Most people who know about Caemon and his journey are also familiar with his great fondness for nurses and doctors and pretending to be among their ranks. While he certainly enjoys the usual medical play of bandaging various items, he also involves himself in some fairly intricate work with IV lines and syringes filled with saline. This is the usual work of a child in the traditional sense that he enjoys manipulating the different tools, seeing how they fit together, practicing each move again and again until he perfects it. He can go about this for hours, and with as many supplies as he has been granted, he has endless possibilities.
Beyond the play, however, Caemon has something much more sophisticated at work. A couple of days into our recent break from the hospital, after he had rediscovered all his old toys and books, he wanted his medical supplies and began playing with the lines, flushing them, administering medication, and talking through it all. He speaks to one little section of tubing as though it’s a person, and on this occasion, he congratulated in because it was going to be hep-locked so that it could go to the playroom without its IV pole. Moments later, he had to console it because it was being hooked back up. Soon, though, things took a different turn, and Caemon began administering chemo to the tube. He narrated, as he often does, and as he hooked a syringe up to the tube, he said, “You push the chemo in, and the leukemia comes out.” Jodi and I stood back in awe as our son worked through his experiences in the hospital with this play. He talked it out, and he later moved on to making pretend muffins in his little kitchen.
I think it speaks volumes that Caemon did not want anything to do with his medical supplies when we first arrived home. In fact, for the first two days, he didn’t touch them, even though he had played with them every day we had been in the hospital. What is clear now is that he just didn’t need them. He needed to be present in his home environment and didn’t have anything pressing to work through. When he did, the supplies came out, and he got to work.
Now that we are back, and he is actively receiving chemotherapy, Caemon is back to his regular daily medical play. He has a tackle box full of supplies and pays keen attention to each procedure that takes place. This curiosity about what is happening to him medically has helped him cope with so much of the fear and uncertainty around his time here, and it’s beautiful to see. Because his providers recognize how important this is to him, they encourage it by doing everything from allowing him to essentially take his own vitals to giving him unusual medical supplies (so long as they are safe). Today, for example, he received a clean syringe with all the same safety caps and tips used for his own chemotherapy infusions. He has practiced over and over administering chemo to his little tube friend (which he has affectionately named “Sad, Sad Boingy Tube”), and thus he is coping with this latest round. Having some agency in his care, having a hands-on sense for how he is being healed undoubtedly does wonders for his anxiety, and it is teaching him so much in the process.
People like to speculate about what this means for his future. Will he be a doctor? A nurse? An engineer? Maybe, or maybe not. What I am fairly certain about, however, is that this boy has found a means of protecting his psyche, of coping with an untenable experience in a very sophisticated way such that his future may not be marred by horrible memories of this time. He may very well look back on this and see inspiration–at least I hope he does. He certainly has inspired all of us around him.
To see Caemon in action, enjoy the videos below. The quality isn’t always great, but the messages are pretty clear.