An operating room is no place for a party.

But by the looks of the place, and the squeals of delight coming out of it, it may as well have been, as nearly 40 fifth-graders from Knappa’s Hilda Lahti Elementary School suited up, geared up and listened up to doctors, nurses and surgeons on what happens in the operating room.

They called it Operation Bunny Suit, and it’s the first time Columbia Memorial Hospital has hosted students in recent years.

“We want to teach them about the mystery of surgery,” said Columbia Memorial Hospital Marketing Director Paul Mitchell. “People are always talking about surgery and that kind of stuff, so we wanted to kind of get them in and show them what it’s like. But also explain to them why they have to learn things, like math, because they put instruments and sponges in bodies and you have to learn how to count those and take the ones out that you put in so you don’t leave anything behind.

“You have to learn good hygiene so you know how to wash your hands because you’re going to put your hands in someone’s body. So we teach them that kind of stuff.”

Knappa was the first school district to visit.

Next fall, other North Coast schools will participate in the education program.

The program has been in the works for nearly a year. Three months ago, the area superintendents participated in a walk-through of what the program would be.

All the details were ironed out prior to Monday’s visit. Last week, Columbia Memorial Hospital staff visited the students at the school to demonstrate and explain what would be happening once they traveled on a field trip to the hospital.

Then came the fun part.

“This one’s mine!” exclaimed student Brett Sporseen.

Students ran and grabbed bags from the gurneys set against the wall that contained their “uniform.” Then, they began suiting up, after a hamburger lunch, with cookies, chips and a soda, served by the hospital’s kitchen staff.

“We wanted to find a way to do outreach to students so they would think about maybe working in a hospital in the future as a career, and take away the mystery of the surgery that kind of scares a lot of people,” Mitchell said. “I was kind of given that charge. So I was looking at these suits, white ones that you put on. They cover you up and they’re called the bunny suit. So Operation Bunny Suit came to be.”

Each student was given a specially-ordered bunny suit, booties for the shoes, hair nets, gloves and a face mask. Adults were also given the attire.

Everyone took their uniform home.

Also specially ordered for the students and staff were T-shirts emblazoned with the Columbia Memorial Hospital logo, complete with a set of bunny ears and the “Operation Bunny Suit class of 2012.”

Operating room

First stop on the tour for Sporseen and a small group of his classmates was the operating room, where Stephen Wolford, a certified surgical technologist, instructed students on how to tie sutures in a sponge with a “wound.”

“It’s hard to tie with gloves, isn’t it? But you don’t want your bare skin to be in there and transfer anything in your patient,” he explained, as he showed how to make the sutures nice and tight.

On the other side of the room, other students were learning about cauterization, demonstrated on a pear, as well as endoscopy, looking in a box with a lit camera wand to see what is inside the artificial stomach – this one filled with doll heads, Hawaiian leis and other miscellaneous items.

Loris Cook, a registered nurse and surgical services manager, walked the students through the processes that occur inside of the operating room. She and Richard Crass, Columbia Memorial Hospital's surgeon, snapped a photo of each student with the camera that had reappeared from the mystery box, sending each student home with a printout from their lesson. Colleen Fletcher also assisted the students in the operating room.

“This camera will show the doctor what he’s looking at when he operates on someone’s tummy,” Cook told the students. “See how close you can get to the items in there? Can you see the details? Those look really big inside there. But really, their actual size is pretty small.”

All necessities covered

Down the hall, another group of students, who would later rotate with teacher Melissa Grothe’s group to visit all stations, learned about heart rate and were given an EKG exam that served them with a printout. At the direction of John Gehl, a certified registered nurse anesthetist, students then practiced counting other students’ pulses for a 60-second interval. Students also received education on thermometers, sick bags, bed pans and other important hospital necessities.

“I have 14 students with me today. We’re a fourth- and fifth-grade blend so I only have half of my students with me, but they have been looking forward to this for sure. They’ve been really excited,” Grothe said. “We have been working on (science) but it was one of those things where the hospital invited us to come and we are starting our anatomy/science unit with our students soon as far as body systems go, so this will be really great.”

In the conference room where the group first met for lunch, another group of students was patiently waiting for their turn in rotation. While they waited, Ivan Sultan, a physical therapist at the hospital, gave the students an interactive instruction on the muscular system, including a grip test, having students participate in a wall sit contest, complete 20 heel raises and place muscles on a skeleton in their right positions.

After the event, students reconvened in the conference room before the bus left, heading back to Knappa. But not before students expressed excitement and gratitude about what they experienced.

“This was so fun,” one student commented.

“And I get to keep the suit.”



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