By Alyssia Premji
Ever wonder what has brought you to where you currently are in your life? I often do, and I find myself taking a stroll down memory lane through the life events that have led me to my current location, profession and lifestyle. I do not think that at the age of six, while I was sitting in a hospital bed learning how to manage my diet, take daily insulin injections and measure my blood sugar, I had realized that all of that would influence my life so greatly 20 years later.
At six-years-old, being in the hospital for 10 days felt more like 10 weeks! It was one thing to not be sleeping in my own room, in my own bed, but now I had to share it with someone else, while getting woken up throughout the night with to take blood tests, and being hooked up to an IV all day, every day! The times I did get an escape from my hospital room was when my parents were in classes learning how to manage my blood sugars, and how to administer my insulin. While mom and dad were at “school” I got to spend time in the playroom. This playroom was the best because you could play house, videogames AND do arts and crafts… all in the same room – AMAZING! I got to hang out with some fun adults too. They would do crafts with me, took part in my imaginary play, and then walked me back to my room. On the off days that I didn’t get to go to the playroom, these “fun adults” would come spend time with me in my room, and show me things like how to give an injection shot, and allowed me to practice on an orange! The “fun adults” even showed me different ways and strategies I could use when poking my finger for a blood test. These “fun adults” were a wealth of information for a six-year-old. While the doctors and nurses were great, and taught my parents and I a lot about managing type 1 diabetes, I felt that the “fun adults” helped me understand and feel in-control of dealing with diabetes.
FAST FORWARD 17 YEARS…
While doing the yearly pick of my classes, I stumbled upon a specialization my program offered called Child Life. “The child life profession strives to make hospitalization a more positive experience. A child life specialist prepares children, youth and families for life-altering events and upcoming procedures. Child life also promotes coping through various interventions to help children, youth and families with stressful events. Providing play and other normal activities can help with this coping process.”
LIGHTBULB! This must have been the “fun adults” that I spent all that time with in the hospital when I was going through that life-altering event. I cannot explain the feeling I felt when reading this description; excitement, familiarity, determination, and relief…all mixed in one, and then some. I was excited to see a program like this was offered at the university I attended. Familiarity, because it was something I could understand and felt comfort in knowing it was something I had experienced. I was determined and driven, as I knew this was something worth putting the time and energy into. And I felt relief because it was what I had been searching for what felt like forever…and finally it was something that fit; like finding the perfect pair of jeans.
After taking all the necessary courses, applying for all the practicums, completing a 480 hour internship in Long Beach, California (not too shabby), graduating and writing a certification exam, I had become a Certified Child Life Specialist!
*insert fireworks and celebration music*
Now onto finding a job in the profession that I was/am so passionate about. Through all my travels after high school, two universities away from home, and a practicum and internship in California, I had finally found my place back home in Vancouver, BC, and I was lucky to land a casual position as a Child Life Specialist at the Surrey Memorial Hospital. Being casual at the hospital meant I needed to have another job that was more constant, and I found this at an afterschool program for school-aged kids. I was at living at home, around my family and friends, in the city that I will always call home and getting sporadic shifts at the hospital in a job that I absolutely loved. It couldn’t get much better… or could it?
One day, the job posting for a Family Life Specialist at Ronald McDonald House Southern Alberta fell onto my lap, or more literally fell into my email inbox. I reviewed the job description and looked at the all that Ronald McDonald House does on its website, and I felt a pull. I needed to apply! While I was still a new Child Life Specialist in the field and was continuing to gain hospital experience, I could not help but feel that this was something I needed to pursue. Yes, I had engaged with Child Life Specialists at the hospital who made my hospital experience more positive, however, after I was discharged from the hospital I got to go home to my own house, my own toys, with my parents and sisters. What about the kids that couldn’t go back to their own homes and their bedrooms and their comfort zones, after being discharged from the hospitals? What about the brothers and sisters that had to stay at Ronald McDonald House while their sibling was in the hospital? What if they had questions after a hospital visit, or were scared or worried about something they saw or heard, or wanted to learn how to inject a needle into an orange (or medical doll), or just wanted to have opportunities of play that would help with coping? It was this that pulled me away from home once again and allowed me to make the move to Calgary, Alberta; that, and getting offered the job to be the Family Life Specialist at Ronald McDonald House. If I could think about all of the families that are away from their home and their loved ones and make Ronald McDonald House their home away from home for any amount of time, I could make the move away from home… and make Calgary home.
A mentor of mine shared this quote with me: “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you’ve imagined.”—Thoreau.
I am pretty sure I was unaware that I was getting directed towards my dreams at the age of six while sitting in a hospital bed, hanging out with the “fun adults.” But being where I am now, working where I am, and being surrounded by wonderful people I can say I am pretty close to living the life I have imagined.