Just over two weeks ago the Library Lady went into the hospital for outpatient surgery, which got her thinking about her hospital experience as a child. She had tubes put in her ears one year and her appendix taken out another, but some kids have never been in a hospital. To them the hospital can be a sometimes frightening place based on stories they have heard from others - it's where you go if you are seriously injured or dying. Understandably scary.
For kids that have never been to the hospital books can be a great way to introduce them to the concept before they, or someone they know, has to go to the hospital. What's Inside a Hospital? by Sharon Gordon is a great beginning reader picture book, with pictures, big letters, simple words and sentences kids are introduced to the different people and places in the hospital. In a similar vein, the book At the Hosptial by Amy Moses uses big pictures and simple explanations to tell about what goes on in a hospital. If you have a kid who loves the gross-out factor of blood and guts, then Ugh! Icky, Sticky, Gross Stuff in the Hospital by Pam Rosenberg is for you. This book tells how doctors get rid of germs and use leeches to help patients among other gross-out details of how hospitals work to get patients better.
Many kids will likely get their first introduction to the hospital through minor surgery like having their tonsils out, or from a trip to the emergency room for a broken bone or bad sprain. In Good-bye Tonsils! by Juliana Lee Hatkoff and Craig Hatkoff, Juliana tells the storry of her own tonsilectomy. This detailed story is told from as a first person narrative from the patient's perspective and is a great resource for the parents of the 250,000 kids that will have their tonsils removed each year. While the surgery is different, those getting tubes put in and/or adnoids removed can also learn a great deal from this book.
If your child is having a planned surgery - speak with their doctor about having a tour of hospital before the big day. When I had my tubes put in to deal with my horrible ear infections I remember getting to meet some of the pediatric nurses, see the area of the hospital where I would be and doing a little walk through of how things would go on the day of my surgery. This did a lot to ease my fears, and came in very handy again when my appendix was removed a few years later - even though that was an emergency surgery at a different hospital in a completely different state - because I was already prepared for many of the things the nurses were doing to me, like taking my blood pressure and blood samples.
For other kids, it's their rough and tumble outgoing play that will land them in the hospital for the first time. Is Gaspard in the Hospital, Gaspard the rabbit finds himself in the hospital after swallowing a toy. While Maisy Goes to the Hospital after breaking her leg, while in traction she makes friends with other children in the pediatric ward. Even our favorite friend from darkest Peru, Paddington Bear Goes to the Hospital after a nasty fall.
Alas, the sad fact is that many kids won't necessarily have a positive first experience with the hospital. For them, their first trip to the hospital may be to visit a sick family member. These last two books deal with that experience very well. In When Mommy is Sick a little girl shares her anxiety when Mommy has to go to the hospital, because the disease itself is never identified, this book can be a good sharing experience for many kids with a parent who suffers from a chronic illness. In Emma's Question another little girl is afraid to ask the big questions about death and dying when her beloved grandma falls ill and has to stay in the hospital for a time. This story has a happy ending, but is a great discussion starter for kids with older family members who may be going through illnesses as they age.
One hospital experience I chose not to cover in this blog post is the addition of a new family member. But we'll try to tackle some the excitement and anxiety that goes along with becoming a big brother or sister at another time.
However your child is first introduced to the hospital, books can help ease their fears and anxieties and serve as good conversation starters for moms and dads worried about how to talk to their children about a potentially scary subject. Unforuntately, almost all of us will spend at least some time in a hospital during our lives and it is a good thing to make the experience a less anxious one for kids.