A World Overturned
The piece below was written by Efrat Harel, Director of Social Services at Schneider Children’s.
One day, the rules of the game changed. Or to be accurate – the new game has no rules.
And we, the social workers, found ourselves answering to the needs of the “Corona children”.
Sunday, March 15
The first coronavirus patient arrives at Schneider Children’s. We all knew the moment would come and we prepared ourselves like soldiers before battle. And still, when it began, it was all the same yet very different. Beyond the medical teams’ preparations, we quickly understood we were treating a terrified young girl, who was sick with something that is supposedly not dangerous for her, who needs to be hospitalized without her parents by her side. This meant that most of the treatment was emotional, rather than medical. And then within two days, we had three Corona children.
And that’s how we got to know M’, A’ and M’, two girls and a boy who were admitted with no parents or supervisors, with lots of fears and we had very few answers for them. They entered rooms from which they would be able to leave only after two consecutive tests showed negative results of the virus. They came armed with snacks, games, guitars, smartphones and chargers and anything else they could grab from the isolation they had come from. And for us – our most critical ‘equipment’ – the intimate, face to face relationship with the patient, was taken from us, rendered inapplicable. We had to find creative ways to build trust and create closeness, from afar. Our most talented and dedicated team took on the task, and with enduring patience, good will and compassion, found their way to the children’s hearts. The smartphone, man’s best friend, replaced face-to-face meetings and enabled us to see them and for them to see us.
The most important thing was for them to trust us to lead them through the period of hospitalization. The first sessions focused on mapping out needs, fears, challenging scenarios, areas of interest, and strengths and weaknesses of each patient. No less importantly, we spoke with all the parents, who themselves were in quarantine in their homes, and who had to part with their children and entrust us to give them the best medical treatment and utmost support.
We built daily schedules with the kids, trying to incorporate physical activity, studies, checking in with home, friends, computer/television time, “meeting” time with us. We intended to ensure we spoke to them every morning and every evening, but soon realized that the boundaries, however important in normal circumstances, were irrelevant in this extreme situation. Our phones were instantaneously filled with WhatsApp messages, pictures, requests from kids and their parents – at all hours of the day and night.
The coronavirus and their isolation created unfamiliar situations with which they needed to cope – the need for touch and physical closeness, the distance from their parents, a sense of responsibility, disappointment, alongside the realization that they were growing stronger, learning to be in the moment and to take the opportunity to get to know themselves in ways they hadn’t before. Working together with the medical team, we discovered that as much as we were caring for them, they were offering us rare, moving moments of song, music, artwork, social games and a sense of purpose and meaning; and in addition, the simple, human message of hope, while they wait for two negative test results and one long, live, not virtual, hug with the team of caregivers that surrounded them.