Having spent 2014 and 2015 at Bara, in the Paediatrics Burns Unit, prepared me well for some of the severe cases of trauma due to extensive burn injuries, the children have suffered this year.
I have continued bringing art equipment and music into the Unit every Wednesday morning, hoping to relax the children, brighten up their lives, give them a chance to express their feelings & also to add some educational aspects, so that they are also learning new things while they’re missing school.
Learning languages plays a big part in these Art workshops or sessions…I learn more Zulu and they pick up more English. Occasionally I need an interpreter, which is most often one of the bigger children.
Walking into the Paed Burns Unit every Wednesday, means greeting every staff member present, Sister Churu and then engaging with the Physios and OT’s. They all know me very well by now and we have a good rapport. They know that they can trust me with their little patients and I always ask if I’m not sure about something to do with the children.
The staff have witnessed me rolling up my sleeves, putting on gloves and changing nappies, helping with feeding smaller children or children with bandaged hands and generally dishing out love and attention to babies, children and parents too. This is all over and above our Art sessions, but I feel that it’s important to buckle down and fit into this challenging environment, as well as possible. There are times in winter when the nursing staff just don’t have any extra pairs of hands.
First I put my bags of Art materials and Music into the gym area and then I walk up to the bigger children’s ward where I ‘recruit’ my art students for the morning. I check on every child in the ward to see who will be capable of walking down to the gym, who will need help walking or will need to be carried. I also check to see whether they are permitted to leave their beds, depending on where they’re at after recent surgery or fevers from infection.
Some of the little patients are at the hospital for a short time, but some have to stay for weeks and even months. With the long-term children I am able to guage their emotional states and whether they’re improving or taking steps backwards. They are usually happy to see me and are eager to go down to the gym, except for those who are in too much pain to move or walk. For those cases I bring art materials up to the ward for them.
The gym becomes our Art room most of the time, but when it is freezing in winter, we have our art and music class in the ward. Or when there is extra infection control necessary.
Wednesday is outpatient day, so I often get to see previous art students, and if there is space they join the current patients in the gym and sometimes they connect with their friends.
I definitely get the opportunity to see where the outpatients are with their general emotions and often get to meet family members who I encourage to use art with their children at home too.
I also remind the family member how important movement is. For example, Thakasane, (9) whose feet were burnt underneath, was hobbling on the side of his foot, too afraid to walk flat. I showed him how to strengthen his toes, make them ‘active’, how to balance by gripping the ground with spread toes. The following week he had vastly improved. His Mom was present to see what I was advising, as well as a physio. This is a trick I’ve learnt in my Iyengar Yoga classes. It helps so much when the parent is also encouraged to participate in the healing process.
Occasionally a parent or caregiver will join in an Art session with their child.
The Medical care in the Burns Unit is exemplary, so I always try to match that standard with emotional care. It gives me great pleasure to see children who are in such difficulty, smiling, singing, dancing, painting and collaging and playing.
A child like Tshidiso, (7) who lost his left arm in an electrocution accident, is actually a budding little artist. His art is going to see him through trying times in his life…I certainly saw his self-esteem improve every time he created a little masterpiece and received praise all round. He still draws himself with two arms.
I saw him when he came in for a check-up after being discharged and his confidence level was very good. Tshidiso was a very serious case in the beginning.
Little clever Ishan, (5) who wouldn’t budge off his bed initially, who was very annoyed and afraid, slowly but surely he warmed to me and the art classes and produced some very precise pieces of work…he would draw pages of perfect little circles, like bubbles all over the page. Actually very advanced for his age, but he seemed to find solace in just repeating and repeating those circles of different sizes, mostly just in blue pencil crayon. I see that as a kind of meditative process.
The children do see me as a ‘Mom’ and even sometimes as a ‘Gran’. A little boy Zaidan called me Ouma this morning! I do wipe noses, take them to the loo and hold their hands when they have blood tests.
I am able to elaborate on most of the little patients who have crossed my path this year and even previous years, if and when necessary.
I have brought three high school girls into my Art sessions on different occasions. One needed to do her community service and the other two are interested in studying medicine. I have records of their visits and how they assisted with the children. The children gained a lot and I enjoyed the help, especially with the smaller patients. I also have a volunteer lady, Carin Walker, who has come with me twice now and will come again. Carin is great with the children and reads to them too.
Thank you to you Jerome, Chris, Ansie and the SFLL board for enabling me to work with the children in this admirable Unit.