Pediatric orthopaedic surgeon lifts patients’ spirits with decorated casts
Ahmed Bazzi, DO, a pediatric orthopaedic surgeon at Children’s Hospital of Michigan in Detroit, is locally known for the artwork he adds to patients’ casts postoperatively. About eight years ago, Dr. Bazzi began surprising postoperative patients with a decorated cast, and it all stemmed from a young patient named Michael who was anxious about having a significant forearm deformity from acute fractures after a fall. Dr. Bazzi noticed the patient had Elmo pajamas, slippers, and a blanket. “It was only right to promise him that if he let me take care of him, he would get an Elmo cast,” said Dr. Bazzi. “Post-reduction, Michael had a straight forearm with a red cast bearing Elmo’s face. I haven’t looked back since!”
Before each surgery he does some sleuthing, asking patients about their favorite characters, shows, and books, or taking notice of their sports team apparel. Some of his notable designs include Batman, Iron Man, Thomas the Train, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Wonder Woman. Other times, he takes a more seasonal approach, such as a candy corn or an elf-inspired cast. Dr. Bazzi’s most impressive work, he says, is a Detroit Lions logo created for a fan of the NFL team. “That logo was a beast to replicate, and my love for the team runs deep, despite their numerous letdowns,” said Dr. Bazzi.
Despite insisting he is not an artist, the pictures—and his patients—tell a different story. “I learned my anatomy as a medical student by charcoal sketching the organ systems,” said Dr. Bazzi, noting that his artistic abilities include woodworking and carpentry.
Most of the time, he does not practice each design beforehand and just goes for it. “I sometimes fret intraoperatively that the case is coming to an end, and I will be facing the biggest challenge of the surgical cure—the cast decoration,” he said. “I pull up logos on my phone and redraw as I go.”
This fun activity began as a way to help alleviate some of the pain, fear, and anxiety his young patients experience. “Perioperative anxiety is quite prevalent in the pediatric world,” said Dr. Bazzi. “Any gesture to connect with a child will help ease some of that stress.” One way, he said, is to decorate their casts, which they can show off to friends and family members.
“The response is universally that of satisfaction and excitement. Patients forget their pain, temporary disability, request for analgesia, and anxiety,” said Dr. Bazzi. “Families are grateful and surprised that this was even doable.” Secretly, this work is just as exciting for Dr. Bazzi. “I selfishly get an emotional boost,” he said.
In addition, Dr. Bazzi incorporates this approach into resident training. “I constantly preach about the psychological fix it has on these young children,” he said. “It is the ultimate compliment when I get a text from a former resident saying they are ‘channeling their inner Bazzi’ and decorating a child’s cast.”
Kerri Fitzgerald is the managing editor of AAOS Now. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.