Lilly Cash, 6, smiles as she looks over the list of books available on one of Erlanger's iPads, held by Maggie Butler, on Friday. Butler reads aloud to Cash, who is paralyzed from the neck down, from the book list. The hospital is using iPads to distract and inform younger patients during and between procedures.
Distraction is a wonderful thing when you're little, especially if cancer, staph infections and CT scans are involved.
With that in mind, Erlanger Health System has made a night (or many nights) at the hospital a bit more bearable: Child Life Department specialists -- professionals who administer all the nonmedical help patients need -- use four donated iPads to keep toddlers and teenagers occupied as doctors go to work.
The best part? Playing Angry Birds or reading "Curious George" on the iPad's smooth, rectangular screen puts a physical barrier between the child and all sorts of icky stuff: incisions, IV punctures, the works.
"They don't see all that," said Wallis Davies, who manages Erlanger's Child Life Department. "And then the parents are less stressed because their child is less stressed."
Child Life specialist Maggie Butler illustrated her technique to a reclining Friday afternoon visitor. Bending down to eye level, she began explaining a CT scan as if she was talking to a young patient.
She scrolled through pictures of a little girl sitting with her mother in a decorated waiting room.
"That's where your mom will sit, and there's a big TV to watch," she said. "You can color and you can read a book."
The next photo shows the little girl -- who happens to be the 3-year-old daughter of an Erlanger doctor -- walking into a CT scan room.
If you'd like to donate an iPad to Children's Hospital at Erlanger, contact child life manager Wallis Davies at 778-6814.
And there it was: The giant machine that screens for cancer.
But that's not how a bright-eyed Butler set it up.
"Do you like doughnuts? I like doughnuts. Doesn't it look like a big white doughnut?" she said.
Erlanger has similar photo sequences and information programs for MRIs and surgeries, among other major procedures.
The illnesses are dire. Erlanger's youngest patients fight cancer and car-accident paralysis, not just the common cold.
Still, they light up when asked about Child Life specialists and iPads.
Alex Ware, a 15-year-old Heritage High School student, spent Friday laid up with a staph infection. As doctors cleaned and dressed a wound on his leg, he realized he couldn't watch television since "everyone was crowded around me."
"I was freaking out, but then -- Angry Birds," he said with a grin. "And my mind was geared toward something else."
Having fun isn't distraction's only positive byproduct. In order for doctors to perform procedures, a child must be relaxed, said Dr. Darwin Koller, emergency room medical director for Children's Hospital.
"Without the iPad, we might be forced to go to a medical way of dealing with it, which would be sedation, IVs, medicines," he said. "That involves cost, more risk to the kids and more time here."
Child Life specialists said they used to lug a bag full of books and toys. They're trained to entertain, smile and explain what's happening.
Now, some of their job exists in a thin tablet.
"It definitely kind of steals the show," said Ruth Bosshardt, an emergency room child life specialist. "But I can't imagine the ER without them."
Chris Carroll covers federal politics for the Times Free Press. A Chattanooga native, he went to Red Bank High School and graduated with honors from East Tennessee State University. Chris investigated violent crime, municipal government and hospitals before taking the political beat. For tornado coverage, he and Pam Sohn won a first-place Tennessee Associated Press Managing Editors deadline reporting award. In 2010, Chris won the Golden Press Card Award of Merit and another deadline reporting ...
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