When 4-year-old Emily ran to her dad as he lay wrapped in bandages in the hospital's Burnett Burn Center, the first thing she noticed was he was "wearing funny pajamas."
Her father had lost an arm and a leg and suffered fourth-degree burns, but Emily wasn't shocked or frightened by his appearance. In fact, she knew just what to expect when she saw her father in the hospital for the first time, thanks to a "virtual tour" she'd taken with unit educator Kayla Northrop, RN.
Northrop had taken a series of photos of the things Emily would encounter in the burn unit before seeing her dad. "I start outside the unit with the front doors, as in, ‘Here are the doors you're going to come through, here is the sink where you'll wash all the germs off your hands to help keep your dad safe when you visit, here is Teresa, who'll answer the phone to buzz you inside.' "
Each virtual tour is age-appropriate and occurs only after parents have given permission. By the time the child visits the unit, their fear is minimized because they already know what they're going to see and hear.
Step by step, the little girl looked at digital photos as they led to the door of her father's room. Photos taken inside the room familiarized her with the monitors and tubes and bed before she finally saw a photo of her dad's bandaged hand. "Depending on what the injuries are, we talk about how fire has hurt mom or dad's skin, how the medicine may be causing their face to swell, and how they need to be bandaged to help the medicine work and keep germs out," Northrop said.
For children – as well as adults – visiting a loved one in the burn center, it's all about comfort level, Northrop added. "Some children don't make it clear into the parent's room on the first visit; some don't make it in at all; and then you have the kid who crawls right up into the bed with dad. Whatever they're comfortable with, we give them permission to feel OK about it."
A 17-year nurse in the burn center, Northrop says she loves her work. "With burn patients, we're not just treating the body, we're helping to heal the soul. We have an opportunity to make an incredible connection with our patients and their families – the opportunity to give people their lives back."
The Burnett Burn Center's motto is "Healing Body, Mind and Spirit." The staff is well known for their compassionate care to patients and family members alike. A patient's widow was so grateful for the nursing care her husband received, she requested memorials be made to the burn center. Those donations now fund the Thomas McCool/KCP&L Award for Excellence in Burn Nursing to annually recognize contributions of a special burn nurse. The first award was presented in November 2009.