Saturday night, 11 pm. I am drifting off to sleep, in preparation for Sunday’s trip to Vegas for the conference. I distinctly remember the glorious silence, thinking to myself the famous last words: It’s so nice now that the kids are older and sleep through the night.
1 am: Screaming. Wheezing.My daughter, who was sleeping in my son’s room, yelling for me that my son can’t breathe. My son has had off and on bouts of croup since he was a little one, but it’s been about a year since he had any problems. I had hoped he had grown out of it, but alas, there he was, stressed out and struggling to breathe. He has a method to his madness: Must get sick in dead of night when Urgent Care already closed. Must be on a Saturday, when there is no option to get into the regular doctor for 48 hours. Extra points if it is a holiday weekend. Check, check, check.
Croup, for those fortunate enough not to have had any dealings with it, is a swelling of the upper airway usually secondary to a cold or respiratory virus. It almost always strikes in the dead of night. While my son’s never been obstructed to the point where we needed an ambulance (and thank goodness for that), it does have enough immediacy to involve a trip to the ER for treatment. They always do the same thing: long wait, dose of steroids, on your way- but you know, it’s my kid, so the corners I would cut and the expired meds I would try on myself to avoid that trip are not an option.
So off I went into the rainy dead of night, pausing only long enough to throw on coats and grab shoes for my son. I stagger into the packed ER with kid in arms and utter the magic words to the triage nurse: My child is having breathing difficulty. Fortunately they brought us right in.
“How are you?” asked the nurse, to assess his ability to speak.
He wheezed softly, pausing for air between words, “My….shoes….don’t…..match.” Yes, in the dark I grabbed one Iron Man shoe and one policeman shoe and he found this very embarrassing, despite his other, more pressing issues. Geez kid, gimme a break!
As we were led to a room, I noticed not one but two beefy security guards sitting in the hallway. While we were in the room waiting for the doctor, I hear yelling and ruckus in the space on the left. The nurse, who was poised with a stethoscope above my son’s chest, excused himself for a moment.
“Sorry,” he said when he returned. “We have a couple of psych patients here tonight. I hope they behave.” Yeah. Me too.
A minute later he was pulled out to restrain the singing person on the room on the right. Needless to say at this point I had abandoned all hope of sneaking a nap while waiting for the physician and sat stick straight in the chair next to my son’s bed, staring at the door and planning my course of defense should one of the restrained personages break free: zap him with the defibrillators.
I have to give the medical team lots of credit: It was a rainy Saturday night, busy as all get out, high needs patients, AND the computer systems were down, and they were really great. The doctor was in within an hour, declared my son had croup but clear lungs, and would be OK with a dose of steroids.
Of course after being through this multiple times I know the drill, but you always live in fear of that one overachieving doctor who decides you need to admit the child for 12 hours of tests and x-rays in order to decide after all, eh, here’s some steroids, thanks for playing. I’ve figured out the balance to letting them know you have medical knowledge and can be a little more technical without being that annoying “I’M A VET SO I KNOW EVERYTHING” person who inevitably is more clueless than they think they are: asking just enough technical questions so they figure it out on their own. It gets you out faster and doesn’t offend anyone.
I observed their efficient but hectic pacing, the unspoken urgency and frustration of those awaiting care juxtaposed with the “just another night in the ER” acceptance of those working it. It was interesting to compare to my experience working in a veterinary ER, more alike than dissimilar. I do not crave the stress of either. As I listened to the doctor patiently try to get the agitated person next door to take his medications, I thought to myself once again with relief, “I really did myself a favor by not applying to med school.” At least we get to leave the cranky people in the waiting area.
On the way out, we made sure to stop by the nurse and the doctor and give them both a quick but heartfelt thank you before heading back out into the rainy night. I don’t think that is a job I could do. Thank goodness for them, but bleh, I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.
I was home by 5:30- a miraculously fast ER trip all things considered- just enough time to sleep for 2 hours before getting up to pack for Vegas. I was hoping for a better start to the week than this, but that’s OK. Better it happen while I was home than if I were at the conference with my husband at home alone- he’d never let me leave again!