After returning from the Playmaker training for child life specialists, I felt refreshed and rejuvenated as well as inspired and excited to use all that I learned. I was tested almost immediately with a very difficult case at my hospital.
I had begun working very closely with a set of six-year-old fraternal twins, “Michael” and “Jess.” The twins were in a horrific car fire and hospitalized for extensive second- and third-degree burns on their chest, face, legs, and hands. Even more upsetting was the fact that this car fire was set intentionally by their own mother in a dual suicide/homicide attempt. Needless to say, the playful, joyful approach advocated by Playmakers as a way to create deep connections and facilitate healing did not come to the front of my mind as I set out to do child life interventions with them.
However, I was quickly surprised by Michael, the precocious and inquisitive, yet protective older twin. Michael was brought into the hydrotherapy room, or “tank room,” daily for burn cleaning and dressing changes. He was frequently distressed by the thought of this procedure, as it is long and quite painful. I knew this would be the perfect opportunity to work closely with him to relieve his pain and anxiety. I brainstormed some ideas not only to divert him from the pain, but also to find a way to connect with Michael and have him connect with the technicians helping him.
Almost immediately I thought of “Magic Ball.” Since Michael could not move from the tank table to express his own moves, he used the Magic Ball to be in total control of mine. “Magic Ball, Magic Ball, do the robot!” he would say and I would do my best robot moves. “Magic Ball, Magic Ball, do the twist!” “Magic Ball, Magic Ball, do the silly dance!” His happiness and delight grew, as did his distraction.
Then came an imaginative idea that took the cake. “Magic Ball, Magic Ball, CONGA LINE!” The room instantly turned into a party-like atmosphere. All the staff members, burn technicians, the child life specialist, the child life intern, and the nurses jumped on the conga line and snaked throughout the tank room and beyond. Michael was sitting up on the bed, his burns exposed, but smiling and laughing nonstop! He was able not only to gain some control in this situation, but also to be entertained by the very staff people who before he perceived as the people “who hurt me.” The benefits of this intervention are innumerable and great. Michael actually looked forward to getting his dressings changed from this point on.
In the course of Michael’s treatment I implemented many more Playmaker games, activities, and techniques that provided both comfort and connection. This experience, along with all the Playmaker techniques I am using, have essentially transformed my career forever. Not only have I learned about myself and how to remain joyful and engaged even in the saddest of situations, but I learned from Michael how to keep positive in the face of adversity. I have strengthened my practice and deepened my passion for helping children in need.
The Life is Good Playmakers has been a blessing, and I don’t think I can express exactly how grateful I am for the amazing group of people who have facilitated my growth as a Playmaker and professional!
Playmaker and Child Life Specialist
This article is excerpted and adapted from the book Life is Good by Bert and John Jacobs, published by National Geographic on September 1, 2015. Copyright © 2015 The Life is Good Company.