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Little Person, Big Illness

Riki Goldstein

How to help the seriously ill child — and his family — survive a hospital stay

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

A white bed. A child’s hot grasp, and the deliberate drip-drip of fluid through IV lines. Walls bear stencils of Winnie the Pooh and friends, windows are festooned with gaily colored gel stickers, but through the thin curtains, machines beep. Other children talk, play, and… cry in pain. It’s every parent’s nightmare: the children’s ward Illness is a trial that can strain every human fiber to capacity; watching one’s child endure it is even more difficult. A parent lives sickness vicariously, as they watch a beloved child learn about the painful realities of life. And much as Daddy and Mommy would give anything to do so, they cannot kiss the boo-boo away.   Overcoming the Fear “Hospitals can be frightening and lonely for children. They’re in pain, really uncomfortable, away from home, and have limited control over what’s happening,” explainsDr.CherylBook, director of clinical and family services at Chai Lifeline. “Wouldn’t you be scared in that situation?” Regardless of age, children cope better when they know what will happen and why each procedure is necessary. One way to help mitigate the fear of the unknown is to give children a tour of the hospital, especially the children’s floor, before admission. Parents should also equip themselves with information, so they can comfortably explain what’s going on. Many hospitals offer informative children’s books about common illnesses and procedures, sometimes even lifelike medical dolls upon which a child patient can actually “perform” the procedure. After initial explanations of treatment protocols by the doctor and nurse practitioner, the hospital’s child life specialist will talk the child through them. Some hospitals participate in the international Beads of Courage program, a system that helps children make it through their treatments. The young patient receives a string of beads that spell out her name and, with each procedure, a new specially colored bead that represents that procedure. A blood transfusion, for example, is marked by a red bead. Tangible manifestations of what she’s successfully endured help encourage the child and can alleviate distress as she fights her disease.

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