A magical emergency department visit

When 3-year-old Vinny and his mom Nikki visited CHOC Children’s for the first time, they didn’t expect a calming experience thanks to a magic show, or that staff would go above and beyond to make them feel comfortable.  

 Vinny had a fever, and his pediatrician suspected pneumonia. After a few days of antibiotics, the fever returned, prompting his trip to the Julia and George Argyros Emergency Department at CHOC Children’s Hospital. 

“His pediatrician had told us that if Vinny didn’t seem to get better, we should rush him to CHOC,” Nikki says. 

Nikki called the emergency department before bringing Vinny in, to check on COVID-19 visitor requirements. His fever was nearly 104 degrees when they left the house for their first-ever visit to CHOC. 

 Nikki and Vinny remember feeling nervous, stressed and scared when they arrived, but appreciated how CHOC staff reassured the two from the very beginning.  

“Everyone had a very palpable sense of confidence that they will take care of the children, while also being super soothing and calming in their attitude and demeanor,” Nikki says. 

In the emergency department, Vinny was given a COVID-19 test. He’d had one before but had a much smoother experience this time. 

“Vinny has had a test done elsewhere prior to being at CHOC and that experience was traumatic for him,” Nikki says. “The test done at CHOC was faster and went smoothly thanks to the child life specialists who helped distract him.” 

Vinny’s vitals and stats were checkedand he was prepared for a chest X-ray. The X-rays showed that he not only had pneumonia, but also pleural effusion, a buildup of excess fluid in the lungs. 

Dr. Seth Brindisa board-certified pediatric emergency medicine specialist is an expert in taking care of sick kids. But before he discussed the X-rays results with Nikkihe put Vinny at ease with something else he excels in — magic tricks. He greeted Vinny by pulling a coin from behind the 3-year-old’s ear. That trick was followed by a series of magic tricks that brightened Vinny’s evening, and eventually, his entire experience at CHOC. 

Vinny pictured outside CHOC
Vinny smiles behind his mask outside CHOC, after being discharged.

Aside from magic tricks, Dr. Brindis also had a treatment plan up his sleeve. He sent Vinny home with a prescription for stronger antibiotics and ainhaler. He also explained to Nikki what should and should not happen with Vinny while he healed at home. 

choc emergency department
Dr. Seth Brindis often performs magic tricks for his patients.

“From early on, CHOC always had a future plan, and communicated that to us,” Nikki says. “I was always able to ask whatever questions, and they had answers.” 

Nikki and Vinny went home, but four days later his fever returned, and he was unable to breathe, so they returned to CHOC’s emergency department.  

This time, doctors determined that Vinny needed to be admitted to CHOC Children’s Hospital for further evaluation and treatment. As part of this process, he was tested a third time for COVID, an experience that again went smoothly, thanks to the child life specialists of the Cherese Mari Laulhere Child Life Department. 

Vinny stayed at CHOC for a week for stronger antibiotics, monitoring and supplemental oxygen. Throughout his stay, he was under the care of a multidisciplinary team of pediatric experts. This included Dr. Antonio Arrieta, medical director of infectious diseases, who was determined to help Vinny feel better. This level of care helped Vinny’s mom feel better, too. 

Dr. Antonio Arrieta
Dr. Antonio Arrieta, medical director of infectious disease at CHOC Children’s

Dr. Arrieta was truly one of the most intelligent human beings I’ve ever had a conversation with, and we felt extremely comfortable in his care and that of his whole team,” Nikki says. 

Being in a hospital for the first time was not easy for Vinny. He’s a naturally active child, but due to his compromised lungs and playrooms being temporarily closed due to the pandemic, he was unable to play in areas outside of his room. Luckily, Child Life had just the thing for him. A specialist showed up to his room with a box full of plastic bowling pins and a ball. Vinny was thrilled, and so was his mom 

“Every single nurse, respiratory therapist, child life specialist and doctor we met was just amazing,” Nikki says. “The only thing you truly want in a situation like this as a parent is for your child to be healing and comfortable, and they all worked to make that happen daily.” 

Vinny’s treatment plan was successfulAfter his fever subsided and his symptoms improved greatly, he was able to go back home. 

“Bringing my child to the hospital for the first time was scary at first, especially during a pandemic,” Nikki says. “I will always remember the kindness and world-class expertise that helped my son feel better and get back to being a kid. Vinny will never forget how a doctor turned into a magician right before his eyes. 

Learn more about emergency services at CHOC Children's

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Meet Dr. Seth Brindis

In addition to providing high-quality medical care, physicians and staff at the Julia and George Argyros Emergency Department at CHOC Children’s Hospital strive to make the experience less stressful for children and families. One physician has a few tricks to ease his patients’ fear and anxiety. Dr. Seth Brindis, a board-certified pediatric emergency medicine specialist and medical director of informatics, performs magic for his patients.

choc emergency department
Physicians in the CHOC emergency department strive to make the experience less stressful for children. Dr. Seth Brindis often performs magic tricks for his patients.

“For me, magic makes my job easier, instantly transforming what can be a scary experience for children to something fun. I incorporate magic into my physical exam as it makes the exam easier and more reliable when patients are comfortable with me and distracted. I tend to use coin tricks because they appeal to a wider range of ages, with the added benefit that the coins can be disinfected between patient contacts.”

Luckily, it doesn’t have to be an emergency in order to see Dr. Brindis’ magic. With help from child life, he occasionally puts on impromptu magic shows in the CHOC theater for inpatients, their siblings and parents.

Dabbling in magic since childhood, Dr. Brindis’ interest in magic was revitalized while in residency at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, where he realized that simple tricks with cards and coins could help make connections with patients and staff. Since then, he has continued to study magic, even taking courses tailored for magic in medicine. Seeing thousands of patients each year, Dr. Brindis gets ample time to try out new tricks and help patients and their families leave with positive experiences and smiles on their faces.

Exclusively dedicated to the treatment of pediatric patients, CHOC’s ED features 31 exam rooms, including two trauma bays, and three triage suites. The ED is staffed with doctors who are board-certified in emergency medicine and specially trained nurses who provide the very best patient- and family-centered care. Child life specialists work with patients to help them feel safe and secure, and make the process a lot less stressful for the entire family.

“The ED is often the gateway for many families who are coming to our organization for the first time. We’re working together to deliver the best care to those who need it most. My job is to understand what is distressing to a parent in the middle of the night and either educate and reassure the family or intervene when called for.”

As the only trauma center in Orange County dedicated exclusively for kids, CHOC is ready to treat injuries 24 hours a day. The trauma team is trained to care for children and their unique physiological, anatomical and emotional needs, and CHOC’s protocols and equipment are specially designed for pediatrics.

The ED saw over 49,000 patients in the first year it opened. This year, it’s on pace to see more than 85,000 patients – an incredible rate of growth, which Dr. Brindis credits to the coordination and cooperation between the ED physicians, EMSOC leadership, and nursing, as well as CHOC administration.

“I love being a part of this team. I feel like we provide exemplary care to every person who enters our doors. Often, I feel like the conductor of an orchestra of care. There is no way I could do my job without the incredible people I work with. It really is impressive to watch our team working in concert to stabilize a really sick child.”

Dr. Brindis received his medical degree from Vanderbilt University. He completed his pediatric residency and pediatric emergency medicine fellowship training at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Torrance. In addition to caring for patients in the ED, he is actively involved with the training and teaching of pediatric and emergency medicine residents as well as fellows.

In his spare time, Dr. Brindis enjoys spending time with his wife, son and daughter. He also enjoys cooking, painting and, of course, working on his magic.

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