Spotlight_Joy Ride

Kids cruise to surgery at Oyster Point

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Heading to surgery can be a stressful experience for children. But 5-year-old Anthony Johnson from Hampton was all smiles before his operation at CHKD’s Health and Surgery Center at Oyster Point in June.

That’s because he was sitting in the driver’s seat of an electric Hummer, ready to take it for a spin to the operating room.

The surgery center has two electric Hummers – one pink and one yellow – available for patients to drive themselves to surgery. “It’s about the distraction and making the whole thing fun, which is always the goal when working with kids,” says Lynne Enneking, a staff nurse at Oyster Point.

Once in the Hummer, Anthony showed no signs of nervousness about his impending procedure to repair an umbilical hernia, a condition where the opening in the abdominal wall fails to close after birth. “Anthony was a little cranky this morning because he had to get up early,” says his dad, Jamal. “But he got excited to drive the Hummer and had a good time going back to surgery.”

With a doctor or nurse by their side to help them steer, kids drive the cars from the day surgery waiting area, down the hall, and straight to the doorway of the operating room. “As pediatric specialists, we understand how important it is to relieve the anxiety and stress that kids may feel in a medical environment,” says Dr. Ronald Brodsky, a pediatric anesthesiologist at CHKD. “The playful nature of the cars makes the separation from their parents less scary.”

The staff at the Oyster Point surgery center makes use of the cars nearly every day for kids ages 2 to 7 who are upset or reluctant to loosen their grip on mom or dad.

“If they have a favorite stuffed animal or blanket that makes them comfortable, it goes in the car too,” says Enneking. “They load up everything and take it with them to the OR.”

These fun distractions are specifically meant to calm kids before an operation. At Oyster Point, it’s the Hummers. At CHKD’s hospital in Norfolk and surgery center in Virginia Beach, push cars, iPads, and red wagons are used. But the toys aren’t only beneficial to patients. They can help ease parents’ nerves too.

“There are times when it’s next to impossible to separate kids from their parents before surgery. You wind up with a very unhappy child, which makes for unhappy parents,” says Dr. Brodsky. “The separation is much smoother if a child is on board with the process, which is what makes the car rides so valuable.”

Although children may still be nervous about what will happen in the operating room, they arrive with giant smiles and excitement after the experience of driving the car there. “It makes my job of getting them off to sleep a little easier if they’re not upset or crying,” Dr. Brodsky says. “Then, we let them pick a flavor for their ‘sleepy medicine.’ Giving them some control over what’s happening definitely helps to reduce anxiety.”

Oftentimes, the kids’ only worry is where their car is parked and whether it will be there when they wake up.

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