Meet Aimee, one of our Grand Appeal Play Assistants.
For her patients, self-isolating at home isn’t an option. They still need round-the-clock care.
Aimee tells us how the power of play brings light and laughter to patients, even in these dark times.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your role…
My name’s Aimee and I’m a full-time Play Assistant at Bristol Children’s Hospital. Along with Sian, a fellow Play Assistant, I work on Starlight Ward, which cares for children aged from only a few months old to 16-years-old, who are bravely battling cancer. Both our roles are fully funded by The Grand Appeal and the wonderful support the charity receives.
You might hear ‘Play Assistant’ and think it’s all fun and games, but it’s so much more than that. Hospital can be a really scary place. There are lots of new faces, new sounds, and new feelings to cope with. That’s where Sian and I come in.
Through encouraging a child to play, we can create a welcoming, safe and caring environment. It can also be a useful tool by helping to prepare children for medical procedures or even distract them during one.
Above all else, I’m a source of support. Whether it’s talking about emotions, body image, spirituality or death, I’m here to try to ease all of those worrying thoughts that could race through a child’s mind. It means I get to know patients and their parents incredibly well, and I can act as an advocate for them when talking to other hospital staff.
What does an average day look like for you?
Every day is different for me. Some are positive and fun because the children are in high spirits, but what many people don’t realise is how difficult some days can be. Especially if I’m supporting a child who has been given bad news or are struggling with their illness.
Coronavirus has also changed the way we do things. It’s a worry for our patients. They are vulnerable. Even a common cold or cough could be a danger for them.
Isolation, however, is nothing new to them. If a patient has received a bone marrow transplant, they won’t be able to leave their room and only certain family members may visit them.
But because limited contact has now been extended to hospital staff too, I’ve had to get inventive! I’ve been making craft and play packs for patients as well, playing games through the window of their hospital room or simply giving them a smile and wave each day. I want them to know I am still here.
Why is play so important?
We all know how important play is for children. This is even greater in a hospital setting. Children are thrown into a situation where they have to deal with the side effects of their treatment, both physically and mentally.
Play is also an aspect, if not the only aspect, of normal life a patient can continue. From arts and crafts to playing superheroes or card games, we’ll find out what they like to do at home and make sure there is much ‘normal play’ as possible.
Most of the patients I care for have been in hospital for weeks or months. It can feel like all the fun of life has been stripped away. It’s tough, but I’m here to change that. Being a Play Assistant means brightening up a patient’s life by reminding them what it’s like to be a kid again.
What’s your favourite thing about your role and the hardest?
When I’m invited into a patient’s life whilst they deal with the unimaginable, it feels like an honour.
The toughest part is when patients sadly pass away or have setbacks in their treatment. It never gets any easier when that happens. Especially after spending so much time building a relationship with them.
How does it feel to be working at the hospital during the coronavirus crisis?
We are all in this together. Everyone is doing such an amazing job. We’re here for our patients more than ever.
If I had anything to say to my colleagues, it would be ‘make sure you are all looking after yourself! And as long as we’re ok, we can continue doing our best – caring for patients with a big smile on our face. Let your smile change the world. Don’t let the world change your smile.
Help save more lives and make life better for young patients in hospital