He’d been moping about the house all morning. A fever so high I worried you could fry eggs on his scalp, I tried to remind myself that kids DO run fevers, and we’d been to Mouse Hell the weekend before, so if he hadn’t just come down with what had made me so bloody sick for the past two weeks (and counting!), it was probably an Oregon Trail Disease picked up from random peeing kids in the ball pits.
(aside: why do kids piss in ball pits? It’s never dawned upon me that I should, perhaps, use a pile of balls to squat over and whiz on)
I assumed it would pass.
I’m a nurse and I’m no alarmist when it comes to my kids. Kids get sick. They bounce back. Especially my middle son, Alex.
By 12:00, as he dazedly tried to play some sort of Lego game with his sister, as he shivered in the 75 degree house, I realized he needed to go to the doctor.
“Take him to the Minute Clinic*,” I asked Dave, without really giving the option of a “no.” “I’ll be done with my board meeting by 2PM, and you should be back by then – I can keep an eye on him afterward.”
At 1:45, Dave and the kid both gone, the phone rang. I assumed it was my eldest, telling me that he was on his way home.
“We’re on our way to the ER,” The Daver announced grimly. “Alex has a 104 degree fever.”
Well, fuckity, fuckity, fuck me.
I had to find someone to watch the smallest child, Amelia, who was bouncing about the house, playing with her Legos and occasionally throwing herself on the ground – just to make herself laugh.
After a lot of back and forth, my mother, bless her heart, came to pick up the smallest of the littles and The Guy On My Couch, Ben, who was just as frantic about the ER trip as I, and I hauled balls to the hospital.
On the way, I bemoaned my decided lack of Punch Card for ER Frequent Flyers. I’d just BEEN there, I whined. We’d just been there. I now knew all of the short cuts to the cafeteria where they stocked all of that luscious sweet nectar of the Gods, Diet Coke.
By the time we got there, Alex was already in the room. Ben and I stormed the room in time to see the doctor pinning my son down to do a strep culture on his throat. Poor guy, I thought – those things are like giving a blow job to a q-tip.
As she left, she said, “if this is negative, we’ll do a chest x-ray.” She left, my jaw flopping on the germ-laden floor.
Chest x-ray? Why on EARTH would they need to be ruling out pneumonia (or TB)(okay, I knew it wasn’t TB)(probably)?
I schlepped myself onto the hospital bed, where I cuddled up my kid as I handed Alex my coveted i(can’t fucking)Phone, so he could play Angry Birds, handily beating each of my scores. He was burning up, despite the Motrin that triage gave him. Ugh.
Ten minutes later, a pert and perky lady came in and asked if he could walk. “Well yes, I said, but not without socks in the middle of the ER – I’ll carry him, thankyouverymuch.”
I lugged my now-fifty pound boy after her, not quite sure where we were going. Along the way, I told him about how he’d nearly been born at this very same hospital – the hospital where I’d given birth to his brother. He asked me a couple questions about how babies come from your tummy, and I skimmed over the bit about how they got out (although I did inform him it was through “the vagina” and not “my belly button,” as he’d suspected).
Soon we were in a darkened room – radiology.
I stood next to him, dressed in a heavy lead cloak, as he got pictures of his chest taken.
And then we were done. Back to the room we went, as he peppered me with questions about where HE’D been born, occasionally laughing when he mentioned that he knew he’d, “pooped on me as a baby.”
Back into the bed we went, where we waited. And waited. And waited.
The Guy on My Couch, Ben, and The Daver both sat on their respective iPhones, the room darkened, as Alex and I lay in bed together. Sometimes, we played on my phone, other times, we just lay there.
After an hour or so, he began to whine, begging to go home, and I realized it was time to get creative. I went through the drawers of the room, stealing an Ace Bandage (never know when you’ll need one) and an ice pack (you always know you’ll need one), as I handed Alex a stack of tongue depressors to play with. Eagerly, he yanked them open and began to beat them on the gigantic barf basin I’d given him.
We soon grew tired of that, too, having now been at the ER for three and a half hours.
The guys in the room very deeply involved in their games, I suggested we People Watch. I pulled back the blinds in the glass enclosed room and we began to watch, talking about what we saw.
Placed close enough to all three of the trauma rooms, we were afforded a perfect view of someone’s very worst day. The room swarmed with nurses, doctors, EMT’s, surgeons, all angrily buzzing in and out, clearly doing Important Things.
While I don’t practice, I’m a nurse. And I knew someone was fighting for their life in that room. I said a prayer. Then another. Then another.
What was a blip on an otherwise okay day for me (who wants to spend their day at the hospital?) was the end of someone else’s life. I wonder, as I often do in emergency situations, if there was any indication that the person behind the curtain knew that this day would be The Day. The universe should tell the person whose world is about to be turned upside down – or worse – off entirely, that hey, this is the last time you’ll breathe the outside air. This is the last sunset you’ll see. Hey, take note, this is the last time you’ll eat a donut or hug your kid or say, “I love you.”
But we don’t get that kind of warning.
And so we die.
Sometimes while we sleep. Sometimes while we drive. Sometimes out of the clear blue sky in Trauma Two on a beautiful almost-spring day.
And sometimes, while someone, a stranger, holding her heart – the one who walks around outside her chest – praying for someone she didn’t know, as she tells her middle son about the time when he “got born,” we die.
Dona nobis pacem.
Give us peace.
*what my mother likes to call a “doc in the box,” the small clinics we have at some local pharmacies
P.S. Diagnosis: “atypical” pneumonia. Leave it to my kid to be all A-typical.