A Not-So-Scary Adventure with YSC Kids

by brenda maas

photos by jana graham

A ride to the surgery room in the red wagon is a big hit. So is the disposable camera. And it helps to have a friend like Ramsey, the Big Horn sheep. In fact, every facet of the Kids Program at Yellowstone Surgery Center (YSC) is about easing what hurts.

While no child—or parent—wants surgery, sometimes it’s the best option. But that doesn’t mean it has to be scary.

With the YSC Kids Program, something as simple as letting a child try on disposable gloves and hats makes them comfortable and less anxious in their surroundings. And, a more relaxed child often means more relaxed parents.

In fact, according to the April 2009 issue of AORN journal, pre-surgical education and rapport between patient and medical staff results in pediatric patients who were less anxious and less likely to display behavioral disturbances during their post-operative period.

In other words, less stress means faster healing.

Parents are Anxious, Too

Holly Adams, YSC Director of Nursing and mother of five-year-old twins, and her staff, looked at ways to decrease patient and parental anxiety related to both separation and the actual surgery. She notes that most features of YSC’s Kids came from examining patient feedback. And, maybe a bit from Adams herself.

“This program development was in its infancy when one of my daughters needed her tonsils and adenoids out,” Adams notes. As a mother who happens to be an RN, she experienced both sides of pediatric surgery firsthand. And the YSC Kids Program became even better because of it.

“If you can give parents predictability—the child will be crying, possibly screaming for ten minutes—they can be prepared to be calm and comforting instead of wondering why their child is acting like that,” says Adams. “Children are so intuitive; they know their parents’ moods.”

Easing Fears

Educating both parents and patients diminishes the unknowns. Adams notes that one tricky situation is the white cotton material wrapped around the intravenous (IV) tube that many children fear and want to pull out. From a medical perspective, the IV is crucial and having to re-start it on a hurting and upset child makes recovery more difficult. But, if kids know what to expect, scary things like that fade into non-issues.

“My three-year-old daughter, Natalia, is very observant and hands-on,” says mother Stephanie Schrag. “During the tour she touched all the non-sharp instruments, saw the operating room and felt comfortable there. When it was time for surgery, she grabbed Dr. Kennedy’s hand and walked down the hall. It was that easy.”

Approximately 100 children ages 10 and under undergo same-day surgery at Yellowstone Surgery Center each month. The most common pediatric surgeries include ear tube insertions, tonsil and adenoid removal, tendon lengthening, hand surgeries and umbilical hernia repairs.

Each child receives a personal tour invitation from mascot Ramsey prior to their surgery, paving the way for questions both during the tour and on the big day itself.

It’s sort of like a reconnaissance mission. Except there’s no “con.”

Patients and parents see each section of the facility, including the area where they will “wake up” and likely see Mom and/or Dad. “We have noticed that it doesn’t take a lot of talking or coaxing for a child to begin feeling comfortable with their surroundings,” notes Adams. “Just a bit of time and attention.”

Children also receive a coloring book that tells the story of a little boy named Sam, who comes to YSC for surgery. He walks the patient and parents step-by-step through what they will experience, from preparing for surgery beforehand to waking up afterward.

For Jason and Karadawn Mares, the program was a godsend. Their son, three-year-old Beau, came in to have his broken arm re-set in a semi-emergency situation, so they did not have time in advance for the tour. But, according to his mother, the coloring book, Ramsey, the camera and other goodies kept the busy preschooler distracted while they waited. And, though father Jason admits to being very anxious about having his son “put out” he appreciates being educated by the staff.

“They couldn’t have given us more information,” he notes. “And everything worked out just like they said it would.”

“Beau was picked up in the red wagon and he blew us a kiss on his way to his big adventure,” laughs his mother.

The Big Day

Upon check-in on surgery day, patients also receive a disposable camera—a huge hit with the ten-and-under crowd. Adams smiles when she notes that many patients often use the whole roll before their actual procedure. To make the distraction last, Dr. Kennedy often tells her little patients to save a picture for her in the blue surgery cap—the kids love it.

It really comes down to thinking like a child and honoring their curiosity. As a result, the YSC Kids Program makes the child feel special and less threatened throughout the entire process.

“It is so comforting to know that a child and her parents are not scared to death because a bunch of strangers with blue hats and brown suits are taking their child and giving her a big “owie”, only to return her crying and screaming for her mommy and daddy,” says Adams. “Being able to explain what happens makes all the difference.”

A big red snow cone as they head for home doesn’t hurt either. SFM