Tag Archives: Children’s Hospital

Why I Love Working With Dying Children.

2 Dec

I read an article recently by a woman who teaches poetry and prose to dying children. Throughout the article, the author regularly mentioned how a certain little boy’s death would one day prevent her from ever returning to work. That little boy became another little girl who became yet another child. They all faced something we don’t talk enough about: death. Eventually, the author mentioned how this work contains so much sadness and fragility, and yet it is also the work she could never dream of walking away from.

Ever since August of 2013, I have been interning with Arts For Life, a NC-based non-profit organization focused on teaching art to children and families battling serious illnesses and disabilities. Specifically, I work with two populations of children: children undergoing treatment for cancer and other blood disorders and children undergoing physical, occupational, or speech therapy. I began this internship for a variety of reasons. However, the main one was due to my previous hospital experiences. As a child, I had to undergo three intense surgeries, which later included intense physical therapy, and I spent all this time in the hospital. During this time, the one bright spot in all the days of physical pain, tears, and uncertainty was the weekly craft nights. For one hour every week, I got to focus on making an art project rather than dwelling on how much pain I was in, which exercises I needed to do, or an upcoming surgery. Having a chance to put all my energy into something completely outside of myself helped to decrease some of my anxiety. Some of those nights, I dare say I might have even been happy. Due to my enjoyable experiences with art projects in the hospital, I knew I wanted to provide these same opportunities for other kids in the hospital.

Ever since I started teaching art projects to kids in the hospital, I have loved every minute of it. I love seeing the regular kids every week who have finally gotten used to me and will come up and just start talking. I love watching the kids burst with creativity, coming up with an alternative project I hadn’t even considered. I love seeing the smiles on their faces when they finish their project and run to show their parents. I love finding new ways to teach the children. However, more than anything, I love being able to take in all the different lessons they’ve ended up teaching me without even knowing it.

They have taught me the true meaning of strength. They have taught me what it means to not let an illness define you. They’ve taught me how “art” and “perfect” are rarely in the same sentence, and that’s perfectly okay. More than anything, they’ve taught me the importance of noticing the small things. One little girl I know is battling cancer, and yet she is one of the happiest little girls I know. She smiles, she laughs, and she plays. Most importantly, she does one thing I believe we often forget. She notices every moment: every smile, every time of laughter, every speck of blue sky. She absorbs every single piece of life, soaking it all in. I try more and more each day to live like her, but I’ve got a long way to go.

Numerous friends have asked me how I am able to be around kids who are dying. And you know what my response is? “How could I not?” These kids need me. They need the chance to be able to fully express themselves. They need a positive person in their lives who can bring something good into their hospital experience. They need someone who cares. A few years ago, I never imagined that person could be me, and yet, here I am.

I have yet to lose one of the children I teach. The more I read the article written by the woman who teaches poetry and prose to dying children, the more I’ve begun to understand that we all deal with death in our own way. How I react to losing a child I teach may not be the same way one of the child’s nurses might react. That being said, the important thing to remember is even if I lose I child I teach, there are still tons of other children who need me. Though one day may feel quiet as I mourn the loss of a particular child I cared for, there will be more children coming to clinic the following day, and I need to be the best I can be for them. Being sad around them isn’t my job. If I’m sad, they’ll get sad. That’s why positivity is so important.

Teaching art to children with serious illnesses and disabilities is not easy, but it is the first thing I’ve ever done that’s given me a deep sense of purpose. Seeing the smile on a little boy’s face means I was part of his happiness. Having a little girl cling to my leg begging me not to leave warms my heart more than she will ever know. I just hope one day these children will know how much they have changed my life.

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.-Plato

The good things about surgery.

24 Oct

What doctors don’t emphasize too much when it comes to surgery is that the actual surgery is the easy part. It’s the intense physical therapy afterwards that kills you. That being said, surgery is still a very scary procedure. Through all 3 of my intense surgeries, I was scared every time. Before each surgery, I had nightmares about waking up during surgery and seeing the doctors putting their hands inside my legs to straighten out my femurs. In my nightmares, I couldn’t speak. I remember screaming as loud as I could to try to alert the doctors that I was awake, but nothing worked. The doctors were too focused on straightening out my crooked femurs to pay attention to the traumatized girl on the operating table. However, thankfully, all of this was a dream. That doesn’t mean that it felt any less real though. I remember countless times when I woke up from this particular nightmare screaming and struggling to look at my legs to make sure they weren’t split open to expose my bones.

Despite the decent amount of fear and uncertainty that accompanied the intense surgeries I had, there were some pluses. First off, before each surgery, I got the autograph of the head surgeon. However, not in the sense that he signed a picture of himself and gave it to me. He signed my legs though. I later learned that he had to sign my legs so that he would be sure to do the correct procedure on the correct patient, and I definitely think that’s important. I didn’t want my femoral derotational osteotomy to be confused with a sex change. However, in my opinion, it’s more fun just to imagine the head surgeon wanting to give me his autograph.

Since the surgeries I had were incredibly intense, I was placed in the ICU following each operation. Though the groggy feeling and getting sick from anesthesia wasn’t fun at all, I had an epidural. Therefore, the pain wasn’t nearly as bad as it would be once the epidural was removed. Also, even though I slept a lot while I was in the ICU, when I was awake and finally ready for food (or when I could enjoy it without getting sick), I got to have as much ice cream and chicken noodle soup as a wanted. I even remember one particular time when I got my dad to go to the Chick-fil-A that was in another part of the hospital so that I could have some chicken nuggets and waffle fries. Though Chick-fil-A is normally incredibly yummy anyway, it was 100 times better after a huge operation. Trust me.

Most people don’t really think of presents when they think of surgery. However, they are connected, especially when you have your operations in a children’s hospital like I did. When I was younger (before all of my surgeries), I never quite understood why people received flowers and other gifts when they were in the hospital because, to me, the flowers didn’t really do much when they didn’t also include sunshine, birds, blue skies and everything else that’s connected with the outdoors. However, when I was in the hospital following my surgeries, the flowers were a comfort. Though it was hard to accept that I couldn’t just go sit outside and look up at the clouds, the flowers were the closest thing I had to being outside, and at that point, I’d take anything I could get. However, besides flowers, I also received tons of “Get Well Soon” cards and all sorts of presents from family, friends, friends of my family and pretty much anyone else who cared about me and wanted me to know that they were thinking of me. Though I don’t remember specific flowers or specific cards that I received, I do remember getting a stuffed animal hippo from my horseback riding teacher, Miss Mary. Though I ended up accumulating many stuffed animals throughout the time I spent at Shriner’s, my hippo is the one that is still very close to my heart since I got him after my very first surgery. He’s been with me through it all (including college), and I know that it will stay that way for quite a while.

Though I don’t recall having any incredibly good-looking doctors like the “doctors” on Grey’s Anatomy, I do remember Ben, one of the physical therapists at Shriner’s that I had a huge crush on. He had red hair, freckles and the cutest smile I’ve ever seen. Even though he wasn’t my physical therapist for an extended period of time, he did spend a few months with me while my regular physical therapist, Beth, was on maternity leave. Even now, it seemed close to perfect that part of my time with Ben coincided with Valentine’s Day. Even in the hospital when you’re feeling all kids of emotional and physical pain, it’s possible to have a crush. Trust me, I proved that. As you can imagine, when Ben gave me a heart-shaped box of chocolates on Valentine’s Day, I was over the moon. I think I may have even squealed a little bit when he handed me the box of chocolates. After all, it was one of the first times in my life that someone other than my dad was my valentine. Although, since I never had Ben as my valentine a second time, I think it was a good decision to stick to having my dad as my valentine from then on.