Know When To Hold ‘Em

posted November 17, 2009

My sweet little boy has croup. He’s been running a fever for a few days now, and last night he woke up at 3am with That Cough. We did all the things you are supposed to do: ran a hot shower with the door closed, then took him outside into the cold. He was so miserable that he wouldn’t even nurse. And his little voice was so hoarse and pathetic. We finally called our pediatric nurse, and because his chest was doing that scary indentation thing, she told us to go right over to the hospital.

So I bundled him up and we crossed the street at 4:15am. He started breathing better right away, but as soon as we were inside, the wheezing returned. There was no one in the ER besides staff. Still, for some reason, it took the doctor 45 minutes to see us, and only after I stuck my head out of our cubicle and said, “Um, excuse me, but what are we waiting for?” She was chatting with another doctor and gave me a look. “Me,” said she. “I am your doctor.” Jay meanwhile was trashing the place, literally. He’s almost fifteen months and his motto is “Leave no trash can unexamined.” Also manically pulling out the wires he was hooked up to to monitor his oxygen levels. So we lay down on the bed and I tried to convince him to breastfeed. Fortunately, it worked and we both dozed off. Another twenty minutes later the doc came in, asked me some annoyed questions (I suspect she is not yet a mother. She was very very young). She poked at Jay and declared that he had croup. “We’ll give him some dexamethasone” (steroid) “and you should follow up with your pediatrician.”

Another hour later (I am not kidding) I stuck my head out and said, “I hate to bother you” (she was typing on a computer) “but I really need to go home so I can get to work. It’s six am.”
She glared at me. “Has the nurse brought you your meds yet?”
“No,” I said, trying not to make it sound like it was my fault, though that was her implication.
“He’ll be right there,” she snapped. And he was, five minutes later.

Before I’d stuck my head out, I was debating: should I stick my head out or should I just calmly meditate on What Is? Is this just the way ERs are? Are things supposed to take forever? At what point do I use skillful means to try to get the show on the road? As it turned out, they really had forgotten about me, and it was good that I acted like a squeaky wheel. I was not rude; just present. And the doctor didn’t like that I seemed to be questioning her timing.

When I finally got out of the hospital, the sun was rising and the sky was November gorgeous: pink streaks across the sky, the air so perfectly chilled, Jay alert and interested in the walk home. When I told Tom about the weird delays, he was incensed. “You should write a letter!” he said. I probably should, for the public good, or whatever, but I know I won’t. If I hadn’t been delayed, I would have missed the sunrise. On the other hand, if I had waited even a few more minutes to stick my head out each time, I also would have missed the sunrise. There’s always a gift, hidden somewhere, sometimes subtly, sometimes obviously. And someday, that doctor will have a child who will have croup and she might remember how completely bleary I was when she finally came into our cubicle to question me about Jay’s symptoms, and she might feel some remorse about not hurrying along to get the rampaging toddler out of the ER. Like me, she will look back at all her former impatience with new moms and say, “Oh, I get it.” But the timing’s not hers yet.

The Comments

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  1. Nerissa,

    I still think you should write a letter. Even if you were able to make peace with the situation, you owe it to the future patients of the hospital so they won’t have to put up with the same kind of crap that you did. Not everyone is as good as finding the positive in all things as you are, and more importantly, the next person may be in more critical need of medical attention. What the doctor and nurse did was not only rude, but not very smart or safe. The next time, it could be a person with a head injury waiting in the office, and you are lucky that your son’s situation was not life-threatening.

  2. Absolutely, write a letter. That kind of dismissive behavior is inexcusable. A friend of mine is the chief pediatric resident in a hospital in central NY state, and if any of her colleagues treated a patient that way, she’d have their head on a plate.

  3. So, maybe they needed to monitor Johnny for a certain amount of time on all those machines before they could safely send him home. Maybe that is why you had to wait there. If that is the case, it is still kind of appalling that they did not explain that to you. I really think you should write a letter.

  4. I agree with our friends on this one. I’ve been on the waiting end in the ER too–docs are usually apologetic, esp. when kids are involved. Sounds like this doc needs a few lessons in bedside manner!

    Hope J is feeling better!!

  5. That’s my experience every time I’ve been to an E.R. for my own illnesses or with a family member…
    No matter if it was because of triage (whom they decide goes first / has priority for the time being) or because the doctor / nurses are distracted with other things…
    especially if it is after midnight.

    I know these hospitals here well enough to know it would be futile to write letters; so I’m sending good thoughts and wishes so that your letter might be successful and do some good at your own hospital.
    Good luck!!

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