Now add a care provider's masked face into that mix and you've got a patient for whom a visit to hospital has the potential to become a trauma-inducing event.
According to Mary MacKillop, director, Patient Experience, BC Children's and BC Women's, to understand a mask's anxiety-creating potential, you must understand the varied scenarios that can lead a person to the hospital in the first place.
Many, in fact, have involved masks. "Often a mask has a connection to a trauma for a child or their family and can serve as a trigger," she said, adding the button initiative is an approach to care that's trauma-informed.
For these reasons and more, Behind the Mask launched the week of June 8. The goal is to make photo buttons for staff members across BC Children's and BC Women's who must wear masks when providing care. The button serves to personalize the care provider behind the mask to lessen anxiety and fear for patients.
It's an initiative that pre-dated COVID-19, and has been launched at healthcare facilities across Canada as well as internationally.
Child Life Specialists are often the first point-of-contact that patients have with BC Children's Hospital. They've seen first-hand how a masked face can intensify feelings of uncertainty and apprehension.
"But then parents point at my button and say, 'See? That's what she looks like under the mask,'" said Child Life Specialist Gloria Kwong. "Then they look at the button and smile at me." Added Heather Hameluck, Kwong's colleague, "Having the button makes the situation brighter from the second they make that connection with you."
Behind the Mask relies on deployed staff: people who have shifted from their regular jobs to help with the varied work required for the hospitals to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nicole Cheung, a deployed staff member to the Patient Experience COVID-19 team at BC Children's and Women's hospitals, has perfected the art of breaking down barriers, one photo button at a time.
"I've heard that the kids smile back at the buttons," said Cheung, during a recent button-making stint in the hospital lobby. "I think it's just human nature to smile back when you see someone smile at you, even if it's someone smiling on a button."