By DONALD PLUMLEY
I remember the day I realized that parents could be a positive presence in the trauma room where their child is being treated.
The car in which a couple and their young daughter were riding was involved in a terrible accident. While the mother sustained only minor injuries, the father was taken to the nearby Orlando Regional Medical Center’s adult trauma center. His 10-year-old daughter was rushed to my hospital’s pediatric care unit. Our patient was devastated. While frightened about her own condition, she seemed to be even more worried about her father’s.
But her mother was with her — and she quickly became an essential member of our trauma care team.
The injured child’s mother was able to shuttle the short distance between trauma units, reassuring both father and daughter that the other was in good hands. This reassurance was pivotal in calming our patient, letting her relax with the knowledge that her father was going to be all right.
I once subscribed to the school of thought that having parents in the trauma bay with their children is an unwanted distraction for physicians. Many hospitals still practice that way, establishing designated areas near, but apart from, the trauma unit where parents can wait — out of sight and out of mind — while their child receives care.
Hospitals that don’t allow parents in the trauma bay typically cite the potential negative effects of their presence, picturing a parent overwrought with emotion, unsettling the patient and physician in the most critical moments of care. In my opinion, hospitals should more closely consider the positive potential of letting parents stay with their child during trauma care.
At Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children, where I work, we believe that parents can be tremendous assets to providing the highest level of care to our pediatric trauma patients. We aren’t alone. According to a recent national survey that we conducted, 90 percent of Americans agree that parents should be allowed to stay with their child during treatment for a life-threatening injury or condition. That reaffirms what’s been our policy for years and is now the policy of a growing number of other hospitals.
This isn’t about allowing parents in the trauma care unit in the room because they want to be. It’s about administering the highest level of care to our patients, something that we believe parents’ presence helps us achieve. Here’s why.
Parents generally have a calming, comforting effect on their children. When a child is scared about a procedure, parents are able to relay vital information to their children in a clear, comforting way, allowing our medical team to focus on what we do best — caring for children in the most critical times. When a child may need to be sedated, restrained to the bed, or be poked with a needle, this calming presence is hugely helpful. Parents are also the foremost experts on their children’s medical histories and can alert us to allergies or preconditions. Without their presence in the room, our team would be prone to potential missteps or wasting time attempting to locate and comb through medical records to reach these conclusions.
As a direct effect of the calming effects parents have on our patients, we’re often able to forgo sedation and administer less pain medication, a true testament to the positive effects of a parent’s presence in the room.
Parents should be with their children when they are hurt, frightened, or under stress. I think it’s time we let them do just that in pediatric trauma units across the country.
Donald Plumley, M.D., is a pediatric surgeon and medical director for pediatric trauma at Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children.