Sick Kids appeal: Writer’s strategy gives youngsters new tools in their battle for health

Kai McKechnie has found the storyteller within thanks to Linda Cracknell
Kai McKechnie has found the storyteller within thanks to Linda Cracknell
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LITTLE Kai McKechnie is no stranger to the Sick Kids hospital.

The seven-year-old was born with cystic fibrosis and has spent months attending hospital appointments and undergoing treatment for the disease.

However, the St Mary’s RC Primary pupil’s most recent spell at the Sick Kids after he was admitted two weeks ago due to reduced lung function has been a little more colourful.

The youngster, who lives in Bathgate, took part in a one-to-one session at his bedside with the hospital’s writer in residence, Linda Cracknell, for the first time last week.

Together, they let their imaginations wander to concoct a story about a boy called Kai and his dog Zack walking through a forest and discovering a spicy pumpkin that “comes alive” and starts to chase them.

Kai’s feelings about his first creative writing session at the hospital are clear. When asked if he would like to take part again, the primary four pupil’s response was a resounding “yes, yes, yes, yes”.

He added: “It was fun. I enjoyed the imagination part and the drawing part the best.”

Meanwhile, Kai’s mum Margaret, a student nurse at Edinburgh Napier University, said: “He thoroughly enjoyed it. Normally when it comes to writing stories or anything at all to do with school work, he would rather not do it, but he just seemed to get carried away.

“I thought it was quite good for him rather than playing with Lego – it was nice to see him actually caught up in the moment. He was getting excited about the story.”

Ms Cracknell, 53, was appointed writer in residence – a part-time, two-year position – at the Sick Kids hospital in June and has since worked with dozens of patients. As part of her role, she runs creative writing and poetry sessions for patients, staff and parents, as well as writing for and about the hospital with a view to retaining some of the character of – and affection for – the current building when it moves to a new site in a few years.

As well as one-to-one writing and poetry sessions, Ms Cracknell, who lives in Perthshire and is a writer by trade, offers one-hour workshops for small groups in the hospital library every fortnight, with patients referred to the workshops and sessions by the hospital’s play specialists, who believe the selected children would enjoy or benefit from taking part. She said: “Typically what I’m doing if I’m working with children and I’m on the ward with them involves working one-to-one and finding out what their interest is in stories or poems, or using their imagination.

“For example, at the beginning of October we had National Poetry Day. The theme was stars and one of the things we did was write poems about the children’s personal stars – they might range from a dad to a play specialist.

“I’m working with patients to inspire them to write. There are always people who are excited about the idea of using words and their own imagination. Whatever age we are, that’s an exciting thing to do.”

She added: “I’m also humanising aspects of the hospital environment through writing. I have written a couple of poems about things which the children will come across or use like a stethoscope and cannula, which looks like a butterfly and sits on their hands. Quite often they have to live with a cannula in their hand while on the ward. I wrote a poem about seeing it as a 
butterfly and something that’s not frightening.”

Ms Cracknell spends six days a month as writer in residence, four of which are based at the Sick Kids hospital. She assists in writing stories and poems, as well as penning her own pieces, some of which are now decorating the hospital’s walls and will appear on the Sick Kids website. Sessions can span anything from five minutes to an hour, depending on the child and their condition.

Ms Cracknell said: “The children get an opportunity to do something special while they’re here like write a story or poem, or hear one. That could make a difference to their life.

“There’s always a benefit in people feeling they’re being creative and using their imagination. Everyone’s got an imagination and it’s about finding it and igniting it.

“The other side of the role is I’m collecting experiences and stories of the people who are part of the hospital community, so I shadowed a cleaner to find out a cleaner’s experience of the hospital building and the work that it does. It was a wonderful insight and I wrote a poem about the cleaner who I followed.”

An illustrator in residence will be appointed over the next few months and he/she will work with Ms Cracknell.

“It’s an exciting opportunity because in terms of bringing stories to life for children, the illustration could be a huge addition,” Ms Cracknell said.

Gillian Saunders, play specialist at the Sick Kids, said Ms Cracknell’s sessions helped to distract the children from their illnesses and what can often be gruelling treatment.

The 33-year-old said: “It’s a different way of distracting the kids on the ward. Linda spent some time with a young girl on our ward creating a wee story about being in hospital, and it really distracted her for an hour.”

The Evening News has joined forces with the Sick Kids Friends Foundation (SKFF) to mark its 20th anniversary this year, and we will be working with the charity to celebrate its achievements and help make the anniversary year its best yet.

Since it was founded in December 1992, the SKFF has smashed targets and raised a £18 million for the Sick Kids hospital and related children’s healthcare centres – £14m of which was raised in the last decade.

Deep Cleaner

By Linda Cracknell, Writer in Residence

Here I come

up fae the basement

like a roller-blader

in knee-pads,

purple gloves, and

a smile I add

tae the shine of

the place.

Here I come,

wheelin’ ma ‘bairn’

with its water tanks,

nozzles, pipes, and brushes

rushing and puffing

tae its work.

Here we come

the dream-team

snortin’ steam

deep cleanin’

each speck of ouse

each stain and smear

making a sauna

in every corner

of the ward.

Nae crack or crevice

or hidden surface

is safe fae us.

Dinnae stand there too long, pal

or ye’ll get steamed yersel!


By Linda Cracknell, Writer in Residence

I’m a colourful butterfly

that’s chosen to land

with wide-open wings

on the top of your hand.

I’m so light you’ll not feel me

while I’m taking some blood

for the microscope man

to search it for bugs.

To make you feel better

I’ll feed you some juice

or medicine to heal you

while you eat chocolate mousse.

Now what is my name?

It’s not Callum or Angela

though it has some of both -

my name is Cannula.



Play specialist co-ordinator at the Sick Kids hospital, Ishbel Proctor, 56, said there are a number of creative activities available to help distract the children from their condition and treatment, and help brighten up their hospital stay.

“Clown doctors visit the hospital twice a week for two hours each time. Sometimes it’s just using them to alleviate boredom or helping children acclimatise to hospital. If a child is having difficulty settling into the hospital routine, they would often be referred to clown doctors via a play specialist. The clown doctors might do puppetry or slapstick magic.

“The Music in Hospital charity sends musicians to the hospital four to six times a year. The children go to a playroom, where they can play musical instruments and join in with singing.

“The Scottish Orchestra also comes to the hospital three times a year. They travel to each ward and allow the children to play the instruments.

“We do lots of arts and crafts as play specialists. We always try to let the children do something that they can paint and draw as a positive memory to take home from the hospital, so it’s not all about their injuries and medicines.”

The Sick Kids Friends Foundation is currently raising funds for two new state-of-the-art ultrasound systems for the hospital. You can make a donation by visiting

or calling

0131-668 4949