A Day in the Life of Captain Starlight

Wednesday, 15 April, 2020

A Day in the Life of Captain Starlight

At work each day, Abe Mitchell transforms into Captain Starlight to bring fun and laughter to children and their families.

08:30–09:30 I jump on the train for my morning commute wearing my civilian clothes or ‘civvies’ as we call them. It’s important to our Starlight mythology that we’re not recognised by the kids in our programs when we’re not on duty so our ‘secret identities’ are protected. We are superheroes from Planet Starlight after all.

09:30–10:00 I get to the hospital and grab the keys to the Starlight Express Room from security. I always share any new jokes I’ve heard with security. If I can make security laugh, it’s a good sign I’ve got a winner!

Our Captains team then prepare the Starlight Express Room for the day’s activities. We set up the pre-planned craft based on our monthly themes; prepare all the furniture, video games, board games; and then wipe down all surfaces for infection control.

Next up, we have our ‘Captain’s Huddle’. This is 5–10 minutes to get the team on the same page about how the day is going to play out: how we’re going to make the room special; any special guests; which volunteers are coming in; which Captain Starlights will be on ‘Rocket Rounds’ (taking the Captain Starlight fun to children in their wards and clinics); and who will be playing with kids in the Starlight Express Room. Today, I’m in the Starlight Express Room. We suit up into our purple and yellow costumes and share a quick warm-up together — we’re ready for action!

It’s 10:00, which means it’s time for our Starlight Express Room doors to open! Often, even before 10:00, there are door knocks from kids outside eager to play.

On arrival, we sign the kids into a system to help us know who is in the room at any given time, which is important for our Safeguarding Children and Young People policy. Also at this time, the allocated Captain Starlights head out on their Rocket Rounds on the hospital wards. We have a schedule so that we’re visiting the right wards and clinics at the right time for maximum impact to the kids who can’t make it to our room.

At 10:30 it’s time for ‘The Morning Show’. We have our own TV station called ‘Starlight TV’, which lets us broadcast live to the hospital wards. It’s a great way for us to reach kids who are confined to their rooms, letting everyone know what’s happening in the Starlight Express Room that day, and is also amazing for keeping the boredom at bay.

Today it’s Friday so we play ‘The Friday 5’. We also take requests for movies to play on ‘Starlight TV’ and chat to the kids live on air using the hospital internal phone system. We get a call from a bored patient who would love a visit from Captain Starlight. We message the Captains on the wards to let them know there’s been a special request and straight away, they’re onto it!

11:00–13:30 The Starlight Express Room is pumping! The room is full of patients, siblings, parents, carers, friends and family — all making the most of this medical-free zone dedicated to fun and play. Families are making craft pianos for ‘Music Month’, there are kids playing video games, a Jenga tower topples to the clamorous sounds of laughter. Depending on the patient’s needs, the room can be very busy and exciting at one time, while at other times, we can dim the lights and make it more of a chill-out space to cater to a particular child’s needs.

13:30–14:15 Phew! I take a quick break and recharge my batteries for the afternoon.

14:15–15:30 A dad and his daughter make their Starlight Express Room debut. They met Captain Starlight on Rocket Rounds and received a postcard telling them all about the Starlight Express Room and couldn’t wait to check it out. I give them a tour of everything they can do in the space. It’s quite busy this afternoon, so we host a video game tournament on our big screen, writing scores on the nearby wall that also acts as a whiteboard. I’m not sure who’s more competitive — parents, carers or the kids! Regardless, it’s heaps of fun and a great way for families to meet and connect with each other in what doesn’t feel like a hospital setting.

15:30 It’s daily ‘Game Show’ time and on Fridays we play bingo. Bingo is without a doubt one of our most popular weekly activities, with kids picking the numbered balls out of a bucket and yelling out or calling in from their wards when they have ‘BINGOOO!’. One teenage girl, who’s a regular, loves ‘Starlight TV’ so we put her on as a host with the green screen behind her. The entire hospital loves getting behind bingo.

16:00–17:00 It’s starting to quieten down a little. A few teens who’ve finished hospital school for the day come in to play cards before we close. One Captain Starlight is playing the ukulele to a baby and her mum in the corner. The two pairs of Captain Starlights who’ve been visiting patients on Rocket Rounds return to record where they’ve been and who’ve they’ve visited. I head out with my fellow Captain Starlight (we always work in pairs) to deliver a prize to our bingo winner. It’s a Spiderman activity kit and he’s stoked! We ask if he’d like to request a movie. He does, so we write it down in the ‘Captains Huddle’ for tomorrow's team to note. No surprises — he’s requested Spiderman!

17:00 It’s time for us to blast back to Planet Starlight — in other words, close the Starlight Express Room. In our room, the Captains made a music video to the US boy band NSYNC’s hit ‘Bye Bye Bye’. We play it every day and turn the lights up. The song lets everyone know it’s time to finish up whatever they’re doing and makes closing the room fun for our visitors. Once the doors are closed, we clean the Starlight Express Room and re-group to talk about the day’s highs and lows and cover any special news and matters to address. We don’t need to do a full pack-down today as Livewire (Starlight’s adolescent program for ages 12 and up) is hosting a movie night in the room this evening.

17:30 I change out of my costume, ready for my commute home. It’s usually then, on the train, when the buzz of the day wears off and I realise how exhausted I am. Was it worth it? As always, absolutely.

Images courtesy of Starlight Children's Foundation.

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