Healing Through Play
Connor had medulloblastoma, a rare and fast-growing tumour that started at the base of his skull. His treatment — which included intense radiation, chemotherapy and several blood transfusions — spanned over ten months at BC Children’s Hospital. It was a difficult time, but being able to maintain a sense of normalcy with games, music and sports had a huge impact on Connor’s recovery.
“The people from Child Life — they always had smiles for us,” recalls Connor’s mother, Lee-Ann. “They helped Connor pass the time through his treatments and appointments.”
Isolated from family and friends, children in hospital care often feel anxious and overwhelmed. They have trouble understanding the complexity of their situation and have little control over treatment options and medication. That’s where Child Life comes in.
Child Life specialists play a big part in a patient’s healing journey. They support the healing process through play, comfort, knowledge and distraction. They work closely with health care professionals to understand each child’s strengths, interests and anxieties, then they create a program based on those needs. They also empower children to make decisions for themselves — whether to take part in art, music or other activities — and to express their feelings.
As Joanne Hochu, the Child Life Professional Practice lead at BC Children’s Hospital explains, these simple, yet effective methods can turn a hospital experience around. “Diversion, fun and special events can go a long way to cheering up patients — reducing anxiety and bringing some normalcy into the challenges of a hospital environment.”
Child Life specialists introduce “medical play” to their patients before and after procedures, during long hospital stays and, for those dealing with chronic conditions, subsequent visits. Acting out their treatment with toy medical kits and dolls not only provides a much needed distraction but also helps to reduce pain and, in some cases, the need for sedation.
“The relationship is built when we play with our patients,” says Joanne. “It’s the key to forming bonds of trust and helps the patient and their family learn, understand and cope.”
Those bonds are most strongly formed inside hospital playrooms. The playrooms at the new Teck Acute Care Centre are designed with holistic healing in mind. The high-tech Canucks room will recreate the experience of being at a live game, while the Whitecaps room has massive images of the team’s mascot and soccer balls. Fun, interactive areas like these offer young patients a reprieve from hospital life — places they can feel like kids.
Joanne says, “All of these activities — plus more that we do — provide support in the healing journey of the patients and their families.”
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