Caregivers Who Speak the Language of Kids
Excerpt from Oakland Magazine article by Andrea A. Firth:
Deirdre Goe’s typical day starts like this: Her first patient at the outpatient oncology clinic at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland one morning in September was a 7-year-old girl with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a cancer that affects the white blood cells. The youngster had undergone a few rounds of chemotherapy, but the weekly infusion was still a new and scary experience.
Goe brought with her a medication doll, which the young girl named after her uncle who was bald, like the doll. And just like the child, the doll had a special port, attached to the center of its chest. The port makes it easier to administer medication without having to start a new intravenous line for every infusion, but it still requires a poke with a needle each time.
The child was nervous; the poke hurt last time. So Goe went through the steps of the procedure. First, they talked about the child’s job that morning, to hold her body still and put her shoulders back so the nurse could access her port easily. Next, they talked about the salty taste she would get in her mouth when the port was flushed with a saline solution; for that, she chose to have a lollipop to suck on. Then they cleaned the doll’s chest with a wipe to sterilize the site. And together they poked the doll’s port with a needle and pushed a syringe filled with water into its chest using the same equipment the nurse would use a few minutes later with the patient. “Putting the needle in requires some pressure, a push. When the child has a chance to feel what it takes to penetrate the doll’s skin—the fabric—it gives her a better understanding of what the nurse has to do,” said Goe.
Goe is a child life specialist at Children’s Hospital in Oakland, and what she described is called medical play. “Play is how children learn. Our goal is to use play education to help kids cope with being in the hospital and to feel normal, so it doesn’t feel as scary and intimidating,” explained Goe.