Oversize paisley pants, a dinosaur watch and rocketship earings. This is Rachel Hunt.
Rachel is not an eccentric but a child-life therapist at Primary Children's Medical Center. The odd attire is one of her ways of bringing a little laughter into the hearts of children who feel traumatized by the hospital experience.Minimizing pain through theraputic play is the philosophy of child-life, and Rachel is a firm believer in the concept.
Rachel's decision to become a child-life therapist grew out of an experience she had as a young adult. While recuperating from major surgery in the pediatrics ward of a New York hospital, she discovered a young man on the floor who was helping the children cope with their hospital stay through playing games. Children later began visiting Rachel's room and hanging around her bed. They talked about what was "good" in the hospital and what was "bad."
"We were just talking about, you know, what stunk in the hospital and what would make it better, what was really good when you were there, how you felt and what did you do to take your mind off it."
Rachel found that she enjoyed helping the children, and that she had a knack for it. She decided then that this was something she could do to earn a living and also enjoy.
Later, while helping a friend with cystic fibrosis, she began developing ways to help others better enjoy their time in the hospital.
One of Rachel's many areas of responsibilty is with the Hematology/Oncology division at Primary Children's. She is part of a support team made up of doctors, nurses, social workers, nutritionists and Rachel's child-life group. Rachel's main task is to make the unpleasant side effects of chemotherapy as pleasant as possible.
"I love to play," Rachel said, "And I know I can make people feel better. I really know that."
Rachel immerses herself in each child's life as far as the child will allow. She helps them paint, sing, act, play games and do just about anything else the child wants or needs. There is a risk in this, however - you can get too close.
Some children don't survive. When this happens, it is painful for Rachel or any member of the cancer support team.
When a child does succumb to cancer, Rachel copes by calling her own sister, buying a bottle of wine and toasting the child as a final gesture to the child's courageous struggle.
Rachel spends her days in the cancer clinic moving rapidly from child to child. No child's need, physical or emotional, is too large.
"The other day I had a little girl in here and it was time for her LP (lumbar puncture). I picked her up and I was bringing her in and I said, `It's time now, you've got to go in for your LP.' I wasn't planning on necessarily staying, and she started crying,`Mommy! Mommy!' Well, her mother doesn't go into the room, and I said, `Mommy will be waiting for you, she'll be here as soon as you're done.' Then she said, `Rachel! Rachel!' So I stayed. And you know what? The kid did OK."
Rachel also is a firm believer in meeting the needs of the siblings. Cancer creates a crisis situation in the home, and greater emotional scars can occur in the brother or sister who doesn't have cancer than in the child who does. "Child-life," Rachel said, "deals with the developmental needs of all children."
Rachel Hunt loves children and loves making them happy. She knows a lot of people burn out in this profession due to the nature of cancer and the toll it takes, but, "It's not necessarily a prognosis of a child that makes the experience positive or negative, but what you can see that you have added to that child's life to make it a little easier."