A lifelong comic book and cartoon enthusiast, Dr. David Suhrbier often sports belts and ties representing his favorite characters to break down barriers, make his young patients comfortable, and better understand their needs.
Dr. Suhrbier, a pediatric neurologist at Children’s Hospital at Erlanger, has a special challenge when it comes to developing a trusting doctor-patient relationship — since many of his patients have Autism, Asperger’s, or other conditions which can make social interactions especially difficult for children.
While every positive interaction using his unique approach holds a special place for the local specialist, one in particular stands out. One Halloween day, some years ago, Dr. Suhrbier walked into his office wearing some cool new shoes that he’d picked up at a local art festival. The whimsical shoes were painted in hues of blue — his favorite color — with a couple of fish on each toe.
“They reminded me of [Disney characters] Nemo and Dori,” Dr. Suhrbier said.
His first patient that day was a young boy — a new patient referral with developmental delay and suspected autism. “I knew I needed to be careful to not come across as any sort of a threat.” To avoid being perceived by the boy as confrontational, Dr. Suhrbier sat in the corner across the room and spoke at first only to the young child’s mother. Each time he glanced up, he noticed the boy staring at his shoes.
As he continued his conversation, the boy suddenly spoke up. “Fish!” he exclaimed. Dr. Suhrbier smiled back at him and acknowledged, “Yes, fish!”
Pleased with the successful connection he’d made, he turned to talk to the mother again, when he noticed tears in her eyes. “Fish” was the first word the boy had ever spoken. Dr. Suhrbier was shocked.
“Wow, those were worth the money,” he’d thought. “Magical!”
After that day, everyone—children and parents alike—noticed the shoes. Appointments were no longer strictly about what was wrong – they were more fun. The shoes allowed him to break the ice and connect with his patients and their families on a new level.
Dr. Suhrbier now owns 15 pairs of custom, “magic” shoes in a rainbow of colors — going back once or twice a year to order more. But his magic shoes are just the beginning. If you reach into his medical bag, next to his stethoscope you’ll find a Harry Potter magic wand, a Mickey Mouse light-up spinner wand, and a variety of other toys that have become his tools of the trade.
“The magic wand helps me test eye movement. The spinner helps to test cognitive skills. It’s important to modify the science to the individual.”
From superheroes and magic wands to colorful shoes and even his “Batphone” — a phone that referring physicians can use for an emergency case — Dr. Suhrbier continues to push the creative limits of his own imagination to consistently provide better care for his patients.
Learn more about Dr. Suhrbier’s plans for progress at Children’s Hospital at Erlanger from East TN Medical News.