Coping with COVID-19on Sarah’s Floor

Child Life Specialists Jessica Afifah Sarahs Floor

Child Life Specialists Jessica and Afifah

The Hematology-Oncology Patient Care Unit of the Montreal Children’s Hospital

A pandemic is a difficult time to live through when you are healthy. Managing kids with cancer and hematologic diseases brings on many more challenges. We checked in with the Hematology-Oncology team to see how things are going.

Which measures have been adjusted on the unit to work through the crisis?

Breaking routine is not easy for anyone, especially children and teens. Inpatients (patients admitted to the hospital for more than one day) have adjusted well by using online platforms that allow fun and dynamic communication from a distance. If a parent or guardian visits the inpatient unit, they face new measures such as restricted access to the kitchen, in order to respect physical distancing rules.

Regarding the outpatient unit (when patients are not admitted), no visitors are allowed and the importance of being on time is primordial, in order to keep the patient flow optimal and safe. Upon arrival at the outpatient unit, patients were usually met by a Child Life Specialist who would organise group activities, which is not possible now. Instead, the Child Life Specialist manage patients on a one-to-one basis, from a distance. Another measure put into place was separating patients with COVID-19 symptoms from those that did not have any. Having a fever is very common for immune-supressed patients, but does not mean they have the virus. Flexibility and reactivity were key in adjusting our care accordingly.

If a family is also coping with lost employment, this adds further stress and complications. Fortunately, the Hematology-Oncology team of social workers are ready to consult with families from home, and guide them through this difficult time.

How are the staff and families doing?

The staff are fine. They came together and rapidly established new routines that ensure continuity of care and the safety of the patients and staff. It kind of feels like a colossal and evolving planning session that we put into practice daily.

As Dr. David Mitchell, Hematology-Oncology Division Director, says: Donors are the heart and soul of the Children’s and it is in part thanks to them that the unit is running so smoothly and that we are still providing the highest quality of care possible. We are doubly grateful and appreciative of all the support we are receiving. Thank you!

The families are doing OK too. Being in quarantine is in fact not new to them, as patients are already severely immune-suppressed and are therefore used to being in isolation. What is new for them is having the whole family at home in quarantine.

Patients are helping us keep up moral. As Anne Choquette, Hematology-Oncology Nurse in Advanced Clinical Practice told us: One young patient mailed us a drawing of a rainbow because he missed us, and the nurses responded by mailing a letter back. We’re all in this together, and that’s how we’ll get through it!

Patients like Kayla remind us that a positive outlook and some determination can go a long way. Since experiencing a relapse, Kayla was recently hospitalized in the Hematology-Oncology Unit while undergoing chemotherapy. The days can be long when you’re confined to your room, but Kayla made the most of it. She opened her own dépanneur from her hospital bed, offering only the essentials and bringing smiles to nurses, doctors and support staff. Kayla’s mom says she’s in good spirits and continued to dance in her hospital room while at the Children’s, enjoys making TikTok videos and sharing her love of candy with others. Every one of us could use a little more Kayla in our lives!