Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Emergency Room Journey

A few months ago my daughter had a nasty fall that wrenched her ankle. I was almost positive that it was merely a bad sprain, but she sobbed and screamed that the pain was excruciating and that she was certain she’d heard a bone crunch as she hit the ground. It was a Saturday afternoon (of course) and our normal pediatrician’s office was closed until Monday. Our only option was a visit to the local ER.

Now, I don’t know about you, but for me an ER visit ranks right up there with walking barefooted over hot coals and sleeping on a bed of nails. It’s a long torturous processes often resulting in physical and emotional pain.

“Can’t we wait until Monday,” I beg my hysterical daughter.

“You want me to suffer with a broken foot for two whole days?” She responds in her best abused child voice.

Which is worse, the guilt trip administered by a skilled teenager or the eternal wait and condescending attitude of an ER trip? Hmmm that’s a toughie.

I’ve worked in a hospital, and I know that the ER professionals are a skilled and talented group of men and women trained to deal with gunshot wounds, internal bleeding and the occasional missing finger or toe. In fact, I’m sure they’ve chosen to work in the ER because they like the challenge that comes from never being sure what horrible life threatening emergency will come through their door next.

Maybe that’s why they get so exasperated with guilt ridden mothers or slightly over dramatic young people.

One Sunday evening my younger son clobbered his older brother over the head with a kitchen bar stool made of wood. Fearful of a concussion I checked the young victims pupils, and asked such questions as “Are you dizzy?” and “Are you nauseous.”

He replied in the affirmative to both questions, so I rushed him down to the ER. After waiting nearly forty minutes to get into a waiting room, and another thirty to see a doctor, I was humiliated when this same boy assured the doctor that he felt fine and not the least bit sick.

Once the doctor left, after giving me that “over-protective-mother-wasting-my-time” look that they all have down, I turned to my son who was happily getting dressed to leave and asked him. “Why did you tell me you were nauseous?”

He shrugged his shoulders. “I thought it meant hungry!”

As mothers, we have debated at some length about what goes on at the ER desk while we sit in the examining rooms waiting for hours and hours with Nickelodeon or the Disney channel running incessantly in our ears. We’re pretty sure the doctors and nurses are making fun of us, and wondering why the state doesn’t require some kind of competency test in order to be a parent.

Still whether it’s a bad cold, a failing kidney or as in our case, a bruised ankle that was feeling much better ten minutes after arriving at the ER, the medical personnel get paid either way. And paid well. You can’t go to a doctor’s office or clinic and get the kind of tests that are routinely prescribed by an ER doc.

“Let’s get an x-ray, a CT scan, a spinal tap, and fourteen vials of blood… and I promise you, she won’t bring her kid in here again unless they have one leg dangling by a piece of muscle.”

So if it’s such a pain to visit the ER, and I assure you it is! Why do we mothers keep doing it?

The answer is simple…guilt. Mothers have the unique ability to carry around guilty feelings better than any other creature, human or otherwise, on the planet. What’s more, mothers have the capacity to imagine whole scenarios that include answering questions at the inquest when their son or daughter died, because the seemly innocent headache turned out to be a brain eating parasite. And had they only rushed Junior or Juniorette to the ER when they had the chance, everyone at the wake wouldn’t be staring at them with dismay and judgment in their eyes.

Sure the chance that a child could die from a brain eating parasite is pretty low, probably even less than winning the lottery or being attacked by a gang of angry girl scouts. But if there is any possible chance… do you want to be the mom that wasn’t cautious enough?

What this means it that I will continue to be humiliated when I take my child, who acts like she’s on deaths door, to the ER only to find out that her pony tail holder is on too tight. And the ER docs will continue to vent their frustration by taking two hours to do a fifteen minute test. (And yes guys I do know that you do this!)

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