ER visit for a child doesn’t have to be traumatic

July 22, 2019
ER pharmacy director smiles at little girl in the ER
Sophie Stockbuger, left, receives a sticker from UCHealth pharmacy manager Jessie Ritter, during the Teddy Bear Hospital event held at the UCHealth Greeley Hospital on June 15. The hospital official opened July 3, 2019. Photo by Joel Blocker, for UCHealth.

And ER visit for a child can be a traumatic experience for them—and for their parents, said Dr. James Campain, a member of the Emergency Physicians of the Rockies, who helped open the new UCHealth Greeley Hospital. Campain is the emergency department medical director and also serves as chief of staff for the new hospital.

The new facility includes 50 inpatient beds, 20 beds in the emergency department, and a four-bed pediatric observation unit.

“That’s somewhat innovative,” he acknowledged. The intent of the pediatric observation unit is to keep children close to home when they need to stay in the hospital longer than the average emergency room visit. The observation unit is staffed by nurses with special training in pediatrics, and will be overseen by staff pediatricians and surgeons.

“When children come into the ER, they experience a lot of anxiety, rooted in fear of pain, and of the procedures that might be done, like getting blood drawn or having an IV,” he said.

Many children associate a visit to the doctor with getting shots, he added. “And there is the fear of the unknown.”

So, what can parents and health care providers do to help alleviate that anxiety? Here are some tips from the father of four children:

For Parents:

Stay calm. Parents should “try to stay calm yourself. When your child is sick or injured, parents tend to react in a protective, nurturing manner, but the more they can try to stay calm themselves, the better it is for the child,” Campain said.

ER nurse talks to little girls sitting on hospital bed
Emily Garner, left, an emergency nurse manager at UCHealth Greeley Hospital, looks over Aspen, Paige and Regan Fogo’s stuffed animals during the Teddy Bear Hospital event held at the UCHealth Greeley Hospital on June 15. Photo by Joel Blocker, for UCHealth.

Provide comfort.  “When coming to the emergency department, or if your child is placed into pediatric observation, it helps to bring something familiar from home to help provide comfort in a strange environment,” he said.

“If there’s time and it’s practical, bring a child’s favorite toy or stuffed animal with them to the visit. Or maybe it’s a special blanket, or books they like for bedtime stories,” he suggested.

If there’s no time to grab any of those things, the hospital has coloring books and crayons and donated stuffed toys to give to children. There also are TVs and interactive computer games available.

“Distractions are important,” he said.

The hospital also has warm blankets with fun images on them, and they often decorate the emergency department pediatric rooms with child-friendly décor, such as Disney characters on the walls. And rocking chairs offer comfort to both parents and children, especially after a procedure, he said.

Night duty: If an ER visit for a child includes them staying the night, parents are encouraged to stay also. “We have set up the observation units so parents can stay with their child. In addition, a room has been set aside as part of the unit for parents to have a time out as well.”

For Health Care Providers:

ER doctor hands doll to little girl in emergency room
UCHealth’s Dr. Jamie Teumer, left, reassures Isabel Bashor that her doll is OK during the Teddy Bear Hospital event held at the UCHealth Greeley Hospital on June 15.  Photo by Joel Blocker, for UCHealth.

Watch body language.  “Our pediatricians have taught us that we all need to physically get down to their level – sit down on a low chair or stool so you’re not towering over them,’ he said. “Try to maintain eye-level contact.”

Be empathetic. It helps parents to know that health care providers, especially those who have children of their own, understand what they are going through. “They know it’s different when it’s your own child.”

Gain trust. “We try to gain the trust of the child and the parents to help everyone feel more comfortable. As emergency department physicians, we don’t have an established relationship with the child or parent, so that can be even more of a barrier.

“Also, children have an ingrained anxiety when it comes to strangers,” he added. “But once parents become comfortable with the new caregivers, this tends to transfer to their child.”

About the author

Linda DuVal is a freelance writer based in Colorado Springs and a regular contributor to UCHealth Today. She has written travel articles for major U.S. newspapers and national, regional and local magazines. She spent 32 years as an award-winning writer, reporter and editor for The Gazette in Colorado Springs.