A little more than two years ago, Nouf Albloushi, 12, and her family arrived at Children's Hospital Boston from the United Arabic Emirates (UAE). Nouf came to Children's to undergo a series of operations, including a spinal fusion, that will eventually correct’ÄØher limb deformity and leg length inequality caused by skeletal dysplasia, so I knew her treatment would require many lengthy stays.
As the Child Life Specialist on 10 Northwest, a surgical/orthopedic floor, I knew it would be a wonderful opportunity to learn to communicate with a patient who didn't speak any English and who wasn't familiar with our customs. Whenever possible, I used an interpreter to speak with Nouf, and other times we used pointing and pictures to communicate. It quickly became clear that we didn't need to speak the same language, or be from the same country, to play together and have fun.
I engaged Nouf in activities that were entertaining and educational, like crafts, games and puzzles. She had never played with glue, used scissors or seen stickers before, so activities that other children would quickly become bored with captivated Nouf for hours. In addition to English words like 'hi,' 'bye' and 'good,' the term "princess stickers" soon became a staple of her increasing English vocabulary. Nouf also enjoyed medical play, so I used this as a way to talk about her upcoming surgery, what to expect, the pain that would follow and the long-term physical therapy she would need. These play opportunities allowed Nouf to gain a sense of control over her medical experience.
Nouf was shy when I met her, but she quickly came out of her shell. It wasn't long before she was comfortable enough to let her sense of humor shine and she was playing practical jokes on me and constantly laughing. When she hid my cell phone under her sheets, it took me 15 minutes to track down where it was ringing from. Each time I relayed the story of Nouf's bedside version of hide-and-seek to a colleague, Nouf would be in hysterics.
Even though Nouf and I had limited verbal communication, we made a connection by being open to each other's differences and making an effort to learn about them. In talking to Nouf's family, I learned that in Arabic culture, dogs are not viewed in the same way they are in America, so I knew that Nouf wouldn't be interested in pet therapy. Instead, I got her talking about how beautiful the camels are in her homeland. I was amazed when she said that you could milk camels like we milk cows. When Nouf was particularly homesick, we went online together and printed out pictures of the desserts, homes and people in the UAE and decorated her walls with them. She was excited to tell everyone, even other patients, about what it's like in her country.
Nouf's whole family, including her many brothers and sisters, are so proud of their home. They always ask me to try Arabic coffee, which Nouf's father claims is the very best, and they bring me some of their native food to taste. I'm normally reluctant to try new foods, but because they are adjusting to so many new things here—and because they are so excited to share their culture with me—I thought that I should do the same. So I always try it.
Nouf and her family remain in the United States while Nouf is receiving additional orthopedic care. Even though she's no longer an inpatient, she still makes frequent visits to the hospital. Nouf has a tutor and has learned a lot more English. She's enrolled in school and her family is living in an apartment in the area, planning to return to the UAE once Nouf is completely healed. I've seen Nouf's whole family change so much in the time that they've been here; her mother had a baby who I've watched grow and take her first steps. One of Nouf's younger siblings spoke her first words at Children's and her younger brother taught a patient from Boston how to play a PlayStation game in the activity room. Children's has really become a part of their lives, and it was so amazing to see how truly important support and play are in the lives of all children at the hospital, no matter where they're from.