The Power of Words
“Poetry breaks through the skin of suffering in which children are often imprisoned: silent, confused, scared. A child’s poetry is an intimate, trusting gift to her parent, or to anyone who wishes to ‘read’ her heart.”
(Lyrics to Compact Disc written by participants at Family Day, 2007 and sung by Amy Chappel)
Alice Walker, poet, novelist, Pulitizer Prize winner
I can feel it coming on, those highs and lows Shaking from my head down to my toes So I check my sugar, then I take a shot. But it’s ok cause I’m gonna be alright.
Diabetes, Hey! Listen to me now T h e r e ’ s n o w a You’re getting me down Cause I am strong I’ve got Mom, Dad, and all my doctors to help me out. y
I get so frustrated when my pump breaks Kind of like when I can’t play my wii Sometimes I feel sad Sometimes I’m mad Sometimes you just gotta get glad
Diabetes, Hey! Listen to me now T h e r e ’ s n o w a You’re getting me down Cause I am strong I’ve got Mom, Dad, and all my doctors to help me out y
As we all know from experience, illness is absorbing. When we are ill – even with something as minor as a headache – it is difficult to concentrate. Our energy is diminished, and our attention is distracted. The pain in our temples puts us on edge. Maybe we snap irritably at our loved ones or coworkers. Maybe we speak harshly to the dog. Still, in the backs of our minds, we know that the headache is temporary. A couple of aspirin or a nap in a dark room and a tall glass of water will take it away. Before long, we will return to our normal, more pleasant and pain-free selves.
Imagine, then, being diagnosed with a chronic condition like Type I Diabetes at the age of five, or ten, or fifteen. Perhaps that diagnosis has come only after a medical crisis that frightened you with its bizarre and incapacitating bodily symptoms, and terrified your parents as they drove you to the hospital’s emergency room, or telephoned for an ambulance. Because you are still a child, the immediate experience was probably overwhelming. It will likely take a long while for any child who has been diagnosed with a chronic condition like diabetes to understand fully how his or her life has been affected, and how dramatically daily activities will need to change. Many feelings will accompany that realization, and some of those feelings will probably be difficult to express. As adults, we know from experience that the expression of painful or upsetting emotions is often the first step toward accepting the reality of a bad situation and reestablishing our peace of mind. For children, this is not so clear. One of the ways to assist young people in sorting out their feelings and understanding what has happened to them is to have them write about their situation. Over the past three decades, more and more hospitals have begun incorporating
various kinds of bibliotherapy into the supportive services offered to pediatric patients. It was within this context that this little anthology of poems written by children with diabetes came to be.
In April 2008, Donna Glassford, the director of the Cultural Enrichment Program at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, invited me to conduct a series of poetry writing workshops at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt under the auspices of the Child Life Program. After meeting with Janet Cross, Child Life director, we settled on the Children’s Diabetes Program at the Vanderbilt Eskind Diabetes Clinic as the most likely site for a productive, short-term workshop. This anthology is the result of six weekly poetry-writing sessions with recently diagnosed children and some of their siblings. Child Life Specialist Leslie Grissim, had the idea to offer the writing workshop as a component of the first session of the extensive outpatient education and evaluation program that patients and their families attend.
At Vanderbilt University Medical Center, the resources for children with diabetes are excellent and all-encompassing.The Eskind Diabetes Clinic has adopted an integrative approach to treatment, by locating the juvenile and adult clinics in contiguous spaces, and providing rich programs of support for both medical and social aspects of the condition.Thus, newly diagnosed children are exposed to a continuum model of living with and successfully treating diabetes from the time of their very first visit. Support is offered in both individual and group settings. Patients and their families are gently encouraged to think about the ways in which a diagnosis of diabetes affects not only the patient, but his or her entire support system, as well –