When I first began in the child life field, I was taught that the nurses and multidisciplinary staff should be calling you for every procedure and every opportunity for education and distraction with patients.
I was told that the nurses “probably wouldn’t call,” and that it was imperative that I insert myself whenever possible in order to advocate for the patients.
While I still believe that this is true, I think my position on the topic has grown, as have I in my journey through child life. When I first started my career, I spent a lot of time selling myself; I would sell myself to nurses and doctors, people that I knew would need me eventually.
If someone did call me, I was there in a matter of seconds because I wanted to make a good impression on the patient and family, but also on the staff member who called me.
If I happened to walk by the nurse’s station and overheard someone talking about an upcoming procedure, I’d insert myself into the conversation in order to advocate for the patient.
I was aware that I knew child development well and that I was well-versed in how to talk to children of all ages in the developmentally appropriate language that was needed before, during and after procedures, new diagnoses, etc. and that ultimately, I could be useful.
Throughout the years, many of these nurses that I worked so closely with are now some of my dearest friends. I look forward to working with them and I know that they have my back no matter what. In growing friendships with the nurses on the pediatric unit, it’s given me a better perspective of all of the things that nurses must have readily available in their brains and quite honestly, I’m overwhelmed just thinking about what they have to think about and do on a regular basis. Case in point why I’m not a nurse. It’s a tough job.
But what I do love is helping to bridge the gap between patient and nurse. One time, I had a nurse call me during my lunch break and said,
“Hey – I’m trying to hang a bag of fluids in room two and he’s crying and won’t let me. I need you.”
I almost choked on my food as I was trying to wrap my brain around how I could help in this situation. “He has an IV?” I asked, to which she replied, “Yep. Just trying to hang a bag.”
Again I reiterate, “You’re just trying to hang a bag of fluids on the IV pole?”
“Correct. But he’s a new friend of mine and I think you have built better trust with him. Can you help me?”
As I enter room two, I see the nurse standing close to the door away from the bedside as she gives me a sigh and shrugs. I kneel closest to his bedside so that I’m now the same height as him, rather than towering over him. “Hi friend – what’s going on?” He tries to explain how he’s feeling through muffled tears as I try to piece together what he’s saying. Finally, it comes about that he thinks he’s going to get another poke in order to hang this bag of fluids.
I bring the nurse close – I do this because I’m not always going to be present when, what he perceives as, “scary things” happen, and I want him to know that I’m safe, but that I’m partners with the nurses. We talk about his straw (IV) and how it has a “tube-y” that connects to the bag just like Legos connect. And that is how the fluids get to his insides to help his insides feel better. A sigh of relief washes over him, as does a smile, as I present him with a new superhero stuffed animal to help when he gets scared. This simple bridge created a friendship for the nurse and this patient for the rest of the nurse’s shift. I love being that bridge.
While I may have the fun stuff, like superhero stuffed animals, I also have the ability to teach nurses the developmentally appropriate language in order to help them become friends with their patients too. Sometimes, especially for toddler, preschool and school-aged patients, you do need that trust to already be built before the patient will let you do anything to them. But it’s so rewarding for me when a nurse is able to build that trust on their own just by utilizing the tools they’ve seen me or my coworkers use, such as using the right words and kneeling so they’re not as intimidating. These little things truly do make all the difference. Thank you nurses for allowing me to empower you in order to empower our patients.