You - not the other children/paints - are the main source of possible
contamination for these kids. You must wash your hands or use sanitizer
gel on entry to every isolation room and again before you leave...and read
the section on Precautions, which comes along in a minute...
Discuss with the staff in which order the kids should be painted. If I am
painting at the weekly clinic we attend with Adam, then I will usually set
up in the play area and paint all the kids who present themselves to me,
then wash, take a fresh set of brushes and sponges and work my way along
the isolation rooms. The ones whose resistance is so low they cannot be
allowed to mix, I paint first, followed by the ones who are not allowed to
mix because they caught a cold or have been in contact with a virus such
as chicken pox. (If I get a cold-sore, Adam still needs to go to clinic,
and on arrival we are all segregated into the “lepers quarters”. A visit
from a kids entertainer really makes a difference as three hours shut in a
side room makes for a very dull morning for Adam, who might be otherwise
If you were taking notice, you would have spotted a glaring discrepancy
there! The fact is, that while on a normal job I would not paint anyone
with cold symptoms, in the case of the clinic kids, I do paint them. I
use each sponge or swab only once, and dispose of it in the hospital
orange bins if it's disposable, or pop it in my laundry bag (kept away
from the clean kit and inside a clean polythene bag for good measure) for
washing as soon as we hit home if it's not. Of course I don't paint
runny noses - they need a lot of blowing, after all and would mess up your
work (yuk!) - but a mask can look good, or else try a cheek motif; arms
and legs can be painted too.
There have been many times over the years when an outdoor event, arranged
for the benefit of sick/disabled children and their families has been the
subject of much discussion on the list. Many painters express their
nervousness at painting these kids, or make helpful suggestions about ways
to make them feel special.
Fact it, these kids are already special, and what they would really like
is to be made to feel normal! Treat them as you would do other kids. Help
those who need a bit of physical help to climb into your chair, or be
prepared to sit to paint a child in a wheelchair if you normally stand to
paint, but don't go overboard with extra attention and small gifts as some
people have suggested when this topic has come up previously. In the
main, as a parent of a sick child, I can honestly say that the extras and
the gifts feel a bit like someone is saying “I pity you” and pity isn't
what we've gone out for the day to get... What we have gone out for is to
be able to do all the things normal families do, that we mostly can't, and
to 'feel' normal. Also, after enough months on chemo, most kids hair
stops falling out - their bodies have had so much chemotherapy that they
got used to it! If you only give the extra prize to the bald kid, how
does his friend who is further down the line in his treatment, but still
just as sick feel? Leaning particularly toward childhood cancers for the
moment, I would emphasize that these children have very vulnerable immune
systems. The fact that their consultant has allowed them to attend this
event at all means that they can do, for that day, all the 'normal' things
that everybody else gets to do whenever they want, so the best thing you
can do is help make it really normal for them. You don't need to make any
special fuss because that child has cancer and the ones you normally paint
in the supermarket or down at the mall don't. In fact, the ones on long
term chemo may not even look all that sick as their bodies adjust to
accommodate the medicines and their hair may well re-grow after three or
four attempts at baldness... so if you were going to make the assumption
that only the bald kids have cancer, I just saved you from possible
embarrassment! (Having said which, my son was much more adventurous when
he was bald, loved to get his whole head painted, and saw it as an
opportunity to do something he couldn't normally. Everyone feels
differently about their baldness, so just go with the flow - some kids
find it fun, lots hate it and want to wear a wig or hat. You may have to
learn to paint someone who is wearing a baseball cap....) You do need to
take some precautions tho....
Precautions for Painting Sick Kids
Don't paint if you have a cold or other contagion, if one of your kids has
had chicken pox in the last 3 weeks, if you had chicken pox in
the last 3 weeks, or if you have had shingles, diarrhea, or bugs
in the last 3 weeks, or could be carrying any nasty bugs (eg, there's
something unpleasant doing the rounds at your kids school, but you
haven't' caught it yet).
In fact, if you are painting at an outdoor event fro immunocompromised
patients DON'T GO TO THE EVENT. If you are painting on a ward full of
immunocompromised patients, STAY HOME. To ignore this advice could be to
put a young life at risk, and I do not say this lightly! This is
possibly the only time someone will thank you for cancelling!
If you are asked to paint at the birthday party of an immunocompromised
child, do have some care about where your prior engagements are that
Painting Round Medical Obstacles
Baseball caps - can easily be turned back to front if the child doesn't
want to take the hat off.
Sit to paint children in wheelchairs even if you normally stand.
Painting children in the ward means that some will have to be painted in
bed. Raise or lower the bed so that it is a comfy height for you and learn
to work from both sides of the bed. Learn to adjust the backrest (and I
do mean learn - ask to be shown if you have never had to do this before) -
or get a nurse to help you do this so that the child is positioned
comfortably for you to work - with the emphasis on the child's comfort
If the child is in traction or a body cast, they may have to remain lying
down to be painted. Get your own kids to lie still so you can practice
doing it without accidentally knocking them about the head!! Learn to be
extremely deft, accurate and gentle. Place towels over and around the
pillow to catch any stray glitter .. if you have drips, your paint is too
If the child is plugged into a machine or is on a drip, as Adam is when he
is in hospital, do not automatically assume that they can't be painted.
Be fantastically careful not to jog the line tho - there is a big big
needle on the end of it, inserted into either a vein or a permanent
drip-site called a 'port', and a small jiggle will cause a lot of pain.
If the child is on a drugs pump or drip which passes through a rate
monitor, the alarm will almost certainly go off while you are in the room
with them. This is because a) the thing is driven by a computer and you
know that technology is sent to try the patience of us all, and b) because
any slight cough, laugh or sneeze will cause a fluctuation in the child's
blood pressure, causing back-pressure on the pump, which will sound its
alarm, and summon a nurse. Don't feel bad and don't panic just 'cos you
made a child laugh in these circumstances! You should have heard the
alarms going off in every room on Edinburgh Sick Kids cancer ward when the
clown doctors visited.... Being a mum who lived with one of these
machines for months, I know how to turn off the alarm and re-set it - but
I'm not telling you that! You have to sit tight and wait for the nurse to
come and do it for you, like the rest of us had to when we were still
green! And then, when it does it again in 2 minutes, look sheepish...
If a child has a nasal feeding tube, you can paint right up to and all
around it. It looks bit alarming but is nothing - absolutely nothing - to
be scared of. They sleep, play and do everything else with these tubes in
place.. it allows them to lead a more normal life, so act like it's normal
and soon it will feel normal anyway...
Children being treated with chemotherapy will have delicate skin - don't
use stipple sponges or anything of less than baby softness! Take care not
to drag or pull the skin.
I once 'painted' a child who had an allergy to water. It literally burned
her skin, like acid - but the snaz powders were more than up to the task.
Do remember tho', that children who are in pain will need to trust you an
awful big lot before they'll let you near them with a brush.
Never forget the versatility of hand and arm painting. Kids can derive
just as much pleasure and may find it a much more comfortable experience,
particularly when they are in a strange place with lots of new and strange
things being done to them by new and strange people.
Painting in a Hospice
Really, this isn't any different to working in a specialist unit in
hospital. These kids are very very sick, and many, ultimately, will die.
But so do we all, and a hospice is not a miserable place, but a very
positive and happy one, where everyone wants to have the best time they
possibly can. You are not there to speculate, you are there to
entertain. Not everyone can 'shut off' in the way they need to and still
interact with the kids, so if it's really not for you, please don't go
there because you won't be helping anyone in the slightest.
You need to be a bit discreet when you work in hospitals, remembering that
why someone is there is not necessarily your concern. If a parent or
child turns you away, move on with good grace: they may be simply
overwhelmed by their situation. In the case of very sick children, what
they and their family are experiencing is intensely personal and it is
easy to intrude without intending to. Those that do want to chat,
generally don't want to chat about their child's condition. Let them take
the lead, or else just work quietly, concentrate on the child as you would
at any other gig, and move along to the next...
Sick children are not always the well-mannered little angels we would like
them to be! Don't let this put you off, obviously some may simply not
want to be painted, but if they do, then paint them. Try to make it a
gentle and pleasing experience if they don't seem to be in the mood for a
whole lot of fun. I remember a number of people who came and went,
talking much too loudly and clearly straining themselves with the effort
of making everything Fun (injections and inspections included) when Adam
was clearly not in the mood to be jollied along. They just looked stupid
and insensitive, actually, and often woke the baby (!) so try not to fall
into that trap!
Photographing children on the ward needs their parents/careers consent. I
always take photos at clinic as a matter of course and the following week
take the photos in for the kids to pick up. If you have permission to
photograph children on the ward, or in the clinic, make sure the ward gets
copies to pass on to the children - and never use these children's photo's
in competitions or publications without the family's consent for each and
every time you wish to use it. This is one area where copyright should
ideally belong to the model and the models family.
Still Want to do It?
Ok - I was living in the ward with 2 of my kids when I got involved with
kids in hospitals, so it was kind of easy ..! If you are fortunate enough
not to have a child on long-term treatment you'll need to make contact
with the hospital some other more difficult way..
To get started, you will need to introduce yourself to the ward manager to
offer your services. Most modern hospitals have play assistants attached
to each ward, and they will be people you need to talk to as well. You
could call the hospital switchboard and ask to be put through to the
children's ward, but without knowing the ward number, some security
conscious operators will not be able to put you through. Ward staff are
busy! T'was ever thus - so try writing, and include all the information
they'd be interested in, such as sensible health and safety precautions,
code of practice, how many years experience you have, and enclose some
photos so they can see examples of your work - but keep it short and
sweet! Your contact details will get passed on down the line but someone
somewhere will get in touch. Another way is to find out if you have local
'clown doctors' and ask them how to get in touch. Most hospitals have a
charity or support groups associated with it, be it the League of Friends
or some more specific charity geared toward providing help for specific
areas of the hospital, such as the children's ward. They are usually much
easier to track down than ward staff, and may also be able to help.