PHILLIPSBURG — From Auntie Em and Uncle Henry’s farm to the Emerald City, Phillips County first graders toured the Land of Oz on Friday.
Unlike the Oz of the books and movie, however, this Oz featured an MRI machine, surgery, physical therapy and a pathology lab. The kids were, in fact, learning all about the Phillips County Hospital and Medical Clinic.
Classes from Phillipsburg and Thunder Ridge tour the hospital every year, and Logan students also tour every other year.
The object of the tour is to educate but also help keep the kids from being scared if they ever have to come to the hospital or clinic, said Amy Gower, who works in the Phillips County Health Systems records department.
The tour for first-graders has been done for about 30 years, hospital staff said, but didn’t have a theme until six years ago, when Gower paired the hospital and clinic departments with one of her favorite stories.
In the radiology department, the children got to the see the Scarecrow — Radiology Technologist Fielzah Creighton — really did have a brain after she and Radiology Tech Shirley Colby demonstrated the MRI machine.
In the cardiology department, they performed surgery to give the Tin Man a heart — placing heart candies into an opening in his chest — and oiling his joints.
The tour started in the parking lot with the children seeing the inside of an ambulance and discussing when it’s proper to call 911. Then it was down the hill to the north side of the hospital facing U.S. Highway 36, where they took class pictures with Dorothy — played by Tara Overmiller, director of marketing and community relations.
“I think those clouds look like tornados!” Overmiller said after the photos. “We better go inside.”
In the stairwell, Auntie Em — portrayed by Debbie Hadley, who works in the hospital’s information department and is the county emergency management coordinator — talked with the kids about weather safety.
When there’s a tornado, listening to adults is the most important thing to do, she told them.
“And you want to protect your head because it’s got a lot of important things in it,” she said.
On the hospital’s second floor, the children followed the Yellow Brick Road through hallways decorated with characters and memorabilia from the 1939 movie. It led through the cafeteria, outside and through the parking lot, past Dorothy’s House where it landed on the Wicked Witch of the East, and to her sister’s castle — the physical therapy department of the clinic.
“Oh my goodness guys, she wants the ruby slippers. She wants my shoes, what do we do?” Overmiller said as they crowded into the reception area.
“Let’s turn back,” one boy said, but suddenly the children were silenced by a screeching from behind the counter.
One of the witch’s flying monkeys crept around the counter toward the children as they laughed nervously.
Physical Therapy Assistant Shirley Van Lonen got closer to the group, then said, “Welcome to rehab. Rehab is a place where you come to get stronger.”
With the help of the other flying monkeys, the children bounced and balanced on a ball and pulled on strength bands and learned how those help people recover from injury or surgery.
In the lab, beads in a water-filled tray represented the different types of blood cells, and the kids got to see the real thing, taking turns at a microscope.
In the records and billing department, the kids played a scavenger hunt, searching for items like a stethoscope, blood pressure cuff or X-ray, and met the Wicked Witch, the Wizard and Glinda the Good Witch along the way.
After the tour, the kids got a snack of cookies and juice.
Seeing their reactions throughout the tour is a big reward for the staff.
“There’s lots of little smiles and happy kids,” Brittani Gruber, who played the Wicked Witch, said.
And it pays off if the children ever return to the hospital or clinic as patients, Gower said.
“In the ER, they’re not so scared,” she said.
“And just the comments after. Walking around with the kids, one of them said ‘This is better than recess.’ That’s why I do this,” Gower said.