I didn’t even know the Child Life Council (or just “Child Life,” as it’s more commonly called) existed, until I needed them.

Last fall, my youngest child, Finn, suffered a life-threatening skull fracture.  It’s all so vivid still... the accident, the blood, the trip the hospital.  I thought he needed a just a few stitches, but I was still horrified by the amount of blood he lost and the task of keeping him awake on the way to the hospital (I was pretty sure that’s what you’re supposed to do... and it is).

We drove to go to Methodist West because it was the closest hospital. It was a Sunday and the small hospital had a tiny staff.  We waited and waited.  A nurse came in and confirmed (in my mind) that he just needed a couple of staples and we’d be on our way. We waited for the doctor to treat him so we could get out of there.  When the doctor came in, Finn started vomiting and I knew it was more serious than I’d thought.  The doctor started talking about fractures and life flight. They decided to send him to Blank Children’s Hospital in an ambulance. Finn grew more pale and more lethargic as we waited for the ambulance.  This is when it occurred to me that he could die.

My husband rode with Finn in the ambulance and I followed in our car, shaky and numb.  When I walked into the ER, they told me to go to room D.  I pushed through double-doors straight into the middle of a grieving family who had just lost a child.  I heard the mother’s wailing and thought, “This is how it happens. You’re home playing and then you’re in the hospital and your baby is gone.”  I pushed nightmarish thoughts of leaving the hospital without Finn out of my mind and asked a nurse to show me to room D. They were prepping Finn for a number of CTs to make sure his neck and spine were fine and to get a better look at his fracture. The nurse told us the neurosurgeon (neurosurgeon!) would be in to talk to us about repairing the fracture. After the scans, the neurosurgeon told us that the location of the fracture made reparative surgery more risky than just leaving it alone.  The bone was pressing on a vein that, if punctured, would cause him to bleed to death in a couple of minutes.  He’d be stitched up and admitted for observation and more tests.  That’s when Child Life came in.

Because Finn had experienced a head injury, the doctors couldn’t give him anything for the pain. He was screaming and had still bleeding.  I think there were at least three nurses and my husband holding him down and while the neurosurgeon stitched his head. It was beyond chaos.  There was no room for me to hold him, so I stood back hoping it would go quickly.  A Child Life associate came in with an iPad so Finn could watch Toy Story.  She was so calm and gentle and completely unshaken by the scene.  You could tell she really understood children and her presence helped calm him down.  She was filling a role that I couldn’t fill at the moment and I’m so thankful.

Our experience with Child Life didn’t end there.  Once we were given a room in the pediatric intensive care unit, another Child Life associate was there immediately asking what kinds of toys Finn liked and what movies he’d want to watch. The next day, another associate came and brought a helicopter for Finn to paint and some play doh and new toys.  Then Finn had to have an MRI, for which he had to be sedated.  Again, there was Child Life, playing games with him when he had to have another IV line in for the sedative. He fell asleep playing on her iPad. Once he was moved out of the ICU, he was able to go to the playroom in Blank.  He thought it was awesome.  He still associates that building with the playroom whenever we drive by.

We finally went home, but were admitted again twice.  Both times it was the same:  Child Life was there right away with toys and movies.  They were there to distract him when he needed IVs and there to make his hospital stay, dare I say... fun?  It was.  To him, the hospital was fun.  It wasn’t horrifying for him, like it was for me.  He doesn’t associate his stays with the IVs or the headaches or the tests, he talks about the play room.  The crafts.  The toys.  The movies.  His memories are all about what Child Life did for him.  For that, I am so grateful. 

While a huge part of Child Life’s success is the people who make up their teams, it’s also the people in the community donating money and wishlist items to help make hospital stays as comfortable as possible.  Donations stock the play room.  Donations stock the craft supply and the movie library. For this reason, I am so grateful to the members of Des Moines Kubb for nominating the Child Life program at Blank Children’s Hospital as the recipient of proceeds from this year’s Fall Kubb Klassic.

To us, the couple of weeks we spent in and out of the hospital seemed like an eternity.  But some of these kids were there for months, through birthdays and holidays.  I saw them in the playroom and at craft time.  These kids and their families were facing a lot of suffering. But they were having fun and being kids.  I’m so happy Des Moines Kubb will be able to be a part of that.

For more information:
Blank Children's Child Life Organization