It's hard to believe our time here in Ghana has come to an end. This has been an amazing and inspiring experience! One I will never forget.
This was my first trip to Ghana as a volunteer. I am a child life specialist at Boston Children's Hospital in the cardiac ICU. My role is to help patients cope with their hospitalization through play, distraction, and teaching. In addition, I provide procedural support and sibling support, along with many other responsibilities to help make the hospital less scary for patients and their families.
Throughout the week, I worked with our patients pre operatively and post operatively. Most of the patients came into the hospital the day before their surgery for their pre-op lab work. Dr. Gordon, the Ghanaian surgeon, drew labs and placed IVs for the kids. I helped distract the patients during this time, usually by blowing bubbles, looking at an I Spy book, or by providing soothing words and touch. Dr. Gordon was very appreciative of this support as he said there was much less crying and patients did not try to pull away as they typically would. It was incredible to see how stoic the patients were and how easily distracted they could be with something as simple (to us) as bubbles. Pre-op patients were also given diversional activities (crayons, coloring books, stickers, books, and puzzles-all items from our wonderful donors) to help pass the long waiting times. Many of the parents joined in in the coloring, blowing bubbles, and doing puzzles as these were novel items not just to the patients, but to them as well. It was moving to see them participating in these activities with their children as they were learning, too.
On the day of a patient's surgery, I typically was able to spend time with the patients while they waited for their turn in the OR. All of the patients really enjoyed being given a stuffed animal and playing doctor with medical play kits (also donated). I was able to use some real medical supplies as well including fun Band-Aids, an oxygen mask, syringes for administering pretend medication, and nasal cannula tubing. By reversing the role and allowing the patients to become the doctor, they were able to be more comfortable with the medical equipment and better understand what was happening to them. They really seemed to enjoy the medical play. Providing the patients with these play opportunities, allowed me to better communicate with them as many of them do not speak English. I was told by several members of my team, that patients were more calm prior to surgery and even helped with the oxygen mask by placing it over their mouth and taking deep breaths!
The time I spent with patients and their families also helped to continue building a trusting relationship. It did not take long for the patients and their families to figure out that I was there to play, not to provide medical interventions. Having that relationship allowed me to better support the nurses for when they needed my help encouraging patients to take medication, go for walks, use a nasal cannula for additional oxygen, and distract a patient during a procedure.
Much of my role, post operatively, was to provide procedural support, help patients go for walks, encourage deep breathing through the use of bubbles and pinwheels, and provide diversional activities to help pass the time.
I really enjoyed talking with the Ghanaian medical team about child life. They had a lot of questions about my field and I was able to model how they can incorporate a lot of what I do into their work to help make the hospital less scary for their pediatric patients. This included using comfort holds rather than restraining a patient and giving patients control when possible. I left some items, including a medical play kit, with the nurses. Maybe some day they will have a child life specialist at KATH?!
When outside the hospital, I had such eye opening experiences while visiting local schools, orphanages, taking a tour of children's wards at the hospital, and learning about Ghana and it's fascinating culture!
I so appreciate being given this amazing opportunity to come on this medical mission trip! Not only was I able to meet and work with these wonderful kids and their parents, but the Hearts and Minds team was incredible as well. I couldn't have asked for a more supportive, compassionate, and giving team to have worked alongside and learned from! Thank you!