October 8, 2014
Thais Cockrum , Operation Smile Staff
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Bubbles and giggles filled the Child Life Room at Hospital Carrion in Callao, Peru. It was the kind of scene you would expect in any playroom full of children, but there was something different here. In addition to bubbles, balls and toys, the kids were also busy playing with band-aids, stethoscopes and anesthesia masks.
It may have looked more like a game, but each patient’s “playtime” with a child life specialist was an important step for what was yet to come. The Child Life Room is the last stop before surgery on any Operation Smile medical mission. In this room, medical and non-medical volunteers help ease fears and concerns by showing both the children and their parents what to expect as they go into surgery.
Since I speak Spanish, I was able to help translate for our volunteer child life specialist, Nicole Romanelli. She spoke one-on-one with each child and their parent as they waited for life-changing cleft lip or cleft palate surgery. Nicole demonstrated on medical equipment what the children were going to see soon in surgery and recovery. This whole process to helps make the children feel more comfortable once they saw these objects in the operating room, as well as helps the parents understand what their children will experience.
I was so impressed with how Nicole calmed down the kids. The group of children went from being apprehensive and scared, to inquisitive and excited. Nicole didn’t just help prepare the children, but she also helped put nervous parents at ease.
One uncle had brought his niece here for her second surgery with Operation Smile - this time for a cleft palate repair. And her little brother Michael was scheduled for a cleft lip surgery. Their uncle was noticably anxious and on the verge of tears. But just seeing little Mia and Michael playing with a doll covered in band-aids, smiling and laughing, showed him everything was going to be ok.
I saw similar looks of relief on the faces of many parents after they talked with Nicole. As a first time Operation Smile volunteer, I was overwhelemed by the dedication of our medical and non-medical volunteers. Nicole and all the other volunteers commit themselves entirely to these children who they will likely never see again, but treat each child as if they were their own.
The Child Life Room, is something that’s not just fun, it is vital. This kind of one-on-one attention and conversation is something that needs to happen to ensure that kids and their families are as comfortable as possible with their upcoming surgery and treatment.
I'm forever grateful to all the volunteers who make medical missions possible, and I can tell that all the patients and parents I talked to in Peru feel the same.
Tags: Our Blog, Volunteer Stories, From the Field, Our Team, Latin America & Caribbean