Making teens feel at home
Helen O’Callaghan reports on how play therapy helps patients
‘YOU just want to go in and hang with one of your friends and feel like you’re at home.” This is how one patient described the teen room on St John’s Haematology Oncology Ward at Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital Crumlin (OLCHC).
St John’s Ward sees 210330 patients annually, about 40% of them teenagers. Katie McManus is a play specialist with teens and adolescents (12 to 18 years) on the ward. She says she generally needs to do ice-breaker activities before young patients get to being happy to hang out together.
“Hands-on group activities are best for getting them into the teen room — video games, baking and pizza parties, crafts and we have Netflix on offer too.”
OLCHC director of nursing Tracey Wall says play and distraction is a vital resource for hospitals treating children. “It isn’t just a ‘nice to have’ — it’s an essential service for maintaining wellbeing and normal, healthy development of a child. [It’s also] a coping strategy before and during treatment.”
An important aspect of Katie’s role is to prepare children for medical intervention — one of the commonest is fitting of nasogastric (NG) tube to bring food/medicine straight to the stomach.
“I show them an NG tube so they can touch, feel and see it won’t be hard or stiff in the back of their throat. I explain the good side of it: patients can be nauseous with little appetite and parents often nag them to eat. This way food goes straight to the stomach. I explain this builds strength and often facilitates them get home quicker. And it’s great for getting medicine down if it doesn’t taste good.”
Katie also shows a video of NG tubes being inserted, so patients know what to expect. “They see it’s very quick and easy when the patient stays relaxed. We discuss things they can do to make the procedure easier — like sucking a straw/lollipop because swallowing helps ease the tube down. I invite questions. We discuss what they’d like in the room while it’s being done, eg, calming music, and who they’d like to be there. They often ask for stress balls or just to squeeze their mum/dad’s hand.”
Understandably, many patients feel high anxiety and Katie helps them cope. “They often feel they have to put on a brave face for parents. I remind them there’s no right or wrong way through this. I encourage them to ask questions, chat, get out of their rooms and participate in all the normal activities we have to keep them going.”
GAMES MASTER: Katie McManus, play therapist, does various activities to break the ice.