Video Games Help Children At Florence Hospitals Manage Pain
Whaddya know? Video games can actually be good for you - in moderation.
That’s what health officials at Carolinas Hospital System and McLeod Regional Medical Center are finding out as they nurse some of their younger patients back to health, applying some electronic diversion therapy to help speed up their recovery.
It’s nothing new or unique to these or other medical institutions. Physicians and nurses across the country have discovered that a little Pac Man or SpongeBob can go a long way toward helping alleviate some of the pain that can be commonplace following surgery.
"It started when they were brought into the hospital just as a distraction," said Allana Zeigler, child-life specialist at McLeod Health. "Then people started noticing they could also be used for pain diversion."
McLeod tries to provide some variety to maintain an appeal for children with different gaming tastes. There are, of course, some children who are seeing this sort of thing for the first time.
The reaction from children across town at Carolinas is much the same. Dr. Coleman Floyd, a staff anesthesiologist there, said Gameboys rule among the 5-and-older crowd, but for younger patients there is the Leap Pad to provide entertainment.
"It helps to distract them while we do our thing," she said. "We try to avoid premedicating kids. That tends to hang on afterward and make them groggy. Most times the pain medication is given while they are asleep."
At the same time, there’s also an emphasis on trying to make certain that all this electronic nirvana doesn’t get to be too much of a good thing.
"There are the negative things associated with video games - sitting around, nonactivity - that are not an issue in the hospital," said Dr. Carl Chelen, a pediatric intensivist at McLeod. "Many of our kids can’t get active because they’re stuck in a hospital bed with fractures or just have had surgery."
Even so, a little moderation is applied, Zeigler said. Still, it has been recognized as an effective tool to help take some of the sting out of pain.
"A lot of our sickle cell patients play the video games and, later, when you ask them about their pain, it has gone down," she said. "When they’re looking at the screen they’re trying to concentrate on what’s going on with the little figures on there. They’re having all that hand-and-eye coordination and thinking more about the game than the pain."
One of the big challenges with young patients has always been determining the degree of pain they’re experiencing.
To help put a face on the hurt, they have adopted the Wong-Baker pain rating scale, which ranges from one to 10.
It consists of a series of tiny facial expressions that exhibit different emotional responses to existing pain.
The sadder the face, the greater the pain. But perception and reality in this realm can be two very different things, Chelen said.
"A stubbed toe may be a 10 for them, so we also have to look at other things when considering what their pain is," he said. "The ability to play video games means your pain has to be low enough to be able to concentrate."
It also proves to be a confidence builder as it shows children - and worried parents - that they’re capable of getting back into the game of life itself, which also goes a long way toward lessening pain and hastening recovery time.
Chelen said video games serve as an important component of the treatment process but are viewed as merely one element in the overall remedy.
"The overall goal of any diversion is to use the least amount of medication we can to make patients comfortable," he said.