My Community Service Summer Internship at Elizabeth Seton Pediatric Center
By Lindsey Sepe ’17
I am so blessed to have been granted funding for my community service summer internship from the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Mohammad A. Omar ’94 Memorial endowed internship program through Union College. Throughout my first six weeks at Elizabeth Seton Pediatric Center, I have genuinely looked forward to going into work every day. I truly enjoy playing with all of the kids I have forged bonds with, as well as helping the recreational therapists organize the daily activities. From sensory workshops, arts and crafts, music groups, to cooking, there is always so much going on for the kids at the center. The staff at Elizabeth Seton works hard to make these children’s lives the best they can possibly be, given their unfortunate circumstances. Here is a promotional video for the hospital to give you an idea of the type of place it is and the range of patients that live there: http://youtu.be/bSL0E5UgeR4. As you can see, some kids are very active and suffer from fixable conditions, while others are totally incapacitated.
I am lucky to have gained an understanding of working in this type of residential hospital setting and the many different potential careers that are here. I have had the opportunity to talk to the recreational, occupational, physical, art, and music therapists. The art therapist has advised me to get my masters in not just art therapy (like she did and I had planned to do), but instead that I should look into a degree in counseling with a specialization in art therapy for more flexible career options. Since art therapy is a relatively new and unique field, I am really glad that I’ve been able to learn from her. She has shown me a ton of ways that she engages the children in art. My favorite day so far was when we used cut up vegetables as stamps to make artistic creations with children who have food aversions (due to feeding tubes). It was pretty awesome how this activity stimulated creativity while acclimating them to food.
Although I really love the internship as a whole, it hasn’t all been a walk in the park. At first, I had to emotionally overcome seeing such severely handicapped children on a daily basis. I actually cried twice my first week! The first time was when some performers came and put on a play for the kids. I was deeply impacted by how well the cast interacted with the children- as if they were totally normal- and how much the children enjoyed this kind of treatment. It was good this happened so early because I realized this is how I ought to act with them too.
The other time I was overcome with emotion was at the prom they set up for all the teens at the center. All the patients’ families come, and they dress the kids who are over 14 years old in dresses and suits, do their hair and makeup, and match each boy up with a girl to have them walked/wheeled out together. The extent to which the hospital tries to make them feel like normal teenagers was overwhelmingly touching. The tears really started flowing when one of the more functioning patients sang “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid for everyone. All the lyrics about wanting to be a part of the world where all the people are, dancing and wandering freely, could not be more applicable to her situation.
Anyway, like the performers from the play who had performed that week, I decided I would have to put their illnesses out of my mind if I wanted to do my job well. After a few weeks went by, I started to see these children as individuals who are capable of a wide range of emotions. They find joy in the same type of things that healthy children do, but on a much smaller scale due to their limitations. Achieving a positive response from the kids after an interaction, such as bringing them a toy, acting silly in front of them, or giving them a big hug, is the most rewarding aspect of this job. Even the children who cannot speak or move can convey their feelings with an expressive look. For instance, every night I make time to read bedtime stories to one specific 13-year-old girl who loves being read to. She cannot move or talk at all, yet her face lights up and she laughs throughout the entire book (as much as someone with a trach tube can laugh)! During times like these I tend to totally forget about their medical conditions. However, sometimes I get jolted back to the harsh reality that most of them are facing life-threatening illnesses. The other day there was a “code blue” reported on the intercom, which I later found out meant cardiac arrest. The staff went into full panic mode and rushed to where the patient was found unresponsive. I was so distressed thinking about all of the possible patients that it could be. Soon enough, I discovered it had been one of the really cute babies that I really enjoyed playing with. As far as I know, the EMS responders were able to get his pulse back before rushing him to the ER, so I hope he will be fine when I get back from my vacation. It was a very nerve-wracking experience for everyone, and it made me realize how much I care about these kids. The children at Elizabeth Seton have left an imprint on my heart forever, and I hope to have a lasting positive effect on them too.
For the first summer ever, I am actually excited to go back to my job after vacation!