Any child battling a serious illness or medical condition is a true hero in my book. No small soul should have to endure stressful medical tests, frightening diagnoses, and treatments that often leave them feeling unwell. But so many do, and yet they manage to face them with such bravery and courage that it can often bring tears to our eyes.
Luckily, the medical world seems to be full of good people looking for ways to make these difficult experiences a bit easier for little ones. Such is certainly the case for Doug Dietz, a medical industrial engineer for GE Healthcare, whose team recently designed “Kid-Friendly” imaging scanners so that the often terrifying (and loud!) experience of getting an MRI or CAT scan would be that much less daunting.
And just this week, a genius hack swept the Internet that’s aimed at making another frightening medical procedure a little easier for kids. Enter Lobke Marsden and her pediatric radiotherapy department team at Leeds Children’s Hospital NHS Trust in the U.K. Marsden, who’s a “radiotherapy play specialist” at the hospital, recently took to Twitter to share a little trick the staff uses at her hospital to make radiotherapy treatments (we call them “radiation” treatments in the U.S.) a less stressful for their young cancer patients.
Ready for it? It’s the simplest thing ever, but makes such a difference for these kids. As Marsden explains on Twitter, kids have to be separated from their parents during their radiation treatments (she tells Babble that others can’t be exposed to the radiation during the procedure).
Being separated from your parent can be really hard for small children, especially during a difficult treatment like radiation therapy. So Marsden and her team keep some “magic string” nearby so that the child can hold onto one end for the treatment, and the adult can hold onto the other (albeit from another room), thereby keeping the two connected during the procedure.
“Children will be in the treatment room by themselves during #radiotherapy,” wrote Marsden in her now-viral tweet. “To help ease separation anxiety the child holds one side of the string and the parent the other side, so they’ve still got that connection. Simple but effective.”
How genius is that? It also makes my heart grow about a million sizes.
Marsden tells Babble that she didn’t actually come up with the idea herself, but that it started being used in the hospital about 10 years ago, well before she even worked there. Still, she wanted to share it with others because it works so well for her tiny patients — and also because she thought other hospitals might want to know about it, too.
Marsden, a mom of three who was trained as an art psychotherapist in the Netherlands, explained in a bit more detail how the whole technique works.
“The child usually picks a color to hold on the string and chooses who will be on the other side of the string, usually a parent,” she tells Babble. “We often try it out before treatment so they know where the parents are at the other side of the string. The child can give it a little tug, with the parent tugging it back letting the child know they are right there with them.”
Does that not just melt your heart into a giant puddle? And if that weren’t enough, just listen to how one small patient described the whole experience.
“One child described it as still holding hands, which I thought was really lovely,” says Marsden. “I often use that now when I explain it to the children.”
Marsden explains that the “magic string” is used mostly by the hospital’s youngest patients, but teenagers have been known to find it soothing as well. Whatever the age of the patient, Marsden and her team have seen a lot of success with its use.
“Using the string can make the difference in the child being able to have their (often 6-week long treatment) without the need of a daily general anesthetic,” Marsden notes. She also credits the amazing pediatric cancer team at the hospital, who work together to make the experience of their patients as compassionate and gentle as possible.
“I work closely together with our two oncologists and my two lovely colleagues (Lucy, who’s a paediatric radiographer, and Claire who’s a clinical nurse specialist),” says Marsden. “Everything is very much a team effort.”
Marsden explains that while the “magic string” doesn’t work for all patients, it’s pretty much a miracle for the vast majority of them, and she hopes word spreads about it to hospitals everywhere.
Thankfully, she’s already getting an incredible response on Twitter, including comments from parents of current pediatric cancer patients who can’t wait to try it , as well former child cancer patients who wish the “hack” had existed when they were going through treatments themselves.
“After posting it on here I had quite a bit of feedback from adults saying they wished it was available during their radiotherapy treatment,” Marsden tells Babble. “I’m feeding this back to the head of radiotherapy at our hospital.”
Sometimes it feels like the world is falling apart and is in serious need of a kindness make-over. But it’s good to be reminded that kindness truly does exist everywhere, and that there are good people out there working hard each day to make the lives of our most vulnerable children that much more comfortable and humane.