Fruit-themed hallways and anti-smoking posters

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August 30, 2010
By: Cristof Traudes
Cristof Traudes
Welcome to the part of HCMC that handles severe accidents but also cuts, scrapes and bruises, the part that deals with burn victims and pregnancy but also tonsil trouble and literacy.

This is “peeds” — as staffers of pediatrics call it — where health care is only half of the story. Anybody up to age 18 is sent to the department and sometimes 21-year-olds are, too. As a result, peeds is set up much like a tentative parent — to entertain and educate wee ones but steer clear (as much as possible) from stepping on the toes of teens.

It’s a department with yellow walls and fruit-themed hallways in one section and sleek grey walls and self esteem-boosting posters in another. Every child that walks through the door is given a book to take home. Every teenager is given a dose of “do this but not this” advice.

The doctors and nurses of peeds see horrors many parents consider their worst nightmares. But the work, staffers say, is rewarding in the surprising warmth it involves.

“You develop more of a relationship with families,” says 25-year HCMC veteran Julie Curti, a nurse manager. “Kids have a few less boundaries than adults.”

Andrew Kiragu, medical director of the pediatric intensive care unit, sees children with broken bones, traumatic brain injuries and burns. His reasoning for working in peeds is simple: “I like kids,” he says.

Peeds’ services are extensive. They start on the first day of life, and they can be involved every day afterward for the next two decades. Every week, about 500 children visit the hospital just for primary care. The department has its own in-house lab — “just to make it easier and a little more efficient,” nurse manager Lynn Parish says — and every afternoon hosts clinics specifically geared toward adolescents.

Services even extend beyond the building. Pediatrics Chief Julia Joseph-Di Caprio spends many days at HCMC but also regularly travels to detention centers and corrections facilities.

It’s a lot of work — 60 percent of her time is spent on clinical activities, 60 percent on administration, Joseph-Di Caprio jokes. But it’s the opportunity to work with teenagers, who she says she enjoys talking to, that brings her back.

“In pediatrics, you’re never rolling in the bucks,” Joseph-Di Caprio says. “But I think it’s a gift to do this kind of work.”