The first time I saw Winnie she was sleeping. She had traveled for over 20 hours, landed at three in the morning and had just enough time to eat before arriving at Wolfson medical center for a day full of testing; all to get a detailed picture of what is going on inside the body of this 7 year old.
The next time I saw her, about an hour later, I walked in to a team of nurses working hard to get her blood. It seemed as though they had already been attempting for a bit of time as she was drenched in sweat and had little gauze patches covered needle pokes on at least two extremities. She was crying, an itchy throat cry full of pain. She was stretching her body to its fullest capacity, her toes trying to detach themselves and walk away. Soon after I walked in, the team decided the vein they were looking for was not willing to be found, so they asked Dr. Dafi to step in and she quickly began searching another limb for a vein that would sell the good stuff. I assessed the situation and saw that Winnie was needing a teammate. I immediately decided to crawl into bed with her. I stepped on the edge of the bed and climbed over her and pulled her close to mine. I lifted her knees and rested the lower part of her legs on mine to try and relieve some of the tension that she was holding. I offered my hand to hers that was free, and she latched on. She immediately squeezed tight, releasing some of her fear and pain to me. I could handle it, that’s what I was there for. As I held her, she cried for her mama, as many six year olds in her situation would. Except most six year olds are not 6500 miles away from their mother in a foreign country for open heart surgery. I held her and stroked her forehead with my loose hand. I softly spoke words into her ear. Words that she didn’t understand but I hoped would soothe her. I wiped the sweat away, trying my best to also catch some stress and fear with it. Although she was terrified and exhausted, she did not move away from the doctor as she searched for a vein. She knew it needed to happen and she worked so hard to be still. After the first attempt while I was present, I asked if we could give her a moment to catch her breath. Dr. Dafi, the pediatric resident on duty in the children’s surgical department, quickly agreed. I physically sat her up, positioned her between my legs, and wrapped my entire body around her, swaddling her in my limbs. She succumbed her little frame and let her body fall against mine. Dr. Dafi gave Winnie a few minutes to calm her breathing and although still crying, she relaxed slightly. Dr Dafi decided to give her the option to continue at that time or try again later. Winnie’s nurse Zedi translated, and Winnie agreed through tears that now was better. Dr. Dafi asked her which arm she wanted to try next and she bravely chose her left arm without hesitation. The fact that she was given options allowed her to have some sense of control- however small, over the situation she was in, and Dr. Dafi showed her that the two were on the same side. Winnie calmed quickly once the decision was made and her entire demeanor change d as a storm of intensity took over her face. We adjusted our bodies to cater to her decision and she held her other hand up for me to take. Once our hands were clasped and Dr. Dafi had her other arm to search for a vein, we were in this together, us three. Winnie gripped my hand hard and I gripped hers back, telling her without words that I was with her. She nuzzled against my body and looked into my eyes.
She gritted her teeth as the needle slid into the vein and blood flowed out, on the first try after our breathing break! It seems as though as Winnie relaxed on the exterior, her veins were able to relax a little as well. As soon as she turned her head to see what was happening, she looked back at me and smiled the most beautiful smile I had ever seen. Her smile told me that she was okay. Her smile told me that she was resilient. Her smile told me that she was proud of her own strength. Her smile told me that she was in control- a control given to her by a doctor that cared about her ability to cope. Her smile told me that she was braver than I will ever be. Her smile made me cry. I looked back into her eyes through glass. And I didn’t look away. I let her see that I was smiling back at her and my tears spoke the words “I am so proud of you.” “I will stand by you.” “I will hold your hand.” “I will cry with you.”
Before I stood up and moved on. I took out my phone. I opened it for her and was going to put on a game for her to play but instead she opened the camera. She turned it around so it was pointing as us and took a picture. We both smiled the biggest smiles we could.
This experience was a perfect example of the strength and bravery that SACH kids show during only one medical procedure, in a sea of medical procedures that happen while they are in Israel for their life saving cardiac procedure. It shows the positive impact of having a team that is really working together to help the kids while understanding the developmental needs of children, as they are not just little adults. As a Certified Child Life Specialist, it is my job to understand these needs and to do everything I can to cater to each child individually, and my job is made so much easier by having teammates that care about these children as children, and not just as patients. I am so incredibly grateful to be a part of this team.