I Don’t Have The Stomach For This

“I don’t have the stomach
to be a nurse and
I don’t like science
enough to be a doctor”

I asked a student what made her choose child life, and this was her quote that I quickly scribbled down as I felt it was so relatable to so many of us. Many of us find out about child life after having an interest in the health care field but quickly realize that the things the nurses have to do feel icky or the things the doctors have to do feel much too medically-focused. It isn’t until something happens where we find child life and go, “ahh…that’s what I was looking for.”This quote also reminded me of my practicum, where I had a lot of doubt and thought maybe I didn’t have the stomach for nursing… but maybe I didn’t have the stomach for child life either.

Doubts in your practicum

My practicum was when I had the most doubts about child life. There was one thing that felt like I was never going to get past and that was…the dreaded NG tubes. We must have had at least six during my practicum. Every time, I would feel like I was going to throw up and as my skin would turn completely pale, I would have to leave the room.

I remember one occasion specifically, we had known that an NG tube placement would be happening in the next hour or so, and my supervisor decided to go grab lunch. She had a giant burrito, chips and dip and I couldn’t imagine eating before this placement so I sat at my desk looking at Pinterest for developmentally appropriate crafts for patients. I remember wondering how in the world she could possibly be eating at a time like this! Most patients who have NG tubes placed usually gag and sometimes throw up during the placement as the tube goes down the nose and into the stomach. I almost gagged just typing that sentence. 

excerpt from book NG Tubes for Kids booklet by Angus Olsen

Midway through lunch, my supervisor got a call that they were ready so she set her food down and grabbed her distraction toys/iPad and headed over to the room. I followed behind as I was completely dreading this moment. “I’m not going to be able to stomach eating lunch at all today,” I said to myself.

As my supervisor quickly prepared the patient for the procedure, he began to cry and stated a few pleading remarks for us not to do this, however it was necessary. Upon the first attempt at the NG tube, the patient projectile vomited all the way to the end of his bed.

Again, I went white as a ghost and excused myself from the room. I noticed before I left that my supervisor was so calm and was talking to him as if he hadn’t just emptied the contents of his stomach all around her and I wondered how in the world I was ever going to get there mentally if every time, so far, I had to leave the room.

I waited for my supervisor back in the office almost in tears. When she finally came back, she sat down at her desk and picked up her burrito as if NOTHING had happened. I was vulnerable with her and stated that I didn’t think this was the job for me if I can’t even watch someone have this procedure done let alone support them during it.

She said something to me that I, only now being a child life specialist, can fully say is 100% the truth. She said that when you’re supporting a patient, it is completely different than observing a patient. That’s why we have practicum students sometimes pass out or have to leave the room, because observing someone be in pain or throw up is so much harder than being the one by their side. Being the support, there is something that happens inside of you that allows you to tough it out because you care about the person.

It’s why my mom would always sit with me in the bathroom as I threw up as a child. I always thought to myself, “my poor kids will never know what this is like because I can NOT do vomit.”

But you know what? Turns out I can. Turns out my supervisor was right. When you’re in the position of the supporter, everything changes.

So have faith. If you’re having some doubts about the profession, this is completely normal. But if at the end of the day, you truly want to do this, then be vulnerable, ask for help and do everything you can in your power to make this job a reality for yourself. If I hadn’t been vulnerable with my supervisor, I may have backed out after my practicum. Boy, would that have been a mistake.

For more information regarding the NG tube preparation booklet, click here

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