It was asked on the fursuit list about visiting hospitals;
I don't want to wave my own flag.. But I often visit the local hospitals with Marcwolf.
Due to legal reason I cannot take pictures of my antics there, but the smiles and the hugs that I get from the kids is really worthwhile.
I've often been in the situation when I sit on a bed and give a kid a hug and see them smile, only to find later that that was the first time the nurses have seen that kid smile since they got there.
Even more fun was a side trip to the maternity ward where a proud mother snapped a picture of me holding her 3 day old baby in my paws. I hope that that memory stays with us both for a long time.
If any of you can - and are willing, see if your local hospital had a children ward and see if there is a entertainment organizer there. Even if it is but an hour or two - it makes a different to so many, and more importantly, those who have lost the will to smile.
Are there other requirements like being tested for TB (tuberculosis) or other things?
Nope.. but a responsible attitude to good health is needed. Don't perform when you yourself is sick or have a cold. Sometime some hospital will have an 'orientation' talk/course where you will be told of how to behave/perform. Such as - if this alarm sounds - keep well back. Watch out for IV lines and drips.
Most of it is pure common sense anyway but valuable to know. If in doubt - ASK… That you are willing to help and not do harm will go far..
Over here in Australia (and I don't think it will be much different in the states) many hospitals will have a staffed Day room for the more mobile children. Get in contact with them and have a chat.
Best not to come out with the I'm a Fursuiter (although many of the articles that I have seen on line can be the basis of “This is what I want to do and How Can I Help”) but using the likes of budding mascotter/character costumer will go far.
One thing that does help is a Working with Children card. See if there is something local where you are. For me it cost AUS $40 and basically gives me a clean bill of health with kids via a police check.
[Maintainer's note: See Events section to get more on this]
But often with the staff there - they will keep an eye on you. Don't worry - if all goes well you will earn your Candy Stripes very quickly.
…then three more questions…
- Do you need/require an escort with the kids?
No. Many hospitals will be more than happy to have a trained nurse or think you call them Candy Stripers (Volunteer with training) on hand to help. That is the best as they can give you a quick history on a child, how it might be feeling, and that is valuable in approaching and doing the right thing.
Remember - the nurse has the childs best interests at heart at all times, and the chance of being a little relief to the tedium of a hospital stay will help everyone working there.
Like - it the child has a abdominal injury or a broken limb - it not best to bounce onto the bed. *laugh* But rather to approach from the foot of the bed and peer over it like a big puppy. then move up to where they can reach out and pat a paw or an ear.
No fast moves, take your time, and if the kid does get alarmed - cower and creep away. Kids in hospitals do feel very vulnerable and might feel more concerned. It really depends on your character. The toonier the better. Marc can look very puppyish and playful when I make the right moves.
But for the Nurses and the supporting staff - to see a child who had been sad all day start to smile - believe me - its a wonderful gift you can give to them. They do a great job and often a small reward will go far.
- If you want to go to other places in the hospital, like maternity, just
plain roam around visiting other patients, can you do so? I would imagine
the place to avoid would be the ER (emergency room).
Always check with the staff.. Believe me - they are usually very grateful that someone has taken the time to help out. Let them suggest places to go and things to do..
Remember always - their work etc take precedence at all times so be prepared to blend into the background if things get busy, or to take a polite leave if things get desperate..
Ask before you step in to help. Your usually not qualified and may get in the way. However you can help from a distance by helping keep the childs attention away from less pleasent things like needles or changing of dressings.
For me - this would be a standard visit (and a full day). The Mater hospital has a Captain Starlight room which contains video games and coordinates children activities in the hospital. Its also the day room for the more mobile kids. As an added bonus they also have a mini-TV station where they pipe the activities all over the hospital so within a few minutes of me arriving all the kids know I'm there.
Arrive - catch up with staff and review possible activities and tours.. Change (they are more than happy to provide a change room on site). Meet the more mobile kids in the Starlight room. Let them climb all over me, interact and play games with them. Generally get mauled
Usually a couple of games of 'What the Time Mr Wolf' will happen, but let yourself be open for ANYTHING.. The less restrictions you put on yourself the better.
Don't stand back and watch things happen. Get into it. If there is a drawing table - then draw. Anything.. and look to the kids like another very big kid. It will put you on their level and make it far easier to interact with them.
Or pick up a video game handset and play with one of the kids.. If worse comes to worse - just lie down and watch a video with the kids. Even if it may seem that you are doing nothing - your presence is often very reassuring to the them.
Hey - lying down and having 3 or 4 kids clamber all over you - seeing if your teeth are real etc, tugging your ears, and pulling your tail - its worth it if you have to give the suit a little extra wash afterwards. The staff will make sure that they won't get too rough, and it helps burn off their excess energy too.
The above usually takes 2 hours and then grab lunch. Chat with the staff again to get any updates of kids that need special attention. This can be a little extra in the area of hugs and pats, or that they have a particular injury/sickness that requires a different approach.
With wheelchairs I take a side approach and kneel down about 3 foot away from the kid and sidle up to to them. Let the wheelchair arm act as a barrier until they feel comfortable to interact. Usually by the time I'm next to the kid they are holding out their arms and wanting hugs etc. But I need to stress - sick children often feel VERY vulnerable and so a careful approach is needed.
After Lunch - go out into the waiting/admission area and just wander - being led around by one of the helpers there. Chat with the lines of kids waiting for admission, interact with parents. Usually these lines take a while to process and the kids are BORED!!! and that is trouble for all staff/parents. You just being there are a great distraction and can help ease tired nerves and spirits.
Then up to the wards to meet the kids who cannot travel. Each floor will have a senior nurse who has good knowledge of the children under their care, and their situation. Let them take the lead in taking you around to meet the kids as they will know who is who and what the kids can be fit enough to do.. Some kids will be isolated due to sickness so often just a wave from the door will have to do.. Just remember then to wave, blow kisses and generally look very happy to see them. It DOES rub off on the kid too. This can work well through an isolation ward window too. I find that playing peek-a-boo with my glowing eyes a big hit..
With bed ridden kids - approach the sides that do not have the drips and wires. Always be gentle and try not to tower over them. Get down to their level. Even tickling a palm with a furry finger will bring a much needed smile. Make sure you have an escape route too. Sometimes a kid will just not want to interact and will start to cry.. If that happens make a careful but swift retreat. Don't look at the kid, keep yourself low, and back out. If at a distance then you can wave at them and act friendly. Its just sometimes a kid will be so scared of the hospital anything will set them over the limit.
Another things - just be careful of fluids. The nurses will know which children are infectious and who are not. Usually you won't get to meet the infectious ones except from a distance. But if you are concerned about transmitting diseases on your paws - ask, and the staff will often have something your can spray on your paws.
It you stress your desire not to do harm then that concern will also go far to impress the staff that you have the kids needs at heart.
Something I often do - is to get a good piccie of myself (My surfy wolf one works well) with your name on it. Print about 4 to a page on a cheap color printer and hand them out to kids. If you are dexterous enough write a name on it - do so. Believe me - a kid will have more than just a memory to look at when you gone. I remember one little girl proudly pulling out her Marcwolf picture when I did a return visit.
Also - you can often help if a doctor is there and the child is scared of a procedure. It might be a injection or taking a reading. Being willing to participate like being a big brave wolf and having an injection (fake or course) or temperature/blood pressure - the kids will feel a LOT more confidant in taking the procedure themselves.
(Ever see a doctor give a wolf a tongue-depressor and tell him to say AHHHHHH. - that send the kids into a real giggle)
After the ward rounds are finished and that can take several hours - its back down to the lines of admissions.
Play the fool here a LOT.. Kids usually cannot leave the line so go to them.. Sit, kneel, crawl and just generally say Hi on their level.. Try and make sure that everyone is given equal attention (very difficult) except when there is a more seriously unhappy child. Then if you can - pull out all stops and make them SMILE!!!!.
Afterwards its back to the Starlight room and relax with the kids until the room closes. If they are playing a video then you can relax with them and let them use you as a big wolfy sofa. Or interact and play some video games. The staff will usually be organizing activities for the kids so join in. Even if it is just Pin the Tail on the Donkey (Sorry Donkey - no offense)
Finally its pack up time. The kids are sent back to the wards for supper/treatment so you are free to change. Often as I walk though the hospital on my way to the car I am recognized because I have a big limp furry wolf with me - and the smiles of surprise from those people are fun too. The staff are often used to having to wear different hats so are just as interested in the person under the suit as the character themselves. This is a good way to chat and hone your communications skills for references and goodwill events.
Home - and then wash a very wet, sweaty, and smelly fursuit - but it was definitely worth it!!!. I usually add into the wash an extra dose of disinfectant. so that IF I have got something on me then I will transfer not it to another child later.
- Where are you allowed to change?
Hospitals will often have change area for staff which can include showers. They are all professionals there so you will be well treated, and expect to act like one. Do so - it will go far for your return trip.
If you are near a ward then the ward will often have a shower room etc which is a great place to change too. You won't have to worry too much about a dirty environment as hygiene is paramount there.
Hey - you are in a building that has more bathrooms per capita that many other buildings. *laughs* Changing is rarely an issue.
Hope my experiences help.. Come-on folks - I know I am not the only fursuiter who has done some of these things. *laughs*
Add your experiences too, let me know some of your stories and histories.
I want to thank a friend - Herbie Bearclaw who has done much to inspire me to help the children in hospitals etc.
Its well worth it when you realize what a gift you can give.
And also Wildwolf for his great work with the Sunshine Foundation.
Thanks for letting me share my experiences.