Helping Young Hospital Patients

Information: Elementary Students Write The Book For Children In The Hospital

April 20, 1997|By Dilshad D. Husain | Dilshad D. Husain,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Fourth-graders Shelby Swinburne and Kristy Sharpe have learned an important thing between the first and fifth drafts of their booklet explaining the workings of a Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU): Remember for whom you're writing.

The children are among 29 gifted-and-talented fourth-graders at Jessup's Bollman Bridge Elementary School who are writing booklets to explain to young patients and their parents what their illnesses are and what they can expect when they go to the hospital.

"At first, we said the PICU was `the place where the sickest children in the hospital go,' " said Shelby, 9.

"Our teacher told us that we shouldn't remind the kids that they are the sickest, so we changed it to `A place were the children who are too sick to go on the regular floor go,' " she said.

The "Bollman Bridge Sunshine Project" grew out of the experience of the children's teacher, David Bond, whose baby son had an accident that landed him in the intensive care unit at Maryland's Hospital for Children, a division of University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS).

A scary place

"When you're a little kid and you go to the hospital because of an illness, it's a scary place," Bond said. "You don't understand what you have. You don't know what the doctors and nurses are doing to you.

"And parents feel the same way. They don't want to read technical medical journals to know what's happening to their child."

During his son's ordeal, Bond found himself worried and frustrated about the technical information he was being given.

He said the idea for the project came to him at 2 a.m. during one of his son's 11 surgeries.

"I was talking with Pam Blais, a nurse in the PICU, and it came to me that there should be special booklets in easy language for pediatric patients and their family," he said. "I asked her for a piece of paper, jotted down some ideas, and here we are."

The booklets, expected to be completed next month, cover the most common reasons for admission to the hospital, from asthma to tonsillectomy, and various hospital departments, such as the PICU. The booklets are to be published and distributed at pediatric units in the hospital.

Shelby wanted to write about leukemia because her cat had it, but she and Kristy were assigned the PICU topic.

"It was hard to research," said Kristy, "because we couldn't find a definition for PICU in the encyclopedia or dictionary. But the nurses from the hospital helped us a lot. We learned that parents can't stay and sleep with their children, and that we are too young to go inside the PICU."

Shelby thought that rule should be changed. "Maybe people under 7 shouldn't go in. If you're a toddler, you shouldn't be able to go in because you can catch the disease. But 9-year-olds, we're a lot tougher," she said.

The students visited the Hospital for Children just after the project started last Thanksgiving and were assigned topics.

Work sheets helped the children break down their topics. Then the students went to Bollman's media center, which yielded little information.

"They came running back to me saying there's nothing," said Bond, who has been teaching at Bollman Bridge for two years. "That's what I wanted. People in the hospital just can't find information that easily. That's what the kids needed to know. My point was, `OK, what do we do now?' "

Writing like doctors

A group of nurses from the hospital guided the students in their research. Each student was also assigned a doctor as a mentor. The nurses and doctors also proofread the students' booklets.

Beth Sherfy, a PICU nurse at the hospital, was surprised how well the children took to their task.

"I initially thought the project was above their level," she said. "But they really tackled it. They know to ask questions and to clarify. In fact, they were beginning to talk like us, so we had to get them to write for children."

Sarah Jones agreed. Sarah, 9, who is writing about diabetes, said she and other students started to talk and write like doctors midway through the project. "We had to remember to write [the booklets] in kids' words," she said.

The Sunshine project has led to a partnership between the Department of Pediatrics at Maryland's Hospital for Children at UMMS and Howard County public schools. Blais said the partnership's goal is to have students learn how to solve the problems of hospitalized children.

"We want students to learn from the hospital, and we want to help them learn," Blais said. "The Bollman students have done so well. I hope the partnership can be that successful."

Blais said she and Bond had a common goal: making the stay of patients more comfortable.

"Through this goal, healthy kids have also learned more about the needs of hospitalized kids," she said.

Pub Date: 4/20/97

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