SickKids Teddy Bear Clinic: helping improve children’s hospital experience

The other day as I was scrolling through my Twitter feed when I came across a very touching story that not only resounds with me personally, but also demonstrates patient and family centred care in action.

Acie my stuffed sheepdog with hospital bracelet on it's ear

The story was a CityNews segment from March 13th 2012 about a Teddy Bear Clinic taking place at Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto.  In the video, retweeted by @sickkidsnews and @sickkids (SickKids Foundation), children who are preparing to go through medical procedures at the hospital were given the opportunity to register their stuffed animals and guide them through some of the same tests that they might encounter.  The video shows children putting their teddy bears through a miniature MRI scan that makes a similar sound to the larger machine, as well as casting, x-rays, blood work among others.  Child Life Specialist Sarah Patterson explains in the segment that the Teddy Bear Clinic allows children to “understand more of what happens in hospital and basically gives them a better experience while they’re here.”  I’ve provided the full and link to the CityNews segment at the bottom of this post.  I highly recommend watching it.

Watching the segment reminded me of my own experiences at SickKids with my stuffed dog Ace.  I’ve had my little sheepdog stuffy, affectionately referred to as ‘Acie’ since I was born.  He has made many trips with me such as Florida, DisneyWorld, my university dorm (including every apartment since) and two open heart surgeries and a spinal fusion at SickKids Hospital.  To this day he still has the hospital bracelet with his name on it fastened to his ear.  The simple act of allowing my stuffed dog to come with me on the stretcher into surgery, where my family could not, was comforting.  Looking back on it now this act made the process a little bit easier for me and demonstrates forethought by my healthcare providers into the needs of their patients.  I also remember at the PreOp (the consultation before your procedure) to my first heart surgery, instead of making my sister and I watch the slides of what occurs during and after surgery, they displayed it to us using a doll.  Doing so gave me the knowledge of what was going to happen to me, without having to view the gory photos, something that might have frightened me at the time.  I am glad to hear they are using this technique with other procedures as well.

Tweet: @sickkidsnews @citynews my toy dog acie still has his hospital bracelet from my surgery at @sickkids 15 years ago:) by @sarahmc67

There is no need for me to go into detail about how traumatic surgery is for any child – or adult for that matter – and their family.  We generally consider surgery to be a serious endeavour and one that is associated with stress and recovery.  What really struck me while watching the CityNews segment is the miniature MRI machine and the simulated noise it makes.  What a great idea!  For many people MRI scans are overwhelming, especially when combining a tight space with loud noises.  This can be made worse for first timers by not knowing what to expect.  Heck, I still get nervous before an MRI.  The ability for children to perform this procedure on their teddy bear can help familiarize them with the noise and the machine itself.  For a parent, who are often allowed at SickKids to accompany their child inside the room where the MRI is being performed, practice with the bear can be a good reference point to bring up with their child before and during the test.  For instance, “remember when [insert teddy’s name here] did this test? It was a little loud, but teddy made it through.”  Providers can also use the same tactic if they know that the child has gone to the Teddy Bear Clinic beforehand.  In my experience, this could be a good way to make a difficult time a little easier.

Kudos to the people who came up with and implemented the Teddy Bear Clinic!

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