When in the US, the thought of working in pediatrics triggers my vagal nerve. But once my passport is stamped, there's something magical that transforms inside me and I can't get enough of working with the little kiddos!
Right now I have a somewhere-between-four-and-five-ish year old that came in with partial- and full-thickness burns on his back, up the left side of his trunk, into his axilla (aren't you impressed with my fancy word for 'arm pit'??), over his shoulder, down his arm, across his elbow, along his forearm, crossing his wrist onto a little scorched hand.
At first Little B. did not like me. And why would he? Dressing changes and stretching are scary and painful enough without a ghostly face peering from behind a surgical mask.
It's taken a few weeks, but we're finally on speaking terms . . . or at least high-five terms since I've only actually heard him speak twice, both times in a whisper, but have managed to teach him how to give me a high-five.
The other day, he even offered me a taste of his plumpynut (the nutritional supplement we get from the UN for all the malnourished kiddos that come through our doors)! It was the sweetest thing anyone's done for me since I've arrived in Niger. There he was, sprawled in the middle of his adult-sized hospital bed, his big belly poking up over his boney legs, holding out a half empty silver packet of mushy brown goo. It was a priceless moment for me.
And today I had another one with him.
We have a short-term pediatrician from Austria working with us for three months. Last night she gave me a little bottle of bubbles to use with the kiddos in therapy. Needing to work on hand/wrist movement and forearm supination as well as elbow flexion/extension and shoulder flexion/abduction I thought blowing bubbles would be the perfect kinesthetic chain for Little B.
He came with his granny to my office where I put him in my big desk chair and showed him how to blow bubbles. He eyes grew as big as his malnourished belly. He reached for the wand, dipped it, and started to blow. Unfortunately he was a little too afraid to bend his elbow to be able to do it on his own, but those magic bubble took away all the pain that normally comes with stretching!
We have a second bubble date tomorrow.
But after Little B. I had a grown-up to see. He recently had an enormous mass removed from his left cheek, chin and neck. The growth also left him with trigeminal and facial nerve damage, so we've been working on his ability to control the left side of his mouth . . . stretching it open (limited mobility as a result of the physical position of the mass) and keeping it closed (muscle weakness as a result of the nerve damage). Basically he sits in front of a mirror and makes silly faces at himself . . . like blowing out his checks, the fish face, blowing kisses, and singing 'OOOOOOOOOOOOOO'. Pretty sure he thinks I'm nuts, but even after only a few days, he's starting to see some progress.
So what does this guy have to do with the therapeutic properties of bubbles?? Hold your horses, I'm getting to it!
While he was blowing kisses at his reflection, I caught a glimpse of the bubbles. PERFECT! I thought. I pulled them out and started blowing them. He looked at me like I was nuts. I handed him the wand. He gave it a try. Nothing. I told him to try again. Still nothing. By the fifth blow without any bubbles he was ready to give up. I asked him to try one more time. He squeezed his lips as best as he could and blew with all his might.
A quarter of a bubble began to form! He got so excited by it, he stopped blowing and asked if I had seen it. He tried again and again . . . the most he got today was half a bubble, but he's definitely motivated to give it another go tomorrow!