My week: Natalie O'Keefe, play specialist at the Royal Free hospital in London

My role is to prepare children for procedures and operations, provide distraction or just keep them entertained. There are three of us covering two children's wards where the children are aged between 0 and 17. Although we have a structure to our working week, each day is different: it's not like a school where you know Billy and Jeremy are going to be in every day; you can have a child who comes in who is really sick and needs one-to-one attention.

I start at 8am and finish at about 4pm, and a typical day begins with the nurses' handover. We have teachers here, so the patients who are fit to do schoolwork go to the classroom or complete it in their bed.

I prepare the children who are going to theatre for an operation through role play for the younger ones, or a book for the adolescents. We use a doll or action figure for the role play. They have little gowns and name bracelets, and we put on what we call "special cream" with a plaster over it. Then we take them down to the anaesthetic room and recovery room, where their parents meet them when they wake up. Sometimes you need to reassure the parents too.

There is as much normal play – things that they enjoy doing at home – as possible. The games we play include Connect 4, Guess Who?, Frustration and Snakes & Ladders. We also work with the physiotherapists and sometimes they need a child to do exercise, so it could be a simple game of blowing and catching bubbles, which then is a fun way to do it. There is a playroom where we hold group sessions, such as art and crafts, but some children can't make it there or are in isolation, so we do different things with them.

I get half an hour for lunch and we take it in turns, so there is always someone available on the ward. In the afternoon we get the children who are going to be in overnight ready, making sure they have games, colouring books and wordsearches.

On Wednesday there is a multi-disciplinary meeting at 11am where we go through individual patients and any issues. We receive lots of donations from local people who bring in toys and games, so I help to sort out thank you cards featuring the children's artwork to send to them. I spent half of last Thursday sorting out tickets for the Harrods Christmas party. It is an annual event that several of our children go to, with entertainers, face-painting, food and goody bags containing a Harrods teddy. We send children who have had a bit of a rough year, or siblings of patients who deserve a treat.

This week, I had to make arrangements for a family who wanted to visit the ward on Christmas day. People are very generous around here, especially at this time of year. The end of the week is very busy making preparations for the weekend. The doctors try to send patients home, but some of them have to stay. So they need activities to keep them busy and cheer them up.

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