When actress Kristen Bell thanked the emergency room doctors and nurses who patched up her daughter's broken finger, she didn't focus on how well it was splinted or stitched.
Instead, she emphasized how the team made her family feel, how they helped her understand what was happening and what their choices were.
"It made us feel so safe," Bell, who stars in "The Good Place," wrote on Instagram last week.
Sara Cross, M.D., an emergency room doctor at AdventHealth Shawnee Mission, says treating the whole child means calming their fears while keeping parents involved at every step.
“Patients are coming to us on their worst day, so I make it a goal to meet each patient where they are and treat them as if they were part of my own family,” Dr. Cross says. About three in 10 of the hospital’s emergency room patients are children, so they’re well-equipped to cater to the unique physical and emotional needs of kids and their parents.
Because our fears about what may happen are a big part of our pain, Dr. Cross says telling children and parents what to expect is a critical part of her job.
(If you’d like to learn more about when you should choose your family doctor, urgent care or the ER, check out our post.)
Treating Kids in Mind and Body
Dr. Cross says keeping kids at ease is part of providing whole-person care. Often, needles loom largest in kids’ fears.
“I think their biggest worry is they’re going to have a shot,” she says. Often, children do need a shot, but she’s experienced at explaining it with empathy. She’ll lean over so she’s at eye level and tell the child when it’s coming and what to expect.
She’ll sometimes say things like, “You only have to be brave for one part and it lasts for one minute.”
“I find it very rare that kids can’t rise to the occasion,” Dr. Cross says.
Because children worry about whether everything will hurt, it’s important to explain each step.
If Dr. Cross needs to apply a liquid to an injury, she’ll say it’s like a squirt gun and test it out on another part of their body.
“We let them feel it ahead of time to show them that this part isn’t scary,” she says.
Parents are understandably nervous, and the kid-friendly explanations put them at ease, too. Often, what Mom and Dad need most is a plan — an idea of what’s going to happen at the hospital and what they should do at home. Even if the news isn’t great, knowing what’s likely to happen next lifts an emotional burden.
(To learn more about what to expect at the ER, check out our blog post on the topic).
“You can see the relief wash over them as you explain what’s going on,” Dr. Cross says. “They really like to have a plan because it helps them feel empowered to treat their child at home.”
Bell, the actress, praised the hospital she attended, Children's Hospital Los Angeles, for ensuring that she understood her choices and what was happening.
Dr. Cross also offers helpful hints for parents to care for their child at home.
For example, parents may be asked to count their baby’s wet diapers. She suggests hanging a bag on the doorknob of their child’s room and putting each wet diaper in it. It’s the type of specific, concrete tip that helps parents focus on what they can do rather than their fears.
“Giving very practical, straightforward advice reduces fears and anxiety,” Dr. Cross says.
Ultimately, empathy is the best care philosophy in the emergency room. Dr. Cross has three kids of her own, so she can put herself in the shoes of the worried mothers and fathers who rush their children into the ER.
“We understand this child is the most precious thing in their life, so I tell parents what I would do if my child were sick,” Dr. Cross says.
And we know Mom and Dad are concerned about their child’s emotional and mental health, too. That’s why whole-person health is at the core of our emergency care, just as it is throughout AdventHealth.
To help Johnson County families plan for life’s surprises, we’ve put together information and directions for our three ER locations: AdventHealth Shawnee Mission, AdventHealth Lenexa and AdventHealth South Overland Park.
And if you’d like to learn more details about what to expect at our ERs — or schedule an urgent care appointment — check out our emergency and urgent care online information center.