Volunteer knitters provide comfort to kids in hospital

A hospital emergency room can be an intimidating place—and that anxiety and fear are often amplified in a child. 

“It’s probably a pretty scary place, especially for the younger ones. It’s loud and things are happening around other patients,” says Darla Reynolds, Program Manager of the Emergency department at Grey Nuns Community Hospital. “It’s not the most child-friendly environment.”

Young emergency room patients at the Grey Nuns and Misericordia hospitals now have access to extra comfort, thanks to a group of dedicated volunteer knitters. Small stuffed animals and finger puppets are being donated to the emergency departments to help some of the youngest patients.

Puppets lined up in the window

“If a child was to have a painful procedure like an IV start or a blood draw, now they have something to cuddle,” says Darla.

The Grey Nuns emergency room admissions are about seven per cent pediatric, which includes newborns to 17-year-olds. With total visits at about 72,000 per year, that’s more than 5,000 pediatric cases.

One of these patients was eight-year-old Chelsea Skinner, who came into the Grey Nuns with her father Peter Skinner after experiencing intense nausea and vomiting. 

Peter Skinner and his daughter Chelsea with "Bear Bear," the gift she received while receiving care in the Grey Nuns Community Hospital Emergency department.

“Chelsea was very tired and grumpy. She wasn’t happy about going to the hospital because just two days prior she had blood taken and it wasn’t a great experience,” says Peter.

But her new friend, Rob Kroetsch, a registered nurse at the Grey Nuns, quickly turned that around for Chelsea with the promise of a surprise if she was able to sit bravely for another blood draw. Rob, who has been working in emergency for 10 years, noticed the impact of these donations immediately.

“Stickers come and go. It’s nice to have and the kids appreciate it, but 10 minutes down the road they’re stuck to everything and an hour later they’re gone,” says Rob. 

“The nice thing about the stuffed animals is that it’s a gentle reminder that the ER isn’t a terrible scary place and seeing doctors and nurses can actually be OK.”

Chelsea couldn’t agree more: “Bear Bear made me feel protected and the nurse [Rob] was very cool.”

Heather Hackett, Corporate Lead for Operational Improvement at the Grey Nuns and Misericordia hospitals, is also one of the volunteer knitters. She didn’t realize there was a need for the pieces she made for fun in her spare time, but once she knew, donations started coming. 

Heather shows off a few of her knitted creations that will soon be donated to the Emergency departments at the Misericordia and Grey Nuns hospitals.

“It’s fun for me, and it does something good for the little people who are going to get them,” says Heather. “It’s something that’s really easy for me to do ... and I just give because it feels good to do that.”

Those who volunteer to knit, like Heather, have a direct impact on patients like Chelsea and front-line staff like Rob. “Our volunteers are really what make things fly, too,” says Rob. “I can go into work and I can provide care, but that’s my job. It’s pretty special when someone takes time out of their day to create these little pieces of comfort for kids. They’re just doing it because they like to do it and because they know it’s going to help out.”

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