- bite on my neck base, my white shirt has a lovely cookie stain exactly in the shape of a young mouth. That and the cookie stains in the boob area were fun to explain to church friends later that evening. What can I say? At least the kid is eating!