Her child is glossy eyed and limp with fever. A toddler of indeterminate age still small enough to be carried. Head on her shoulder, cheeks rosy, curls sweaty. She catches my eye, a fellow emergency room hallway traveler, and says “when does this end?
I don’t have the heart to say never.
I am here with my 17 year old. Her injury needs an X-ray, but I’m confident she will be fine. For us, today is more a minor annoyance and first-world blessing. She came in smiling.
I pulled out an insurance card (thank you Coca-Cola bottling company for the income and insurance. Drink more soda y’all. We are clumsy). I’m already wondering when we can get out of here and eat.
Appetite is welcome. At 17, she can tell them where it hurts, in what severity, and listen intently for symptoms to watch for. We will be out of here with paperwork in time for a late breakfast.
I know that so I’m remarkably calm. I am tapping out an update to Mr. Wonderful and BoyWonder when they take her off to X-ray. She’s old enough that I don’t go. I sit and wait.
I tap, tap, tap out updates on my phone. It makes me feel useful. So many people love this child. They must be kept in the loop.
This is a children’s hospital because even at 17 and super cool she still rates a child status, but the other patients here this morning are young.
In the distance a tiny baby wails. A veteran mama knows a newborn wail anywhere. I think well, he’s moving air so that’s good. They’re lucky. A fevered toddler is sipping from a sport drink to keep her electrolytes up.
She’s obviously miserable, but slurping noisily. Her father is slumped back, exhausted, but his hand keeps patting her back. They don’t know it but they are lucky. In this cool, hushed hallway there are a lot of lucky people.
Sure, we might be luckier if we weren’t in the Children’s Hospital ER early on a Sunday morning; still, without violating any privacy laws, I can say most of these issues seem easily addressed.
I remember crossing the threshold of another emergency room sixteen years ago with my three-year-old son. He was presenting with an impalement as both the paperwork, and a grimly serious triage nurse, would attest.
What this means is that a piece of glass had pierced his chest. We didn’t know at that time if it was 3 mm or 3 inches long, but I knew enough not to remove it without medical intervention.
I was terrified as I crossed the threshold into that antiseptic hush of emergency room. I remember being “more” afraid when a nurse ran to meet me. Running is never good.
In the ER, I want a sort of blase-please stand-by assurance that whatever brought us is so run of the mill that they can’t even bother with hustle.
I would spend the next hour pacing, waiting, and finally holding him down for stitches.
He would leave the same night with stickers, a scar, and a story to tell. We were lucky.
It’s a story of family legend. We laugh about it now.
I want to tell the other parents sitting tight-lipped or pacing that they probably will, too. As I wait for my almost-grown child to return from X-ray (where she will be pronounced, blessedly fine), I muse on that earlier question.
When does it end? That weary mother asked. I knew without definition what it was?
The worry. The wondering. The thinking you will die if anything happens to this child? I want to go back, tap her on the shoulder, assure her that her child, and most everything, will most likely be okay.
I also want to tell her that I guess if we are really lucky, the answer to when will it end is never.
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