This week I visited my daughter’s workplace. She is a cosmetologist; chemicals are her friends because they help change the texture, style and health of hair. The smell of these useful substances is often acrid, pungent and offensive. However, when I get a whiff of permanent solution it takes me back in time. I’ve always had fine, straight, stringy hair. To combat this combination, my mom would have me sit very still while she patiently rolled permanent rods from temple to neckline. I came out looking like Shirley Temple wannabe! It’s my mom’s love and attention I treasure from this “smelly memory.”
Recently I visited a youngster who had experienced a lot of medical trauma as an infant. His life was in danger and it was necessary to take blood samples, administer transfusions, put in I.V.’s and other life-saving but very painful administrations. When scheduling the visit, his mother asked that I not wear white. She explained that her son, now 4, still panics when approached by anyone wearing white because that triggered his memories of doctors and nurses and medical procedures that had to be done.
Martha A. Askins, Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist, offers advice to parents on http://www.mdanderson.org regarding “How to Help Children with Painful Procedures.” When waiting for the procedure to begin, it can be helpful to distract your child, talk about fun activities or read a special book with sounds and colorful pictures. Help your child to use his/her imagination by picturing a place they’d like to visit or an adventure made with specific colors, climate, scents, tastes, and sights.
Essentially, that’s what granting a wish is all about—planning an adventure that takes a child out of pain, away from medicinal smells to the streets of Walt Disney World, a trip where snowmen can be built, or a swim with dolphins. It’s easy to use imagination to smell the popcorn and candy at Disney, see the whiteness of freshly fallen snow or feel the cool waters and kiss the dolphin’s wet nose like Dominic (above).
We are forever connected to our memories by sights, sounds and smells. An experience, pleasant or painful, can be revisited at the touch of our senses. Considering this phenomenon, wouldn’t it behoove us to provide the most positive, appealing and pleasant life experiences possible for our children, especially those with chronic and life-shortening illnesses? If you know a child who would benefit from a wish, please contact me. Wishes are uplifting for everyone involved: parents, friends, volunteers, and staff. New Hope for Kids thanks everyone who has helped create memories that will be accessible for a lifetime.