Princess for a day

Date: 04/29/2019

Think back to when you were six years old—how much did you look forward to the dentist?  Now, imagine six-year-old you needs a filling, a crown, or even a root canal. In cases like these, dental work can be done at the hospital—which can be a scary place if you are a little kid. To help our youngest patients find their courage, a nurse at Northern Light Sebasticook Valley Hospital stitched up an idea.

“Kids come into our hospital because they are too young to hold still for the dentist or have extreme anxiety about the dentist in general,” explains Dianne Peirce, a registered nurse in the operating room of Northern Light Sebasticook Valley Hospital. “The child’s dentist determines if they are a candidate for general anesthesia and if so, will elect to perform the dental work here at SVH rather than at their office.”

Northern Light Sebasticook Valley Hospital has been offering this service for more than a year now. In that time, Dianne noticed that prior to getting into the operating room for their procedure, it was difficult to convince the young patients to remove their street clothes and put on the hospital-issued “johnny” or hospital gown. “We have a few here, but they are not anything the kids want to wear. The sizes were not quite right, especially the sleeves—they were sometimes too tight.” Dianne thought about her granddaughter, who loves to dress up. What if she could create a johnny that felt more like dress up clothing? Dianne explained that since this is dental work, rather than a typical procedure done in the operating room, the patients’ hospital gown doesn’t need to meet the same infection prevention requirements.

Dianne went home and put her lifelong sewing skills to the test. “I made these dresses sewn to a tank top with snaps to more universally fit any child. I made them from the heavy cotton, princess prints (think Elsa and Cinderella), and embroidered ‘SVH’ on them so we’d get them back from our hospital laundering service!”

She said it’s a small way to bring a sense of fun to a stressful situation. “We try to make it as low anxiety as possible, which also helps the parents. When they see their child is relaxed, they feel more at ease,” adds Dianne. It’s a team approach to patient care. Even the certified nurse anesthetists will offer to give the young patients a piggyback ride to the operating room. Once there, the anesthesia team will make a game of breathing in the gas and “blowing up the balloon” (the anesthesia circuit) on the machine.

Dianne is planning her next gowns—maybe Superman?—so that there is a little something for every patient. A nurse of 30 years, Dianne believes delivering great care and a positive patient experience isn’t complicated; it’s about listening. “It can be a challenge sometimes to deliver the personal care. I find that the most important thing we can do is to sit down with a patient, look them in the eye, and listen to their story. If you can take the time to listen, they will feel like they are heard.”

Dianne listened to her youngest patients and heard what they needed. It wasn’t a child-friendly hospital gown; it was comfort and compassion, delivered one stitch at a time.