You may describe advanced technology and gadgets as cold and lifeless. Hospital Play Specialists (Note: now called Child Life Specialists), however, use them as tools to enhance communication between isolated children and their family, warming their lonely souls.
Miaomiao, a 6-year-old suffering from neuroblastoma needed to wear audiphones and use simple sign language to communicate with people due to an inborn hearing problem. In order to treat his neuroblastoma, Miaomiao needed to receive 5 days of continuous highly radioactive medicine. During the process, he needed to stay alone in the isolation ward except for any necessary medical procedures. His parents could only be with him for 10 minutes behind the protective lead screen everyday to avoid excess radiation exposure.
In the past, because of the highly radioactive treatment, child patients could only use a telephone to communicate. They could only have photos to find comfort when they missed their parents badly. And Miaomiao’s hearing problem made it even tougher for him to talk to his parents during the 5 days of isolation. It was a huge chore to him.
Our Hospital Play Specialist stepped up and tried a new way of communicating to help him overcome this obstacle. It is not easy to set up a video conference call for a 6-year-old boy alone using a laptop computer. Using a tablet is much more simple. After the Play Specialist’s trial, a wireless router was set up to provide Wi-Fi service in the room. Miaomiao could finally communicate easily with his parents in this virtual set-up, easing the pain of separation.
After solving this communication problem, the Play Specialist used some toys to let Miaomiao understand the environment of the isolation ward and the treatment arrangements. These included a boy puppet lying down in a model of the isolation ward, along with his all-time favourite superman photo, laptop and tablet paper model. The Play Specialist put ‘paper-parents’ and a ‘paper nurse’ on the other side of the model, showing although they are not there in person, they can still watch closely.
The Play Specialist also left a hand puppet, representing herself, to be with Miaomiao through the whole treatment. After one night, Miaomiao tried to point out the logo on the windbreaker of the puppet and Play Specialist, mouthing the letters C-C-F. It was a very touching moment that made the Play Specialist feel accepted by Miaomiao, reaffirming the value of hospital play work.
Using tablet computers as virtual communication tools has been widely accepted by The Prince of Wales Hospital for use with other child patients. Their use eases the feeling of isolation and loneliness brought about by sickness. It also reflects the mission of Hospital Play Specialists to use different ways to improve the quality of life for children in hospital – turning illness into an opportunity to grow.
CCF Newsletter Vol. 43 (Feb 2013)