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Tours aim to rid kids of their hospital fears

May 08, 2003|by TAMELA BAKER

tammyb@herald-mail.com

The hospital can be a scary place for children. And if most of us are honest, the hospital can be a pretty scary place even for adults.

For at least 10 years, Washington County Hospital has sought to allay the fears of some of its littlest patients by hosting tours for them as part of their school curriculum. This year, the hospital is marking National Children and Hospital Week by welcoming first-graders - about 1,500 of them - from 28 public and private schools throughout Washington County, according to public relations coordinator Kelly Redmond.

Students from Funkstown and Cascade Elementary Schools visited the hospital Wednesday morning. They rode in the over-sized elevators, were awed by the helicopter pad and checked out the X-ray machine - "where they take pictures of your insides," one little girl declared. They really liked the view from an eighth-floor patient room.

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And they learned new words like "pediatric," "dietitian" and "auxilian."

"Who wants to be a doctor when you grow up?" asked Rehab Manager Andre Bathalon when some of the Funkstown students assembled on the pediatrics floor. About half a dozen hands went up before the students were whisked down the hall by their guide, volunteer Georgia Reeser.

The children were quick to share their own families' experiences with the hospital. "My cousin was playing in the bathtub and he banged his head and he had to have stitches," volunteered one little girl.

"My aunt had a baby one time and she had to go to the hospital," said another.

And one declared that while playing on a trampoline, "my cousin and me fell and that isn't healthy for you."

Hospital workers showed the students a video the hospital prepared just for children and treated them to a puppet show about why they shouldn't be afraid to go to the hospital. A volunteer showed them what all those buttons on the hospital bed are for. They saw tonsils preserved in a jar and a bag of Type-A blood prepared for a transfusion.

"Is that fake blood?" one youngster asked.

"No, it's real," hospital worker Mechelle Babylon assured them.

Babylon asked whether any of them had ever had blood taken.

"It don't hurt," replied Jeremy Wright, 7.

Asked what he'd remember about this visit, Jeremy said "the tonsils. It's nasty."

Hannah Pickerall said she liked the cookies and punch the hospital served up. Twin sister Heather liked the X-rays - which included "insides" of a teddy bear and a Buzz Lightyear robot toy.

Their teacher, Gladys Sullivan, said she planned to have her students write about their hospital visit when they returned to school. "Most of them will write about the tonsils and the blood," she predicted.

Mary Black, a first-grade teacher for 15 years, said she has seen firsthand the benefits of taking her students on the tour every year.

"It tends to make children less stressful about going to the hospital," said Black, a teacher at Cascade. "Once they become aware of what happens there, it takes away the fear."

"These tours are a nice way to approach these things," Black added. "And in all the years I have been going on the tours, only one student has ever come close to passing out."

Staff writer Marlo Barnhart contributed to this story.

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