Youngsters get a taste of modern medicine

( Elena Smith held out a gloved hand. A seasoned nurse took the cue and snapped a surgical instrument into her palm — a routine followed in numerous Cleveland Clinic facilities throughout the area.

So much for the ordinary though. Elena had to stand on a stool to see the patient. The 9-year-old and 80 other students were getting a taste of the medical profession Saturday in the Beachwood Family Health & Surgery Center.’

The students, ages 7 through 12, got to don surgical gear and perform or observe a range of surgical maneuvers as part of the annual Behind the Operating Room Doors program sponsored by the clinic and a nurses’ association.

One demonstration allowed them to use laproscopic forceps and fish for candy inside a plastic pumpkin while watching the tip of the instruments they wielded on a video screen. This mimicked a type of abdominal surgery.

Others got to see nurse Kathy Constantine work with an electrocautery tool on an apple. The procedure cuts and uses heat to stanch bleeding at the same time. The fruit was a stand-in for human tissue.

In an operating room, nurse anesthetist Michele Clark explained the process from start to finish. At one point she held up a printout of an electrocardiogram, the method used for monitoring heart rate.

“How do you read those lines?” Elena asked.

“Lots of practice,” Clark said.

The children sometimes stun the nurses with the depth of their questions.

One year, a student asked about blood loss and how it is compensated for during surgery,” said Laurie Gronowski, past president of the local chapter of the Association of PeriOperative Registered Nurses, the other sponsor of the event.

Gronowski, who conceived the program eight years ago, said it is just old enough that some kids who attended the first demonstrations are now entering some form of medical field. One, she said, is now in the four-year nursing program at Kent State University.

She and other nurses explained that the program is meant to peel away the mysteries of surgery and alleviate any anxiety that children and their parents might have about medical procedures.

A similar program is set for next Saturday at Fairview Hospital Surgery Center, but it is already booked up. Clinic spokeswoman Jennifer Popis said groups looking to attend future events can call 216-444-8853 for more information.

As the last group filed out of the operating room Saturday, Elena was asked if what she saw inspired her career plans.

“Yes. I want to be a nurse,” she said. “A nurse like my mom.”