My goal is to reduce pain in every child treated at Children’s by making this an “ouch-less” hospital. As recently as 20 years ago, many physicians thought children did not even feel pain, and there were no pediatric pain management programs.
If a child was crying, it was thought it was because they were scared or separated from their parents, rather than because they were experiencing pain. Children perceive pain a lot more than we think they do, and studies have shown that pain can have potentially long-reaching biological and behavioral impact.
We have new methods by which we treat pain, including regional anesthesia. If a child is having surgery on his or her toe, for example, it makes no sense to give them opiates like morphine that will make them drowsy. Instead, we can use a local anesthetic to block the nerves that supply the toe. So the child is pain free, able to talk to his family, play video games and eat without having any nausea or vomiting.
Children who have undergone major reconstructive surgery, such as knee surgery, can now go home just two hours after surgery with a little pump that delivers a local anesthetic directly to the source of the pain. Previously we used local anesthetics that provided pain relief for up to 18 hours. With these pumps, we can leave them in for several days, and the child’s parents can remove them when they’re not needed anymore, eliminating the need for an extra hospital visit.
We can make such a profound difference in kids’ lives. For example, I treated a young lady who had suffered a serious foot and ankle injury playing soccer. Her pain was so severe that she couldn’t get out of bed for six months and missed nearly two years of high school. She came to us for treatment, and we tried several different approaches before an intravenous regional anesthetic block did the trick. Now she’s attending college on the East Coast, and I love to get her e-mails telling me how well she’s doing.
I look at every one of the children in this hospital like they are my own children. Would I want my children to suffer pain? Or course not. We want to provide these children with the best care and with the least amount of anxiety and pain possible. They deserve nothing less.
Santhanam Suresh, MD, is an anesthesiologist and the director of research at the Pain Treatment Center at Children’s. The Center is one of the few programs in North America devoted solely to the treatment of pain in children and adolescents. He is a renowned leader in pediatric pain management research and education.
This article first appeared in the Winter 2009 issue of Heroes magazine.