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Free comic e-book mooted by doctor to help kids cope with Covid-19 home recovery

 

SINGAPORE - What should parents do when their kids test positive for Covid-19? How do they explain the home recovery programme to their young children?

A free e-book I Can Recover At Home! can help the little ones understand what the process will be like.

Written by popular children's author Emily Lim-Leh and illustrated by Josef Lee, the comic-style book also includes answers to frequently asked questions and useful websites for parents.

Parents and caregivers can download it from Sunday (Nov 14) to read it with the kids.

Health Minister Ong Ye Kung shared the book on his Facebook, saying: "It’s a really nice book. With the right resources and information, we can further demystify Covid-19 and its recovery process."

The story follows a little boy's journey of recovery, including 10 days of isolation in his bedroom, accompanied by his dad. It also looks at a girl who has to be admitted to the hospital.

The 37-page e-book is the brainchild of Dr Darryl Lim, a consultant paediatrician from Kinder Clinic at Mount Alvernia Medical Centre.

"While the covid.gov.sg website is a good resource, it may not appeal to kids whom we want to reassure and keep safe. I felt a storyline with pictures would appeal to the families and guide them on what to expect," says Dr Lim, 48, who has three children aged one, three and six.

Last month, Dr Lim started a voluntary initiative with about 45 fellow paediatricians in private practice to provide free telemedicine consults for kids while on the home recovery programme. This helps lighten the workload of healthcare workers in hospitals and reduces the families' waiting time for medical attention.

The doctors have been seeing 100 to 200 cases daily, including those on scheduled follow-up during the home recovery programme, which is now the default for children aged between three and 11.

But a week after the doctors started their rounds via WhatsApp video calls, they found that many parents were unclear what home recovery was about. Some kids were also fearful of going to the hospital for a physical examination when the doctors felt it was necessary.

Some parents also thought the doctors were scam callers, Dr Lim shares.

He hopes the e-book will smooth the way for his paediatrician team to do their job, once parents and kids know what to expect on home recovery and their telemedicine consultations.

There are plans for the book to be translated to Chinese, Malay and Tamil.

 

Covid-19 infection in kids

Dr Lim says some parents feel that the Covid-19 infection is just like the common cold. "This is true to a certain extent for most kids, but we have to be on the lookout for complications that may occur," he says.

"Some kids have medical conditions that put them at higher risk of having such complications. Again, it's my team's job to identify them and make sure they will be safe at home or in the hospital."

Worried parents have his empathy.

"The fear is real, having lost loved ones to Covid-19 or having someone in the household who has medical conditions that could predispose him or her to complications if infected by the coronavirus," Dr Lim says.

He advises parents not to focus solely on their child's physical recovery, but to also pay attention to their psychological well-being.

"The isolation period can be very challenging for kids, who are used to routines but these are now completely disrupted."

While isolated in one room with a parent or caregiver, they also cannot interact with the rest of the family members - as in the case of the book's little boy, who misses his mum and younger sister. They get around it by having story time via video calls a few times a day.

His mum would leave their meals outside the room. The boy and his dad would count to five before opening the door to bring the food in, so she would be safely away by then.

Dr Lim suggests keeping to a balanced diet. "Given the inactivity during the prolonged isolation in a room, I would stress avoiding loading up on high-calorie foods and sweets, as the calories regularly burned off in an active child's day would now be much more tempered," he says.

"Most of us would recall the increased waistlines during the circuit breaker period last year, due to much inactivity at home."

'Not a normal picture book'

At least six to nine months are typically needed to produce a picture book that is ready for publishing. But author Lim-Leh and illustrator Lee came up with I Can Recover At Home! in a record three weeks.

The comic-style e-book is a guide for families and kids who have Covid-19.

"This is not a normal picture book and these are not normal times," says Lim-Leh, 50, who has published 40 children's books since 2007.

"It has a time-sensitive message, and both Josef and I shared Darryl's sense of urgency of wanting to get it into the hands of children and families speedily."

The project was sparked in mid-October, when she received a long WhatsApp message late one night from Dr Lim, her 10-year-old son's former paediatrician.

He shared how it could feel scary for young children to be taken to hospital in an ambulance for assessment and then being isolated in their bedrooms. He wanted to explain to them what happens during the home recovery programme.

She immediately thought of Lee, even though they have not collaborated before. "I've been following his series of pandemic picture-stories on Facebook and he's also a picture book creator. He felt like the right person," she says.

Like the paediatricians on board Dr Lim's voluntary initiative, both were supportive and took on this pro bono project.

"This is probably the first time in my experience as an author, where the illustrator was sketching concurrently as I was writing, rather than waiting for the fully completed manuscript," she adds.

Lee, a full-time creative director at a design and animation studio, describes the book as a "dream project". It combined his interest in picture books and comics, and he could use his skills to contribute in this pandemic time.

Earlier in January, the 42-year-old launched The House Of Mini Picture Books website so that kids would not be deprived of books to read even if libraries and bookstores were closed, like during the circuit breaker last year.

The site hosts 20 original children's stories by Singapore authors and artists that can be read online or downloaded, printed and made into picture books free of charge.

Lim-Leh and Lee worked closely with Dr Lim and his paediatrician colleagues for medical input and advice.

The doctors on the voluntary telemedicine team gave their thumbs-up for the e-book.

Dr Ooi Pei Ling, who practices at International Child and Adolescent Clinic in Mount Alvernia Hospital and Gleneagles Hospital, says: "This is a clear and concise guide for parents and children affected by Covid-19 and will help relieve their anxiety significantly."

Dr Agnes Tay from International Baby Child and Adolescent Clinic in Ang Mo Kio, adds: "The e-book is simple to read, yet includes accurate facts and practical details. This delightful work of art struck me with its clarity and its message of hope and assurance that all will be well. It is truly a labour of love."

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