Easing Your Child’s Fears about Going to the Hospital

Carter-JacobusWhen Carter Jacobus learned he had to go to the hospital for the first time, it was a scary prospect for the 8-year-old.

But the experience turned out not to be so frightening, thanks to several hospital staff members who made him feel at ease. It was such a great experience, Carter, a third-grader from Petersburg, wrote the following thank-you letter:

Carter began feeling sick on Christmas night. When he still wasn’t feeling well a few days later, his parents, Jon and Heidi, took him to his pediatrician, Stephen Wallace, MD, with Springfield Clinic, who decided Carter should go to a hospital for an ultrasound.

“I started to cry,” Carter said when he overheard the news.

Carter, the youngest of three siblings, had never been a hospital patient before. He associated it with bad news, like finding out you have cancer or need surgery.

Carter isn’t alone. Lots of children are anxious about their first visit to a hospital. Nurses in Memorial Medical Center’s pediatrics unit offered these tips to parents to prepare their child for the trip.

  • Be sure not to show anxiety or fear to your child; they will pick up on it.
  • Bring your child’s favorite comfort item with them, such as a blanket or toy.
  • Describe the visit in a nonthreatening way and use easy-to-understand language. Let the staff or physician answer more detailed questions.
  • Have a plan for something they can look forward to after the visit, perhaps getting ice cream or visiting the park.
  • Avoid using words like “hurt” or “shot.”
  • Don’t tell you child about an unpleasant experience you might have had at a hospital.

So how did Carter’s visit go? Because the results of the ultrasound were inconclusive, an on-call pediatrician recommended a CT scan, which meant Carter had to drink an orange liquid, which he swears “tasted like dead grass and mixed-up fly guts,” and had to wait 45 minutes for the scan.

Levi Denton, RT(R), a CT technologist, offered to show him the CT scanner, which he described as a spaceship. But in Carter’s estimation, “it looked creepy.”

Denton was one of three “friendly” people whom Carter remembered from his hospital visit. The two others were Alixandria Giesing, RT(R), also a CT technologist, and Carol Bedini, RT(R), ARDMS, an ultrasound technologist.

Unfortunately for Carter, another CT scan was needed so he had to take a second ride in the creepy spaceship and swallow another orange drink. The tests revealed Carter was primarily suffering from swollen lymph nodes in his abdomen.

Now, Carter knows a hospital isn’t such a scary place after all, and he has some advice for other boys and girls who are making their first trips.

“Don’t be scared because they’ll take care of you,” he said, “and there’s nice people there.”