This past week, I (Rebecca) spent time on the Child's Ward with Trisha. I had been waiting so long to be placed here and was definitely excited, but nervous because of the hard stories I have heard from the other girls. There were a few things that we learned this week that stood out. The first was just how resilient children are when faced with difficult situations. The strength some of these children display could rival that of their adult counterparts. The second is the power of play.
Some patients on this ward have to endure things that wouldn't occur in Canada. They come into the hospital with illnesses like malaria, gastroenteritis with dehydration, and osteomyelitis. The hospital is run-down and a scary place, and their parents don't really get a break because they are responsible for feeding, cleaning up, and all other daily activities that the child needs. The parents work so hard to care for their children and they don't always have the extra energy to play with their little ones. You can notice the unease on parents' and children's' faces when we first walk in, as we are the minority, but this slowly changed from uncertainty to relief when we take the time to throw a ball around.
One of the hardest things to see is when children must undergo a procedure, as it is not commonplace to use analgesic here. They are lucky if they get some Tylenol, which hardly does anything realistically. Some kids have gone through the same things week after week. They scream before the doctors even touch them, knowing what is about to happen. One boy had to undergo a procedure a couple times during the week while we were there. The first time he was so scared, wriggling away from the clinical officers, and inconsolable. The fear of the unknown is a big thing, especially for little ones, but the second time he was very stoic. He did not wriggle away, and just a squeeze of my hand got him through.
The amazing thing is when they smile and laugh an hour later when they get to play. Some of the kids have such serious looks on their faces all the time. It is rare to see a smile without prompting. It was my goal to get some laughter out of some of the kids and the key was bubbles! Going around and simply blowing bubbles brought so much joy to these kids.
The nurses don't have the chance to hand out toys to play with as they would also have to get them back after. A big part of us being there was having the time to do such things for the children. Being handed a colouring sheet and some crayons give them something to do, a little distraction from what they are dealing with in the hospital. The look of pride on their faces when they finish and show it to you is literally a picture worth a thousand words.
Kids are forced to tough it out by the situations they find themselves in, but they are still children at the root of it all. Tiny. Innocent. Dependent on others. A smile can go a long way in making their circumstances a little better.
-Rebecca and Trisha