Beyond the Card: Helping the Smallest Patients

Julie Bitely

| 3 min read

“My monkey and my giraffe are sick,” my daughter told me earnestly, her big blue eyes looking up into mine. I’d just explained to her that we would be attending the annual Michigan State University (MSU) Teddy Bear Picnic. She’d have to choose one of her many stuffed animal friends to join us. Designed to help kids overcome fears they might have about doctors, nurses and emergency first responders, the afternoon event features the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Teddy Bear Hospital. Staffed by faculty and students from MSU’s College of Human Medicine, children are invited to take their furry friends for a checkup, complete with weigh-in and measurements, x-rays and a flu shot. There are also physical activities for young attendees, an ambulance to explore, healthy snacks and kid-friendly entertainment. Just as kids don’t always understand that medical professionals are there to help, three-year-olds sometimes have a loose grasp on the meaning of one. Or, at least mine does. Or, she knows fully well and is adept at getting her way. Did I mention those big blue eyes? Regardless, Giraffe and Monkey held positions of honor on her lap as we journeyed to East Lansing. After checking our “patients” in, the afternoon passed quickly as we went from stop to stop. After an extended stay at a temporary tattoo and face painting station, we were soon loaded up with fun giveaway items, including a coloring book and mock insurance cards. I asked her if she ever gets scared or nervous when we go to the doctor. “When I went to the doctor, I was pretty scared,” she said. “Laying down made me cry.” A little more probing revealed a specific experience for her. Treated for hip dysplasia as a baby, subsequent x-rays as a toddler to ensure everything is developing properly have been a source of tears, despite having mom or dad in the room. I hope reminding her about how brave Monkey and Giraffe were when they had to have x-rays will be a comfort the next time she has to get up on that table. Dr. Keith English is chair of MSU’s Department of Pediatrics and Human Development at the College of Human Medicine. He advises parents to be truthful with their kids before going to the doctor. If they’ll be getting a shot, tell them and be honest if they ask whether it will hurt. Preparing them for what will come next makes the experience more tolerable for everyone involved. He said the Teddy Bear Hospital is a great way for kids to get comfortable with medical personnel and for medical students to get comfortable with kids. “It’s just a wonderful event that’s designed to reach out to the community and also to help children maybe be a little more comfortable when they need to go to the doctor,” he said. “It is good for both the students and the patients.” “I loved it a lot,” my daughter said when I asked her about the picnic and hospital a few days after the event. “They (Monkey and Giraffe) got better.” Her favorite part? “I loved the balloons,” she said, bouncing away to swat at one of the green, helium-filled keepsakes from an afternoon well spent.
This post is part of a storytelling series we call, “Beyond the Card.” These stories will feature Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan members, employees, and communities who are making meaningful differences throughout our state. We invite you to follow Beyond the Card stories here at and through the hashtag, #BeyondtheCard on our social channels. If you have a story you would like to share, please feel free to contact us at
MI Blues Perspectives is sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, a nonprofit, independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association