Making Surgery Less Scary for Kids

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A longtime Kaiser Permanente Stockton employee uses a sassy puppet and a coloring book she created to help ease kids’ fears about surgery. Pictured above, Kandy Hogan shares a silly moment with 9-year-old Luke Coussons.

Kandy Hogan knows that surgery can be scary for kids.

So for more than a dozen years, the admitting clerk at Kaiser Permanente Stockton has been keeping things light for kids coming in for outpatient surgeries, such as tonsillectomies.

Kandy Hogan poses with her puppet.

Hogan greets the children and their parents as they check in for surgery with a sassy puppet wearing miniature scrubs and a badge identifying her as Mona Phielgud, MD. Last November, Hogan and her co-worker, Suman Singh, also started handing the kids a goodie bag with a stuffed bear, crayons, and a custom coloring book titled, “Today is Your Operation!”

Hogan drew most of the drawings in the 20-page coloring book with an eye toward easing pre-surgery jitters.

“It’s really an educational thing for the kids and the parents because it walks them through the steps before, during, and after surgery,” she explained.

The coloring book pictures animals as patients going through the surgery process: There’s a monkey getting his blood pressure taken before surgery, a rabbit being wheeled down a hall on a stretcher, and a duck waking up in the recovery room.

Jason Nowell Jr. waits for surgery with his mom.

The idea for the coloring book came to Hogan two years ago when a young surgery patient arrived in such a state of anxiety that staff couldn’t get him through the doors to the pre-operative area.

“We all went above and beyond to try to get him to come in,” she said. “I thought, maybe it would help if we had something to distract him.”

Comfort for Kids and Parents

Hogan, who has no formal art training but describes herself as “very creative,” started by drawing a gingerbread man. She then copied the picture and handed it out to young patients to color. Over time, she created the series of pictures that help children understand what’s involved in their surgery, and those pictures took shape as today’s coloring book.

Perioperative Manager Regina Martini, RN, supported Hogan’s efforts along the way.

“She saw the need, found the solution, and thought, I’m creative and I can do that,” Martini said.

Luke Coussons

Last week, 9-year-old Luke Coussons started coloring in the book soon after his parents checked him in for surgery to have his adenoids removed. His mom, Lisa Coussons, said Luke was a little nervous about the surgery, and the coloring book helped.

“He enjoyed looking through it to see what the next step will be. I think it’s helpful for him to understand what’s going to happen,” she said.

‘I Love Making People Smile’

When Hogan doesn’t have patients, she walks back into pre-op with her doctor puppet and manages to turn patients’ anxious looks and tears into smiles and laughter. After surgery, when the kids are ready to head home, she and her puppet present them with a certificate of bravery, which she also created.

Pre-op nurse Valerie Cornwell, RN, said the staff “totally appreciates Kandy for doing this,” noting that it ultimately makes everyone’s job easier.

And Hogan said she’s happy to have the chance to help put kids at ease.

“I love making people smile,” she explained. “It just makes me feel so good to help our patients feel less nervous, and to make them feel more comfortable with us.”

Discussion14 Comments

  1. I just had the pleasure of meeting nurse Kandy last week when I was checking in for my cataract surgery. Even though I didn’t need the company of Mona Phielgud personally, I got to see her on her way into visit children in pre-op. Kandy is a wonderful addition to Kaiser’s attentive, caring staff. Kudos to Kandy and Dr. Phielgud, keep up the good work.

  2. That is so awesome!!!!!!! They are truly blessed to have you doing the things you do for these kids … keep on keeping on, Kandy, you’re an awesome spirit.

  3. I LOVE this story. … It warms my heart to know there are people out there doing everything they can in order to make someone smile.

  4. This is AWESOME!!! I am a Pedi/PICU nurse at Kaiser Santa Clara and stories like this are inspiring! It’s hard to be sensitive to kids when you work in an environment that is tailored for adults. It’s people like you who truly make a difference in our little patients and their families … Thanks for all that you do and keep up the great work!

  5. Jennifer Misajet

    What a great idea! Kudos to Kandy. Surgery is stressful for anyone, but particularly young children — putting the process of surgery into an interactive and easy to understand format goes a long way!

  6. Wow, that is awesome!

    It truly helps to put the child/ren at ease — a relaxed state of mind and body help to ensure better outcome and possibly a shorter recuperation time (that anxiety going in was reduced). Mind and bdy DO work together and you acknowledged both.

    Well done, Kandy.

  7. What an awesome idea! I hope other hospitals have something like this for younger patients. I wish my son had a coloring book to help him understand what was going to happen when he went in for an appendectomy. The nursing and surgery staff were very nice and spoke to him directly (he was 8 at the time) he was still very anxious and afraid.

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