My daughter's dog bite to her face

A dog bit Paeton’s face.

As a mom, I like having a plan and checking things off my list. I also like to see my plans coming to fruition. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned since being a mom, it’s that nothing goes as planned.

Since August, I’ve found myself sitting in the emergency room of Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin not once, but twice with two of my three children. Both situations were not in my plan.

I sat there both times feeling anxious and worried, but forcing a brave face for the sake of my hurting children. Even though I didn’t have a plan, I knew Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin did — thanks to their amazing team of doctors and child life specialists.

Child life specialists had a plan, when we didn’t

I can remember when the surgeon talked me through the process of taking care of my daughter’s dog bite to her face. He reassured me that everything would be fine and that a child life specialist would be present to help us through it.

I had no expectations because I had never worked with a child life specialist before. Our experience was truly amazing! She knew exactly how to communicate with my daughter in a way that even I couldn’t have done. She asked her a few quick questions, and within minutes she had my daughter completely enthralled with an iPad and some fun toys. I sat back and watched in amazement as the doctors worked on my daughter’s face while the child life specialist kept her smiling the entire time.

When I unexpectedly returned to the emergency room a few months later with my son, I prayed that someone from the child life team would be on staff that night to help us. I knew he needed stitches in his head and I knew there was no way this was going to go well without some help. We were blessed again with a fabulous member of the child life team who swooped in like a fairy godmother with his favorite movie and a cool toy to keep my little man happy while they sutured his head.

I can’t express enough how thankful my husband and I are for the women and men that make up the team of child life specialists. They had a plan when we didn’t, and for that we are grateful. The child life team is another reason that we absolutely love and boast about Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin.

Marlaina Ulrich– Marlaina Ulrich, guest blogger

The goal of the Kohl’s Child Life Program at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin is to normalize the hospital experience for patients and their families through play, socialization, preparation and support during procedures.


How child life specialists helped my kids during their emergency room visits — 4 Comments

  1. When my 6 year old had to have 13 stitches in his head, a Child Life Specialist came in and distracted him by playing Angry Birds with him on an Ipad. I have video of then whole thing. He didn’t blink an eye or pay any attention to the doctor stitching up his forehead. I was so blown away and amazed! He is normally squeamish! It is unbelievable what they can do to make the experience less traumatic!

  2. I wish they had a team like that where i took my son.he was prob 5 or 6 and need several stitches in the area of his temple.i was freaking out.could of used a team like childrens has…also wanna say my grandson was at childrens about a year ago and the team he had was amazing

  3. I am married to a child life specialist and while this is a nice article, it does not even come close to scratching the surface of what they do.

    First of all, they are located anywhere kids are. Therefore, they work with a wide range of kids… kids with complex needs… kids with terminal diagnosis… kids of every demographic you can think of… not just “normal” kids in the ER.

    They don’t just work with the “sick” kid. They give sibling support. When there is a new diagnosis or whatever, they don’t just concentrate exclusively on the sick kid, they help brothers and sisters understand what is happening as well.

    Child life specialists also prepare kids and families by giving pre-op tours. They get down on a kids level and prepare the child and family for their experience in the hospital.

    They take and sort through donations. They must eliminate possible hazardous donations like stuffed animals (allergens) and make sure they are distributed evenly and fairly to the kids and families.

    They throw events. I’m talking big events with some exceeding 200+ people. These events… be it a kids parade through the halls… to a Christmas party for special needs kids and their families with Santa, gifts, and food… can help bring a little happiness and normalcy to these kids and families during tough times.

    They advocate for the kids… always. Whether it is an overzealous doctor or abusive parent… they step in for the kids best interests. They will report any issues with the appropriate professionals… social worker, medical director, human resources, or even DCF.

    As this article stated, they help kids cope with procedures through play. All kids are different and the specialist must be able to adapt the play to fit the kids needs. This is not always an easy task.

    The child life job is sometimes not respected by doctors and other medical professionals as it should be. While many within the hospital do understand the importance of child life, some look down on the profession and view it as a nuisance.

    In conclusion, they do a lot and are underpaid and underappreciated. The turnover is high in this field for a reason. It is a physically and emotionally draining career that takes a dedicated and special person to do. It is a job that is not for the faint of heart.

    So the next time you see a child life specialist, be sure to thank them and communicate to them how much you appreciate what they do. It will mean more to them than you could imagine.

    On a side note, I’m sure my wife would say I missed a lot of what they do in this post.

  4. Child Life is amazing at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. My daughter, who is now 15 and struggling with Epilepsy as a complication of a brain tumor resection in 2005, has had regular visits with Child Life Specialists. My first real encounter with this service was the day her neurosurgeon discussed the options available to me for the treatment of her brain tumor. The CL Specialist engaged my daughter as some really bad news was delivered to me. I could focus on what I needed to do and needed to know as the primary caregiver, without worrying about my daughter. They made a ladybug trinket box together as I learned my daughter’s fate. The ladybug sits on my daughter’s dresser to this date.

    Recently, she was hospitalized in October and Child Life was there again. We were on the Epilepsy Monitoring Unit, a unit where the patients are not allowed to leave their room. Child Life was there with activities, crafts and a Trick-or-Treat gift bag from a Halloween party on a different floor, that she was not allowed to attend.

    I cannot say enough for the amazing men and women who routinely walk the halls of Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. Child Life is yet another example of the extraordinary people who take care of our children when the worst happens.

    Thanks Children’s Hospital.