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Why decorating our Operating Rooms is important


Written by Nicola Wood, Co-founder Kids Operating Room

I have been very fortunate to grow up in a medical family, with a father who was doctor, a mother who was a nurse and a sister who is currently working as a nurse in the health sector… so I have grown up listening to many stories of the significance, and importance, of genuinely caring about the person that is being treated, and not just the illness or injury.  My father felt stress can heighten pain, and that fear can create real barriers to treatment. 

For that reason he decorated his medical room with toys that were suspended from the ceiling on springs, that bounced up and down to distract the child. Often he would hand little children his Disney character tie to play with so they would be oblivious to the examination that he was simultaneously conducting. Of course the visit wasn’t finished without a toy or a sticker to take home, but everything he did left the child with a positive memory of going to the doctors. 

Fast forward many years to the conception of KidsOR, this vivid memory stuck in my mind when Garreth and I began our adventure of bringing vital paediatric operating theatres to countries in need around the world. 

Of course by this stage I was also now a mother of two young daughters, and looked at this from a completely new lens.  Like many parents, we have had several reasons to visit doctors at hospitals and local surgeries, so I now not only thought of the distraction that was required for a child, but the feeling of anxiety watching your child scared and in pain and sensing their fear of what was about to come whilst waiting to be seen by a doctor, and being very grateful for the many child focused distractions provided by the hospitals that we attended.   

These two views were important to me, and many in the KidsOR team had similar stories or alternative experiences which they brought to the table when we discussed how our Operating Rooms would look. 

Whilst the essential tools and machines that the surgeons, anaesthesiologists and nurses require to do the vital work of saving lives was clearly the key element to our Operating Rooms, the way that these rooms were designed was important because we recognized that the psychological wellbeing of that child had to be addressed in the same way that we do for all the children in our own country.  

Children needed to feel safe as soon as they enter any of our pre-op, operating theatre, or post-op rooms.  We wanted to create a space that didn’t just feel “child friendly” but made them feel mesmerized, so the scale of the animals, trees, boats, planes or hot air balloons had to create impact.

The way that these rooms were designed was important because we recognized that the psychological wellbeing of that child had to be addressed

I fondly remember my first install in Quito, Ecuador at the Hospitable De Los Valles.... every wall was taken up with trees, monkeys, birds etc.... by the time we were finished the children's Operating Room felt like a jungle.  

And whilst one might question the importance of the need for artwork in the operating theatre, given that in developed countries such as the UK children are taken into an operating theatre already sedated or under full general anaesthetic, that is not the case in many of the countries where we operate. 

Due to volumes of cases, and in certain hospitals the lack of rooms available to allow for a pre-operative room, means that children are quite often taken straight into the Operating Room awake.  It is their first encounter with the noise of the machines, the operating table and all of the physicians.  This is of course an incredibly daunting vision, especially as the child cannot go into the operating theatre with their parent, so we didn’t stop at the walls … we decorated our KidsOR surgeons, nurses and anaesthesiologists too, with scrubs lined with our vibrant colours and scrub caps that have our well recognised animals.   We wanted to help break down a child’s fear, and make our surgical team look more approachable, and in turn help the child focus on something positive and calming.  

Before After

The backdrop of artwork provided the surgical team with a tool for a game of how many animals they can spot, or to find the toucan hiding in a tree.  And through this distraction in turn the reduction of stress on the child can also positively impact the outcome of the surgery by helping to reduce the cortisol levels in the child’s body. 

But the colour and artwork isn’t only beneficial to the patient, the myriad of colours used in our artwork creates vibrancy and energy for the medical teams working long hours in them, a pride in their Operating Rooms, and our goal as we continue to expand our reach is that it creates a reminder that they belong to a huge network of Kids Operating Rooms all over the world, a feeling of unity, that our KidsOR surgeons, nurses and anaesthesiologists are working on a global scale towards rectifying the sad reality that children’s surgical services haven’t been prioritised in far too many countries over the globe.   

- Nicola Wood, Co-founder Kids Operating Room

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