SPRING HILL — About 300 Spring Hill Elementary School kindergarten and first-grade children recently went to the school's media center clutching teddy bears that suffered from a wide variety of imagined miseries.
Inside, the children met with Spring Hill Regional Medical Center volunteers who were working with the school to help curb the natural fears children have of hospitals.
"We set up a mock emergency room in our media center," said community service teacher Karen (Mancuso) Charlton.
The children were invited to bring their favorite teddy bears to school for treatment. Each bear received a hospital identification bracelet, and each child approached a person at the temporary emergency room's admission to describe what was wrong with his or her bear.
"Even our principal, Marvin Gordon, came in with a teddy bear," Charlton said. The joke was that the poor thing had been trampled by Spring Hill students and ended up bandaged from head to toe, she explained.
Some of the ailments afflicting the bears were within the ordinary: sore throats and tonsils, headaches or broken limbs. But Charlton was surprised when one child said her poor bear had been attacked by a hammerhead shark.
Each bear was weighed, had its temperature taken and was patched up by nurses using oxygen masks, bandages or whatever was needed. As the children and their treated toys were ready to leave the pseudo-hospital, they were given juice and snacks.
"The nurses were so excited that they want to do it again," Charlton said. And the experience already has inspired one young child to study medicine.
Since part of Charlton's community service curriculum is to show appreciation and manners, the children wrote thank-you letters with teddy bear drawings for the visitors. Charlton said the pictures would be hung around the hospital.