A World Overturned
The coronavirus is a global pandemic affecting each and every individual on the planet. As governments and health systems devise strategies to fight COVID-19, introducing terms such as “flattening the curve” and “exponential growth” into all of our daily lives, the implications of the global battle are felt in each home, in every country. And, beyond, it is one of the greatest health and social isolation challenges our generation has confronted. Addressing the medical needs of coronavirus patients is a new ballgame for physicians and healthcare workers worldwide, as is addressing the emotional needs that are born in this unfamiliar and disorienting time. The jobs of social workers and mental health professionals at the forefront of taking care of children with coronavirus at Schneider Children Medical Center of Israel are as critical as ever. As depicted in the article below, caregivers’ dedication and commitment to the whole wellbeing of children shine like a beacon of light, in a time when we are all seeking hope.
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 situationswith 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.
In the Schneider Family You Are Never Alone
They call themselves the Schneider Family.
A large group of people who’ve met and bonded under the most trying of circumstances and in the most difficult place imaginable: the Pediatric Oncology Department. In between treatments and through mutual understanding, these parents have become not just friends but kindred spirits, helping one another get through both the difficult moments and being there for one another during the happy times as well. “We’ve found our second family here,” says one mother, whose daughter was a patient in the department.
Every few days they meet. They call themselves The Schneider Family – – reflecting the name of the hospital where their children are being treated – – parents who’ve succeeded against all odds in finding happiness even while their children were in the throes of serious illness. One of the parents relates, “In the beginning, I thought this group must be crazy – – how can they be so happy? How is it possible to do normal things such as making a barbecue, and have fun when some of the children are still undergoing treatment? And then we understood that there is something here that rises above cancer. This is a group of people that has come together to help one another, and they’ve put cancer on the sidelines.”
Each of the parents recalls that devastating moment when their child was diagnosed with this calamitous disease. “When your child is sick, the very first time you get into the elevator to the pediatric oncology department, and you see children with bald heads that have tubes running from their noses, you feel like you’ve entered the Land of the Condemned,” says one father.
Every Monday the parents arrive at Schneider Hospital to prepare a meal for the pediatric oncology patients, even if their own children are no longer hospitalized there. Some of the doctors there believe that it’s not just about serving food, but that the parents’ healing role and presence is no less important than the doctors themselves.
When other parents see this, they say that it gives them inspiration to see that even after their children have recovered, the parents return to visit the pediatric oncology department to bring happiness to others. As they move between beds and rooms visiting the patients and the parents they know, every story reminds them of their own experience. “In the beginning, no one wanted to stay over the weekend, but now it’s the opposite and everyone wants to stay,” the parents say with a smile.
The doses of black humour and the ability to bring happiness is what unites them. The unusual display of happiness in the oncology ward surprised even the medical teams; but it was their children’s membership in a club that no one chose that made these parents realize that together, they had the strength to go through the difficult moments. Since then they have not missed an opportunity to meet.
“It began from the most awful thing possible, and the parents transformed it into the most beautiful and good thing that it could be,” recalled one of the children. Several of the children noted that the parents’ group enabled them to forget about their illness and helped them get through it, and in so doing, the children also became family – – like brothers and sisters.
It’s a group of dear friends that wouldn’t have had the opportunity to meet or interact otherwise. It consists of religious, traditional, and secular Jews and Arabs. And thus from the depths of Hell they were able to receive an eternal gift.