Both “The Room” by Jodi Palik (Fiction/Fall 2016) and “The Last Stand” by Kelley Yuan (Studio Art) address the way children experience illness—from their unspoken fears, to their keen powers of observation, to their profound intuition about matters they may not understand. In my piece, “The Pull of Gravity” (Nonfiction/Fall 2017), I consider the long-term emotional and psychological aftermath of serious childhood illness as it played out in my family.
In the past, children were doomed to experience pain, confusion, fear, and even a sense of isolation or abandonment when they were hospitalized. Family dynamics changed. Sibling relationships suffered. It seemed inevitable. When my brother was sick, no one knew how to help him understand his illness or tolerate his treatment. Thankfully, things have changed.
Enter the Child Life Specialist.
Certified Child Life Specialists are uniquely trained to use developmentally appropriate interventions including therapeutic play, distraction, preparation, and education in order to reduce fear, anxiety, and pain for infants, children, and youth in the medical setting. They serve as educators, mentors, and advocates for patients and their families to help them cope with the stress and uncertainty of serious illness or injury.
When my brother was hospitalized at the age of five, he experienced complications in the course of treatment for rheumatic fever. No one explained to him why he coughed up blood or what it meant. He thought he was going to die. He thought the doctors had given up on him when they discharged him. He had no idea how long it would take his heart to heal.
If he had understood what had happened to him and why, if someone had explained the course of treatment to him and supported him for the two years it took him to recover, I believe he would have been spared the sense of desolation, anxiety, and insecurity that plagued him his entire adult life. He wouldn’t have fallen prey to the addictions that helped him cope. He would have been able to avoid unnecessary and costly counselling and medication. He would have recovered fully, the way his heart did.
If you would like to learn more about Child Life, you can find information at www.childlife.org. Perhaps you should consider adding a Child Life Specialist to your pediatric staff.
Janet Cincotta, MD, is a graduate of SUNY Upstate Medical Center. Dr Cincotta is a published author and physician with over thirty years of experience in family medicine. She is a contributor to Empower—Women’s Stories of Breakthrough, Discovery and Triumph, and her short stories have appeared in The Storyteller Magazine, US Catholic, Central PA Magazine, and the 2016 Writers Digest anthology, Show Me Your Shorts. She is a member of Pennwriters, a statewide association of writers from Pennsylvania and around the country, and she publishes a weekly blog titled “storytelling~the healing path” at www.thenarrativepath.blogspot.com.
©2018 Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine