Using Playtime to Avoid Anesthesia in Children With Cancer

When pediatric patients are given radiation treatment for cancer, they often get scared or nervous because they do not have an understanding of the process and the machines involved. To remedy this, anesthesia is used in many cases, though the long-term side effects are still unknown.
We never want to push anybody to the point where they're feeling upset about it and they're completely stressed out. We also will send home one of the masks, and they can do some home training. Parents are open to this, because they know it will benefit their child by avoiding complications. And it's going to free up some of their time. If their child needs anesthesia, they're going to spend two to three hours with me, Monday through Friday over six weeks. That motivates them.
What are the outcomes of the study?

When we started in 2011 — and we were just experimenting with some idea — that year we had 60 percent of our children, aged 3 to 12, were able to do radiation without anesthesia; so, for 40 percent, we still had to give anesthesia. And then in 2012, we treated 90 percent of the patients without anesthesia. So only 10 percent each year, up until 2016. In 2016 we had no anesthesia. That's a huge drop. I plan to keep that going with our Child Life Specialist.
I really press to get all the kids treated without anesthesia. There's a joke they say to me, “If you could get a six-month-old to do it, you would.” I'm not that crazy, but I would try, if I could.

What would you say is the main takeaway of this program?

I think it’s knowing that this is a time-saving initiative, it's cost-effective, and it also helps the family and lets them feel a sense of autonomy and accomplishment. They're doing this. This is huge. And we do celebrate this at the end of every treatment—we have a huge party, we have a bell-ringing. I just think that it's the way to do it if you can.

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