St. Joseph's Children's Hospital program calms kids' fears about needles and surgery

Child Life specialists sooth the scaries
Local hospital calms kids' fears about needles
Posted at 3:27 AM, Feb 02, 2018

TAMPA, Fla. — Mylah does not love needles.

Unfortunately, the 8-year-old’s life on the Hematology-Oncology floor at St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital in Tampa sometimes calls for shots.

So today, the hospital's Child Life Department, which strives to make the hospital less scary for kids, will try to lessen Mylah’s fear of syringes by having her paint with syringes.

“This is a form of medical play,” says Child Life specialist Hannah Sewell while watching Mylah squirt paint from the syringe on a spinning art toy. “Usually when they see [syringes], they feel scared.”

But filling them with paint makes the medical equipment less threatening for children. 

A University of Florida psychology graduate, Sewell puts the hospital experience in childlike terms whether she’s dealing with a patient or a confused, worried sibling. 

“With anesthesia we don’t say, ‘You’re going to get put to sleep,’ because kids might associate getting put to sleep with a pet dying," said Sewell. "Instead, for anesthesia, we’ll say sleepy medicine.”

A traumatic hospital experience now could have serious health effects in the future, if only because “fear of doctors, fear of staff, fear of medical equipment and procedures” could lead to an aversion to getting medical help.

“We want to minimize the amount of traumatizing effects the hospital can have on a child,” says Sewell. “A lot of times it’s the unknown that really gets to the kids.”

As for Mylah, she hopes all kids in hospitals will have a friend like Hannah.

“It’s like I’m at home,” the little girl says. “When I’m at home, I like to play and watch TV, and that’s the same thing I do here.”