International Nurses Day
A Father of Two (at home) Plus Eight (at work)
In addition to the range of facilities it provides, the ALYN Pediatric and Adolescent Rehabilitation Hospital offers a unique department called 'Bayit Cham' (Hebrew for “Warm Home”), which serves as a safe place for hospitalized children for whom their family's socioeconomic status prevents them from being released home, not even for a short visit. While parents visit once a week or a month, the nurses who run the department assume a parent-like role for the children in addition to their professional roles.
Ahmad Assila, the Head Nurse of Bayit Cham at ALYN Hospital, shares his thoughts in this moving column:
Four years of nursing school were not enough to prepare me for what I encountered upon joining Bayit Cham at the ALYN Pediatric and Adolescent Rehabilitation Hospital. My decision to become a nurse was formed over many years of nursing my own mother with her illness. I was familiar with the challenging, frustrating and painful aspects of nursing - both physical and emotional - and felt capable of overcoming the challenges that are part of this profession, knowing that I would thrive and be at my best in this occupation.
Still, nothing had prepared me for this work at ALYN’s Bayit Cham, where the sensitivity expected of the nurses is of the highest level, alongside uncompromising professionalism, endless patience and a vast capacity to love the children in our care.
The children in Bayit Cham are respirator-dependent. While they are physically disabled, their cognitive abilities are normal and at different levels. They come from all walks of Israeli society – Arabs and Jews, secular and religious. The nursing staff of Bayit Cham supports them 24 hours a day, throughout their childhood and adolescence. Due to their physical conditions and family situations, they cannot live at home, making ALYN their only home. Even when parental visits are possible, the hospitalized children suffer a deep emotional deprivation, and we – from janitors to physicians – fill that void. This is where the role of the nursing staff is the most important. Even before providing essential infusion therapies, nutritional interventions and tests, the children need a hug, someone to hold their hand during a test, a bedtime story, a welcoming smile when they return from school (all the children attend an ordinary school or special education). In other words, they need a parental figure to whom they can not only cry when they are sad or having a hard time, but also with whom they can share exciting and positive experiences.
We are also the ones to whom they turn with tough questions of the kind children ponder before falling asleep or during bath time. I often find myself searching my soul to provide answers for their complex questions. How do you explain what ice cream is to a child who cannot eat? What does salty seawater taste like? How do you teach empathy and care for others to a disabled child who is completely dependent on others? How do you help children form their own identity, personality, and sexuality, when they are unaware of culture, values or physical boundaries?
Even more challenging is preparing children who grow up in a hospital to become independent adults, leading productive lives. How do you develop life skills, set limits and instill values to a respirator-dependent child who has only lived in the hospital setting and has no functioning family?
Countless questions and no clear answers. Even after six years as a professional nurse, I still struggle with more questions than I have answers, for which no one prepares you at nursing school. As I never learned how to a become parent either, I challenge myself daily to provide satisfactory answers to my own children, so I must do the same with the children I look after, at work.
My colleagues and I fulfill an unusual role. We are both nurses and parents. The children, for their part, are my patients, but also the children with whom I take a selfie, to whom I teach values, and insist they do their homework, make their beds if they are capable of it, and maintain their hygiene. I carry them in my heart even when I am home with my family. I collect and hang their drawings in my office, take pride in their progress and cry with them when they hurt.
The nursing profession requires a big heart. Here, in Bayit Cham at ALYN Hospital, I have the best job I could have wished for in the world.