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Satisfying a Healthy Curiosity : A visit to the Encino/Tarzana Regional Medical Center can help demystify the facility before you need to use it.

October 28, 1994|BARBARA BRONSON GRAY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Barbara Bronson Gray is a regular contributor to The Times

TARZANA — Hospitals usually aren't high on anyone's must-see list. Most people would do almost anything to avoid walking through those off-putting automatic front doors.

But many hospitals have been working hard to change that perception. Most routinely give tours to pregnant couples and siblings-to-be, to demystify the facility before the birthday.

A tour of a local hospital can appeal to a wider audience than just a growing family. Some people are interested in finding out something about the way the place looks and runs--before they need it. For those new in town, checking out the local hospitals can be one way to decide in advance which emergency room to opt for, or which facility may be more suitable for a surgical procedure or diagnostic test.

Children, too, like visiting hospitals. They can learn a lot about the way a big institution works and what a career in health care might involve.

The staff at Encino/Tarzana Regional Medical Center conducts tours for adults and children interested in exploring the inner workings of the hospital. To schedule a tour, call Janice Deutschman, (818) 708-5667.

9:45 a.m.: Encino/Tarzana Regional Medical Center includes two recently merged hospitals in Tarzana, one on Ventura Boulevard and the other on Clark Street. The 233-bed facility is south of the Ventura Freeway and just east of Reseda Boulevard, at 18321 Clark St. Pull into the driveway and park in the four-level parking structure.

Check out the gift shop to your left when you enter the lobby. While not large, the store offers a wide range of small-scale gift items, from toys and stationery to earthquake survival kits, dainty nightgowns, candy and flower arrangements.

10 a.m.: Meet Janice Deutschman, public relations coordinator, in the lobby of the Women's Pavilion, just north of the main hospital entrance. The tour begins in the Resource Library, a mini-multimedia center open to the public. There are four three-foot-long bookcases filled with videos and books on topics from breast-feeding basics to parenting, diabetes and measles; there is also a new, free on-line information service. All the books can be checked out--at no charge--for two weeks at a time.

10:15 a.m.: "Are they real?" asks one 5-year-old of the infants in the newborn nursery, everyone's favorite part of the tour. Children on the tour are amazed at how little the newborns are, and at how neatly and tightly each is wrapped in a blanket, with all the fuzzy heads turned in the same direction.

10:20 a.m.: We walk through a typical nursing unit, past real patients in single rooms and around a nursing station with a few nurses gathered around. There are large, artfully done photographs on the walls of the halls, featuring close-ups of adorable, healthy children. We go past the Department of Maternal Fetal Medicine, where perinatalogists check pregnant women with signs of difficulty, and where ultrasound tests are done.

10:28 a.m.: We go past admitting, the registration zone of the hospital, which looks like a physician's office waiting room, with desks and chairs instead of examination rooms. Next stop is the facility's telephone switchboard nexus, staffed 24 hours a day.

10:35 a.m.: It's on to the emergency room, through a small waiting area, then into the diagnosis and treatment center. A teen-ager struggling with an asthma attack breaks the calm quiet of the tour and suddenly seems to make the group realize that this is, indeed, a place for the sick. We see the various treatment areas, including glass-enclosed, three-sided rooms designed for particular types of patients, such as the ear/nose/throat room, the X-ray room and the children's room.

Nurse Kathy Kelly makes a point of showing the children around the kids' room, telling them, "This is important, because now that this is all familiar to you, it won't be as scary if you have to come in." That may be, after all, the best reason for adults and children to take a hospital tour. The children are given emergency room coloring books and crayons--and seem perfectly comfortable strolling through the area.

11 a.m.: We walk to the dietary department, where registered dietitian and manager Jeff Nelken shows us the vast expanse of a hospital kitchen. We stand in the walk-in refrigerator and the big freezer, which is kept at 5 to 10 degrees below zero, see the large commercial ovens, meet the chef and salad-maker and tour the hospital's food storeroom that keeps three days worth of food--from Pillsbury's cinnamon streusel topping to gefilte fish. Nelken explains to the group how he tries to use food to make patients happier, from adding pretty garnishes to the Jell-O to giving children dinosaur menus that feature kid-friendly food.

11:25 a.m.: Next stop, the laboratory, where a technician in a long, white coat shows the group how throat cultures are assessed for strep infection. Each of us looks at blood cells under a microscope, and feels the clean-but-gooey petri dishes used to test for bacteria.

11:45 a.m.: Back to the Women's Pavilion conference room for juice and cookies.

Noon: After the official tour, some participants visit the hospital's Clark Street Cafe for lunch. It's interesting to people-watch--to see the hospital staff, volunteers and visitors--and the food is well-priced, with burgers $2, soup of the day $1 and sandwiches $2.70.

12:45 p.m.: It's out through the main lobby to the parking structure.

You and the kids have learned a lot about hospitals and the people who work in them, though, despite the warm hospitality and the fascinating sights, you may feel a little relieved when those automatic doors open and you're out in the fresh air. The hospital's a nice place to visit, but . . . .

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