Saturday, October 13, 2007

In An Emergency...Room

Life with boys consists of three distinct measurements of time, pre-emergency, mid-emergency and post-emergency, at least that's how it is in my house. The latest disaster involved my youngest son, Charlie and the kitchen stove (you can see where this is going, I can tell). Ever since he was old enough to recognize speech and move independently, I have uttered some variation on the same theme: don't touch the stove. I have used various phrases and worst case scenarios over the years; the straightforward: "Don't touch the stove, it's hot.", the prevention method: "Don't touch the stove, you never know if it's hot.", the dire warning: "Don't touch the stove, you'll burn yourself." and the worst case scenario: "Don't touch the stove, it's hot, you'll burn off all your skin, develop an infection which will result in your hand being amputated which will lead to gangrene, you'll linger a few months, put your parents into insurmountable debt and eventually die." As a last resort, I went with the classic: "Don't touch the stove because I said so." Alas, none of these warnings seem to have registered with my youngest, my budding scientist who has a genetic predisposition to test every single thing he's told. Maybe he just thinks I'm full of crap, I'm trying to keep him from doing ANYTHING fun or I'm a master of reverse psychology.

Last Sunday, as I worked on reassembling all the music my beloved computer had decided to purge from RealPlayer (and then arbitrarily reassign file names of songs to other songs, but that's a story for another day), Charlie strolls into the office with a popsicle in his mouth and casually informs me that he thinks he might have burned his finger. Keeping it as casual as he did, I suggested he go run some cold water on the afflicted area and continued my muttering and swearing under my breath at the computer. Roughly ten minutes later, I hear a screech from my husband in the other room, "WHAT DID YOU DO TO YOUR HAND!?", followed by my name bellowed at the top of his lungs. I bolt out of the office, tripping over five shoes, thirteen Legos and at least one cat on the way to the living room. I'm greeted by blisters roughly the size of green beans blooming on the back of all of the fingers on Charlie's left hand. This is going to be a bot more than my tube of Neosporin can handle, so it's off to the emergency room (again). Thankfully, we live only four blocks from the hospital (small town, no one is ever more than five minutes away from crack medical care). Charlie and I bundle into the car and head off into the afternoon sun, the beginning of a journey that will take us somewhere we never imagined.

We arrive at the hospital, the large red and white sign marked "EMERGENCY ENTRANCE" indicating that we're in the right place. How young we were, how foolish to believe something like an official-looking sign to direct us in our time of need. I should have known something was horribly awry when all the parking places were marked "For Emergency Personnel Only". Well, I'm a person and this seems like a emergency to me, I'm gonna risk it and park here. We enter the building and a corridor stretches in front of us like something from a funhouse, it's got to be a city block long and the pinpoint of light ahead of us is the only indication of life. We set off into the abyss, the light guiding us forward like a beacon in the night. We end up at the opposite end of the hospital...I'm talking the front of the building...the front not marked "EMERGENCY ENTRANCE" with even fewer parking spaces. Our first contact is the receptionist who, recognizing the severity of the burns on Charlie's hand, whisks us quickly and efficiently to the admitting clerk...I'm so glad she was able to keep calm for Charlie's sake. After I've proven the boy has insurance coverage, the hospital personnel spring into action to tend to my child's burned hand and get a high tech, sure to cure him, wet washcloth and send us out into the lobby. Remember that I live in a town of less than 10,000 people and a total of five stoplights, so we're not talking an "ER" like level of activity on a Sunday afternoon.

Thirty minutes pass, we've watched a full episode of "Drake and Josh" on the lobby television, the washcloth is rapidly drying out and we haven't seen another soul for at least fifteen of those minutes. I turn to ask the crack receptionist for a pitcher of water so I can maybe slow down the continually blossoming blisters on the boy's hand and am told "I can't leave my post." Swear to God, that is a direct quote. I told her that was fine, but perhaps she could use the wireless headset I suspect she's glued to her ear so everyone knows she's important even when she's not working to request a bit of cold water for the eight year old in the lobby. I'm informed that they're terribly busy and every room in the emergency department is occupied and he'd be seen as soon as they could get to him. This didn't really help, as all I was looking for was some cold water so I suggested she give me her coffee mug and I'd take care of it myself. She seemed shocked and I didn't get the mug. Ultimately, I end up trying to stuff the poor kid's hand into one of those pointy ended cups that live in the dispenser attached to a five gallon jug of drinking water. Not easily done, I assure you.

Two hours later, after a threat to take him over to the next big town's emergency room (30 miles away), we're brought back to the emergency room proper. After hearing for over two hours how busy they are and that every room is occupied, I'm expecting the nurses to look a bit battle weary and careworn. Not so much. Also, of the six trauma rooms and three small examining rooms in my field of vision, only two are occupied...four of the trauma rooms are dark and show no sign of any activity having taken place for a while. From the bits of conversation I could hear, more than one person back there had been watching football...the same game that had been in the first quarter when Charlie and I left the house. Hmmm, curious. The doctor takes one look at Charlie's hand, the nurse slathers it with Silver Nitrate, wraps it in gauze and sends us on our way. Seriously, we couldn't have done this in the lobby...TWO HOURS ago? He's fine...thanks to the highly trained and obviously underappreciated receptionist at my local hospital.

I'm hoping that Charlie no longer believes that I am full of crap when I say the things I say. "Don't juggle axes, you'll cut your arms off." "Don't play in the middle of the highway, you'll get squished by a car." "Don't try to give the cat a shower, he'll get mad and pee in your shoe again." You know, the things we all tell our kids.

Yesterday, I got a survey in the mail, asking me how my visit to the emergency department was.