Early last Friday, four-year-old Noa drove into the surgery room at the wheel of a small blue Audi convertible. The toy vehicle was radio-controlled by a health worker walking three steps behind her inside Parc Taudí Hospital in the Catalan city of Sabadell, where Noa was being treated for an umbilical hernia.
The child’s smiles as hospital staff cheered her on attested to the success of this new method that the outpatient surgery department has introduced to relieve stress in their underage patients.
It makes the whole thing seem more like a game
Dr Silvia López, head of pediatric anesthesia
“The nurses at the outpatient surgery department wanted to humanize pediatric care,” says Laura Porcar, a nurse and one of the people behind the initiative, which draws inspiration from a similar project in an Oklahoma hospital in the United States.
“The car has caused a spectacular change, both for the children, who are much calmer going in, and for the parents, who see their child go smiling into the operating room,” adds Porcar.
The outpatient surgery unit deals with less complex operations that nevertheless require general anesthesia. The remote control car joins clowns, toys, music and decorated rooms, all of which are part of the staff’s efforts to make the hospital stay less stressful for kids, which in turn means they need less anxiety medication ahead of the operation.
“Up until now children were receiving anxiety medication intranasally to reduce their stress over the operation and the separation from their parents going into the surgery room,” explains Dr Silvia López, who coordinates the pediatric anesthesia unit at the hospital. “Now we’ve developed strategies to replace the drugs, such as clowns, music or mobile devices. The car is one more tool to create an environment that doesn’t feel hostile. It makes the whole thing seem more like a game.”
The nurses at the outpatient surgery department wanted to humanize pediatric care
Laura Porcar, nurse
During its first week on the job, the Audi convertible has taken around a dozen children to the surgery room. “None of them have required anxiety medication,” says López.
Families and health professionals agree that the experience so far has been “excellent.”
“It was a surprise for everyone. She was a bit worried and she told the nurse that she was nervous, but when they showed her the car she got excited,” says Noa’s father, Antonio Martínez. “In fact, she’d been telling me for a long time that she wanted to go for a ride in one of those cars because she’s seen them at shopping centers and on our summer vacations.”
The car helped the parents almost as much as it helped the child. “You’re still tense, but it helps to see her being distracted this way.”
Noa is back home after a quick and successful surgery, and now keeps talking about the car. “She’s telling everyone: her sister, her grandparents...,” says her father, who would not be surprised to see the Audi on the list of gift requests to Santa Claus.
English version by Susana Urra.