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CommonHealth: One Doctor Who Aims To Replace Pain With Play08:26

This article is more than 8 years old.
Julia getting a shot of Novocaine. (Courtesy of Rachel Zimmerman.)
Julia getting a shot of Novocaine. (Courtesy of Rachel Zimmerman.)

When a child needs urgent medical care, it can be hugely stressful for both parent and child.

Consider what happened to Rachel Zimmerman's six year old daughter, Julia: She smashed into a door handle and got a deep, bloody gash in her forehead.  Rachel and her husband rushed Julia to the hospital. Once there,  they had the good fortune to meet an emergency room doctor who has spent much of his career figuring out how to relieve acute anxiety and pain in children undergoing medical procedures.

Zimmerman joined Radio Boston to share the story of how that ER doctor, Dr. Baruch Krauss of Children's Hospital, not only stitched up her daughter Julia, but how he engaged and connected with her to ensure an anxiety-free visit.

"I was so dreading seeing my daughter in pain," Zimmerman confessed. But Krauss explained the difference between short versus long term pain:

We as a species are built to tolerate short periods of stress. It's chronic stress that really is bad for the species. But we can tolerate short periods of stress. So I'm not particularly concerned if a child has some discomfort because there is a difference between a child who I am taking care of having a degree of discomfort and their laying down an emotionally traumatic memory. They're very different things.

Krauss stressed the plasticity of memory, and he works with this concept to help children get into a state where they're distracted. He engages them with a task — for example, coloring or licking a popsicle:

What's interesting is when leave, what is their memory? It's not of the grimace or discomfort, it's of this game that they played.

That's clear when you watch Julia getting her stitches; she barely notices as she remains engrossed in her coloring activity:

Central to Dr. Krauss's approach is his connection with his young patients:

I think before you do anything you have to establish rapport with the child, and that's a relationship of mutual trust and emotional affinity.

And that's exactly what he did with Julia. As they were leaving the hospital, she exclaimed, "Mommy, at least I didn't have to get stitches!"

When Zimmerman revealed to her daughter that she did in fact get stitches, Julia heartily replied, "Wow, that was fun!"




A short interview with Dr. Baruch Krauss:

This segment aired on September 18, 2012.

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