A Day in the Life of a Child Life Specialist
November 11, 2021
Foster Rosemund is a Certified Child Life Specialist at Children’s Hospital Colorado. As part of the Child Life team, she works in the hospital’s cardiac units, helping patient families facing difficult diagnoses to cope. Here, Foster shares about a typical day on the job.
7:58 a.m. I arrive at Children’s Hospital Colorado for my 8 a.m. shift. I always start my day by checking the patient census and seeing if there are any newly admitted patients. Some days we have upwards of 40 kids in our cardiac units, but today there are about 30. From there, I check in with the nurses, then I prioritize and plan out my day. Looks like it’s going to be a busy one!
8:25 a.m. I begin my day by doing a medical play session with a 4-year-old little boy who will soon have surgery to repair his heart defect. Sometimes I’m referred to as “the toy lady,” but I don’t think people realize how much thought goes into every detail of my play sessions! For me, every “toy” is a tool that allows me to bring up specific conversations to help the child prepare, cope, understand and process.
For this particular patient, I bring in some of the equipment that will be used in his surgery, as well as a large teaching doll. We talk about how doctors will give him medicine that helps him to fall asleep, so he won’t wake up while they’re fixing his heart (this can be a scary concept for an imaginative child!). We put a pretend oxygen mask on the doll’s face, and I explain the surgery in simple terms. I leave feeling hopeful that our play session helped to ease his fears.
9:45 a.m. Next, I head to visit a family whose 6-month-old daughter has been in the hospital for two months awaiting a heart transplant. I learned from a nurse that the patient’s older sister is having a hard time. She’s only 2 and doesn’t understand why her parents are always at the hospital. It’s hard to explain a complex cardiac diagnosis to siblings – especially toddlers – so I made the family a homemade book to take home to their older daughter. The book uses simple, age-appropriate terms to explain how we are taking care of her sister’s heart. I even personalized the story with the family’s names and pictures of the hospital. The mom is very grateful. She tells me she’s been struggling to help her older child to understand and feel involved, and she is hopeful that this book will help.
10:20 a.m. I stop by to visit a family who was recently admitted. Their newborn baby was diagnosed with a heart defect hours after birth. This was totally unexpected, and I can tell they feel overwhelmed. In these situations, I do what I can to create a more normal, soothing environment. Hospital rooms can be noisy, with lots of machines and beeping, so I give the parents a noise machine to help drown out the sound. I also offer them a mobile to put over their hospital crib and an infant rocker to help soothe the baby. These might seem like little things, but for a family that’s totally out of their element, they mean a lot. Plus, it can help to ease the transition back to home when the baby leaves the hospital!
11 a.m. One of our long-term patients has finally been matched to a donor heart! Her transplant is scheduled for this afternoon. She’s 5 years old, and she has severe separation anxiety, so her mom had asked if I would help to keep her calm when it’s time to take her to the OR. I scrub up and head to the patient’s room. I’ve formed a strong bond with this little girl over her nine-week hospitalization, and she lights up when she sees me. When it’s time to go, she starts to get upset, but I improvise and start singing songs from “Frozen”, her favorite movie. Before I know it, the entire operating team is belting out “Let it Go” right along with me. The little girl’s face breaks into a smile, which remains on her face right up until the moment she falls asleep. I hope her surgery goes well!
1:20 p.m. After grabbing a quick lunch, I head back to the cardiac ICU to assist a patient who’s about to get a peripherally inserted central catheter, also known as a PICC line. A PICC line is a bit like an IV, but it’s more invasive. It has to be inserted through your arm and passed through to the veins near the heart. This allows caregivers to administer strong medications directly to the heart but getting a PICC line is no fun.
This patient is only 8, but he wants to know step-by-step what will happen. I explain everything and together we come up with a coping plan. He chooses a movie and asks me to help distract him. When his doctor arrives, the patient seems calm as he watches “Minions”. It takes two tries to get the line placed – and it’s definitely painful — but I can tell that having a plan in place made a huge difference in this child’s comfort level.
3 p.m. One of the hardest parts of my job is when we lose a patient. It’s a reality of working with cardiac patients, but it never gets any easier. This morning, I was very sad to learn that one of our infant patients is not expected to survive – the doctors are simply out of options. The family has already met with our bereavement and spiritual care teams, but I want to do something for the family as well. I softly knock on their door and ask if they’d like to create a footprint artwork with their baby. They say yes, and I carefully take out my supplies and help the parents to paint their baby’s tiny feet. Together, we gently press her lavender footprints onto a paper that I will turn into a framed artwork. These moments are truly sacred for me. In the midst of an impossibly difficult situation, I hope that I’m creating a special memory that this family will hold onto for many years to come.
4:05 p.m. I drop off a toy for a patient on my way back to my office. I’m still holding the footprint artwork in my other hand as I hand over a Barbie to a delighted 6 year old, who insists on giving me a quick bedside manicure. Sometimes it’s strange that these joyful and painful moments are both equally important parts of my job. That’s why I’m so grateful to have my incredible Child Life team. We always support one another through the hard days.
4:30 p.m. My shift is ending, but it often feels like my work is never truly “done.” Even on a packed day, I always wish I could do more for our patients! I add a few notes to some charts and head home, feeling tired yet grateful for this rewarding job that I love so much.