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Making the ER less scary for kids: B.C. doctor enlists help of puppeteer

Videos featuring ventriloquist and colourful puppet Magrau are free for any hospital to use
Peace Arch Hospital doctor Amir Behboudi, front, with puppeteer and ventriloquist Kellie Haines, Magrau and UBC medical student Tsz Shing (Brandon) Ng pose with Beyond Your Eye Productions’ Carmen Klotz left, and Sharron Bates during a video filming session. (contributed photo)

Going to the hospital can be scary at any age.

It can be exceptionally frightening for children, especially if they’re in pain, which is often the case when visiting the emergency room.

That’s why a Peace Arch Hospital doctor teamed up with a puppeteer and ventriloquist to create videos about several common procedures that a young patient might experience when they come to the ER.

“It’s about trying to make the ER less scary for kids,” said Dr. Amir Behboudi, an emergency room doctor at Peace Arch Hospital.

“We want to decrease children’s anxiety when they come to the hospital.”

It’s something Behboudi has been wanting to do for several years. When his own young son had to go to Surrey Memorial hospital with a face infection, a child life specialist used distraction techniques to administer his IV, or intravenous line.

After witnessing his son’s positive response, Behboudi knew he wanted, more than ever, to do something, but funding wasn’t available for child life specialists at Peace Arch Hospital.

However, he managed to find some funding through Peace Arch Hospital Foundation and, in collaboration with Child Life at BC Children’s Hospital and Tsz Shing (Brandon) Ng, a UBC medical student, “we teamed up to discuss what common scenarios that come up in the ER.”

READ ALSO: Peace Arch Hospital recruits pediatrician in ongoing struggle against staff shortages

He then garnered the help of Kellie Haines – a puppeteer and ventriloquist he and his wife have known for years – and Beyond Your Eye Productions to create videos about six common ER scenarios: X-ray, ultrasound, blood draw, CT scans, starting an IV and procedural sedation.

“We wanted it to be colourful and we wanted it to be action-oriented, so children can see what’s going on,” Haines said.

The video series – entitled “Magrau and Kellie and the Hospital” – features Haines with one of her puppets, a large and rather absent-minded bird named Magrau.

“The videos are intended to help kids feel less scared at the hospital, and to educate the child – and their caregiver(s) – and get them prepared for what they’re about to do,” Haines said.

In the videos, Magrau and Kellie, with the help of Peace Arch Hospital medical staff, talk about what’s about to happen, and physically show each step of every procedure, such as the gel being applied to the ultrasound scanner before the doctor uses it on Magrau’s stomach, or how weighted blankets might be used when undergoing a CT scan.

They share little jokes and gags to help make viewers laugh while also explaining everything technical in an easy-to-understand way.

“It’s to alleviate their stress and redirect them – it’s a way for them to see what’s going to happen and makes it less scary. If a bird with bright orange legs can do it, then it must not be so scary,” she said.

Behboudi and Haines note the videos and posters – colourful images with QR codes featuring Magrau and Kellie are posted throughout the Peace Arch Hospital ER – are free for any hospitals to use or post on their own walls.

“It’s free for anyone, definitely,” Behboudi said, noting the posters with the QR codes are easy to use.

“Kids come in and they’re in pain and scared… then we’ll show the Mom or Dad or caregiver the poster(s) and they use their own devices (such as smart phones or tablets) to scan the code and access the video,” he said.

“Then you see them both getting engaged as they watch – it helps calm both the parents and the kids.”

Peace Arch Hospital Foundation executive director Stephanie Beck noted the funding was secured through a grant.

“This innovative project was funded through our Peace Arch Hospital and Fraser Health Community Grant stream,” she said.

“Grants of this kind aim to support employees of Peace Arch Hospital and Fraser Health Authority who work in White Rock and South Surrey, helping them to enhance patient care or assisting them in funding equipment, projects, or renovations that are not typically funded by Fraser Health.”

To access the posters and videos, visit their website.


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Tricia Weel

About the Author: Tricia Weel

I’ve worked as a journalist in community newspapers from White Rock to Parksville and Qualicum Beach, to Abbotsford and Surrey.
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