Surgery ‘drive-in’ keeps kids calm

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Having surgery is a daunting experience for adults, and even more so for children – but a Melbourne hospital has introduced a novel way to keep kids calm as they go into theatre for procedures.

In fact, at Epworth Eastern they let them drive in!

The children make their way into the operating room sitting in a remote-controlled vehicle, safely delivered by trained staff.

“Prior to having our car, we used to notice that as soon as children came around the corner into the theatre environment they would hold on tight to mum or dad while being faced with such an unfamiliar environment, many masked strangers and lots of equipment,” said Alex Allen, a clinical nursing specialist.

“Now we notice that the children are excitedly coming around the corner searching for the car, and then once in the car they are even given the choice to play their favourite song. It gives them a sense of control and serves as a great distraction for them.

“One patient was still talking about it as he went off to sleep in theatre.”

Mrs Allen had the idea of introducing the four-wheel-drive service after seeing it used in an overseas study aimed at reducing children's anxiety ahead of surgery. 

It looked at patients who walked into theatre, those who were sedated before going in, and a third group who were driven in.

“The study showed the children who were taken into theatre in the car had reduced anxiety levels, comparable to the children who were sedated,” she said.

Five-year-old Aston Cook was the first patient to be driven into theatre in the new 4WD, which has a customised ‘EE Theatre’ number plate.

Aston Cook enjoys his drive to the operating theatre

Associate Professor Dean White, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon at Epworth Eastern, said the young patient was incredibly relaxed when he arrived.

“Kids and their parents are almost always very nervous coming into the operating theatres,” A/Prof White said.

“Everyone involved rallies around to mitigate the stress of the unfamiliar environment with games, chatting and music, but it is always a challenge. 

“Aston couldn’t get into theatre fast enough and jumped up on to the operating table grinning from ear to ear. It even settled Mum down – a win all around!”

Keeping the kids distracted before procedures also helps to improve their recovery, as pre-operative anxiety has been shown to increase post-operative confusion.

The Box Hill-based hospital’s Executive General Manager, Kerry May, said the car had been a big help for young patients at Epworth Eastern, where children often undergo ear, nose and throat procedures and minor plastic surgery.

“Anything we can do to help reduce their anxiety makes it easier on them and their parents, and helps in their recovery,” she said.

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