Imagine walking into the emergency room with your 2-year-old who has croup, and the procedure to relieve the acute condition is a breathing treatment.
But your child is afraid of the mask and every time the respiratory therapist and nurses put it on, he or she fights them while trying to pull it off. Nothing you do to distract the child seems to work. Enter the child life specialist. Trained in distracting and soothing children who are dealing with scary hospital situations they can divert your child's attention and help to sooth any fears.
This is the world of Lutheran Hospital's Tammy Else. She works with both inpatient and outpatient children to make their emergency room visit or prolonged stay a little bit easier for both for them and their parents. She is a trained and certified professional who can help teenagers cope with the loneliness of a long stay in the hospital or provide entertainment and distraction for the young, before, during or after a procedure. She knows how to explain a procedure to a child in ways that make it not so scary.
Starting this fall, when the new Lutheran Hospital Pediatric ER opens there will be two full-time child life specialists to handle the caseload. Else has also been working with the new pediatric ER nursing staff to familiarize them with the techniques she uses. Each ER room has specially made bags of child-friendly distractions like bubbles and horns to blow to distract the child from a shot or stitches.
For patients Anissa Bredenmeyer, 15, and sister Alena, 11, Else has become more then a health care service provider. She is a friend. The two sisters have Crohn's disease, which has meant many trips to the ER, stays in the hospital and return visits to the outpatient treatment center for infusions every five weeks. She knows the girls well enough that the last time Alena was in the hospital Else knew just what kind of crafty items to give her as a birthday gift to keep her entertained during her four-hour outpatient infusion treatment.
“With all of our testing," Anissa Bredenmeyer said, "there have been times when it is hard to get your mind off all the needles and everything. They will bring up fun things to do to take your mind off all the testing. When I was little it would make me not feel as bad about what was going on or what the nurses were doing to me. The child life specialist would give me something to occupy myself. They would even hold my hand to get my mind off it.”
Alena Bredenmeyer said, “It seems like we are always at the doctor's or the hospital. With those things in our life, Tammy has become one, too.”
Their mother, Angela, said the family and Else even go to the same church, and the close relationship has been a big help for the girls. The crafts and games really occupy their time, she said.
The two girls said having been at Riley Hospital for Children they missed seeing Else because most child life specialists there do not deal with the outpatients as much.
“It is a blessing to be in a smaller place," Else said, "because I can see the list of scheduled patients the night before, and I know what crafts or games to pull to help them out.”
The child life specialist can make children feel like they can really do something, despite how bad they may feel, Anissa Bredenmeyer said. Else would stay with her and help her do crafts or play games so getting a treatment every five weeks felt more like a new normal.
“When you are doing something you enjoy it makes the time go so much faster,” Else said.
Else likes to volunteer for events, including walks and camps for cancer patients or in the Bredenmeyers' case, Crohn's disease, so she can see the children outside the hospital doing normal kid things like running and walking. It shows her how the hours of care and nurturing in the hospital have really paid off.