Normalizing the Hospital Environment

Leeanne Lackey fits an amazing amount of comfort and distraction into her small canvas tote. Markers, stickers, bubbles, toys that spin or light up—anything to make waiting for surgery a little more bearable.

Lackey is a Child Life Specialist who leads the PATCH Clinic (Preoperative Assessment and Teaching for Children’s Hospital), which helps children and families prepare for and cope with surgery.

“The hospital is not a normal environment, and we do everything we can to normalize and make it familiar,” Lackey said. “It alleviates anxiety just as much for the parents as the child. We know children feed off whatever emotions their parents are having. If we can help the parents cope, then the child will also cope better.”

Armed with an iPad filled with pictures of the holding room, hallways, operating room and staff members, Lackey can show patients and families exactly what to expect.

“We explain that they can ride back in a toy car or on the bed. We explain that the staff wear hats and masks to keep everything clean. We say they’ll wake up in a different room but their mommy or caregiver will be right there. It’s all about setting expectations and alleviating any fears.”

Lackey and another Child Life Specialist, Amy Kaufhold, prioritize patients for preparation within the 3-14 year age range but also provide services and opportunities for play to infants and toddlers.

On the day of a patient’s surgery they talk through what is about to happen, answer questions, and have some fun. A favorite activity is drawing on the sheets with washable markers.

Patients also choose what drink they will have in the recovery room—juice, soda, Icee or a Popsicle—and children also get to choose a fruit scent for the anesthesia mask.

“There’s not a lot of choice when they’re in the hospital, so we try to let them choose whenever possible,” Lackey said.

– by Leslie Hill

Go to www.childrenshospital.vanderbilt.org/services to learn more about the PATCH clinic.

To take a pre-surgery tour, go to www.childrenshospital.vanderbilt.org/presurgicaltour.