This week, I handed in my volunteer ID badge at my local pediatric medical center, the hospital that had been home to my volunteer work for almost three years. Although one would think that bidding farewell to serene hospital walls would bring forth a happy sigh of relief, the good-byes to staff and regular patients was actually bitter-sweet. As hard as things may have gotten in the hospital during my hours of work, I will still miss every single moment that I spent there.
The road to being a Child Life Council Volunteer
Three years ago, when I decided to become a Child Life Specialist before starting my Social Work career, I did not know a lot about the profession. From the research that I had done on the topic through the Child Life Council, I knew that Child Life Specialists are healthcare professionals who assist the medical team by helping children and families cope with the effects of hospitalization, illness, and disability.
Would I be strong enough to actually help the many children and families in pain? Although I have always looked with wonder and fascination at everything medical, I’ve never been on the ‘giving’ end. I was nervous about my abilities and worried about the situations I would encounter within those seemingly calm hospital walls. Will I be strong enough to actually help the many children and families in pain? Would I be faced with situations far beyond my comfort zone? How will I know what to say to the children I’d be working with, how to communicate with them in a way that would lift their day? These thoughts jumped around my head, only creating new and improved scenes to challenge my confidence in this job. But I powered ahead – I was ready to jump outside my zone of comfort and give it my very best shot.
I wish I could say that I need not have worried about any of those things. I must admit – the first few days were new… interesting… thrilling… even scary, at times. Medical equipment that I’d only seen in movies before were suddenly there in real life – right in front of my eyes. Children whom I’d only seen in hospital commercials were now the very children I was working with. And family challenges that I’d only read about in psychological or medical journals were being played out by parents and siblings of children right there, within earshot of me. Every single day was full of grim and heavy sentiments and situations, from the children to their parents to the medical team and beyond.
I noticed something deeper was transpiring behind the urgency in the ward…
There was something different happening, an undercurrent.
But as I spend more time in the rooms of the pediatric floor, I notice another level of vibes and emotions, as if something deeper was transpiring behind the urgency and medical efficiency in the ward. While fear was a steady burden around the hospital, I started noticing families fighting dread and fright by spending time with one another in the throes of warmth and connection. While I often notice tears and worry lines, there are so many times where I hear laughter and chatter between a patient and their loved ones. And while on one side there is worry about the future, or formidable senses of the unknown – it is constantly paralleled with the joyous peace of the here and now.
More and more, I realize that so many families find a way to push aside the stress and agitation of illness to embrace every moment they still have together. When I notice this, I know that my previous insecurities have all ironed themselves out. I realize that being in the hospital and sharing this experience with loved ones also gives the people involved a fresh perspective on life, a new lease on the time they are spending with one another. This invigorating sense of awareness makes all the hard work in the hospital worth it: I now understand that although illness and hospitalization can draw on the last bits of life, it has the power to bring families together in a way that nothing else can. In the face of pain, illness and disability, it also brings so much healing.
The power of healing
Not every one of us has had family members in the hospital, but many of us probably know someone that has. It can’t be easy. I’ve learned that the power of healing in the face of adversity carries over across the board. Whether it’s a close relative in the hospital or other institution, a younger sibling struggling with an eating disorder, or the fresh grief of losing a loved one, there’s a level of recovery to be found in every single situation. Even the ones that push us to the edge of the cliff. If we look hard enough, we have the strength within us to help us face and conquer any challenge thrown our way. Before my Child Life volunteering experience, I didn’t think this was possible at all. But seeing entire families grow and heal has ignited my conviction in this unique ability of us as human beings. If we really want to, we can overcome ANYTHING.