10/19/18

Emergency nurse and Child Life spin child from scared to safe

The emergency department can be a scary place – especially for a child. Lights, sirens, beeps and bustling hallways filled with people and equipment may overwhelm. When Mindee Zimmers couldn’t get 2-year-old Leah’s fever down, she turned to Carle’s Emergency Department.

“From the moment we walked through the doors, she was shaking and crying,” Zimmers said. “My poor girl unfortunately had lots of painful procedures in the hospital. Sticks and pokes are traumatic.”

Associating a hospital with pain made a routine exam quite challenging.

“I’ve never seen a kiddo so scared. Leah was so anxious even simple tasks like taking her temperature were causing extreme distress,” Shay Trisler, RN, emergency department, said.

Trisler tried many tricks to calm Leah, blowing up a glove and letting her touch her stethoscope. Leah’s pulse rate rose dangerously high. The team acted quickly. Trisler called for reinforcements. Enter Carle’s Child Life specialist, Bridget Ruholl, MS, CCLS – armed with toys, coloring books and bubbles.

“Leah had just learned the word ‘bubbles’ – what are the odds?” Zimmers said.

The Child Life Specialists at Carle care for children, teens and families by providing education, support and normalization. Their involvement can decrease anxiety in children and increase understanding and collaboration among the patient, family and healthcare team. Carle Center for Philanthropy supports Child Life Services.

“Children have a strong and innate urge to play. It's their work, their language and their coping mechanism,” Ruholl said. “By enabling children to play in the healthcare setting, it can feel more like home”

Leah started to relax with her attention focused on Bridget’s activities. When Justin Hoskins, MD, came in to examine her, she was distracted appropriately, so he was able to examine her ears and throat without any issues.

“She was a completely different child. She went from shying away from me to giving me a high-five on the way out the door,” Trisler said.

A week later, the family returned, this time for dad, Nathan.

Walking through the hospital doors, Zimmers felt a tug and saw Leah’s fear returning. Again, Carle nurses rose to the occasion, bringing her a blanket and some crackers and turning on cartoons.

“Even though she wasn’t the patient this time, her needs were met,” she said. “I can’t imagine going anywhere else. We are forever a Carle family.”

Exiting the hospital, Leah waved to the nurses, thanking them.

“I saw a vast improvement in associating the hospital with good things,” Zimmers said. “While we certainly don’t want to be back anytime soon, we will be when needed.”