If the emergency room in our small town wasn’t completely empty, I’d feel a little sheepish, bringing in Col, my 7-year-old son, who skips alongside me noting proudly, “this is the latest I’ve ever been at the hospital!”
Col’s had a headache on and off for two days. The on-call pediatric nurse, after assessing our answers to her battery of questions, announced that the protocol for children with headaches and neck pain, who had also been feeling dizzy and nauseous, is to go straight to the ER. (Later, friends tell me that the on-call pediatric nurse <em>always</em> insists you go to the ER. Mosquito bite flaring up? To the ER with you!
It seems a little over the top—heading out to the emergency room when we were just closing in on bedtime—but, it’s not like Col to complain about physical discomfort. His sister Rose will deliver up-to-the minute reports on her physical and emotional weather systems, making a pathology out of feeling a little hot, while Col is more tuned into the ants that have gathered around his dripping popsicle than the vagaries of his own body.
A nurse takes Col’s vitals and tells us Dr. Paine will be in shortly.
“Ha! You get to see <em>Dr. Paine</em>!” I shriek. “I hope it’s not pain-ful.” Because really, it’s never too soon to teach a 7-year-old the joys of irony.
It’s a rare pleasure to spend time alone with my oldest child, even here. And though the ER is deserted, we wait just long enough to play a knee-slapping round of rock, paper, scissors, while my mind samples crazy words like brain tumor.
“How’s your headache now?” I ask my son, who’s never appeared smaller, stretched out on the expansive whiteness of the hospital bed. “It still hurts a little. Now lets play: you try and slap my hand before I pull it away.”
Col was born extremely premature and spent his first four months in the Neonatal ICU in Denver. Minutes after birth he was given synthetic surfactant, a medicine which prevents the alveoli of the lungs from collapsing. Before I ever held him, his life was a flow chart of life-saving protocols. I cut my parenting teeth in the medical world. And yet, tonight, in the ER, I squeeze back a few tears, tears that feel like that mix of gratitude and fear that’s been stalking me since I gave birth seven years ago.
Dr. Paine is kind and disarming with Col. He has Col walk a straight line and touch his chin to his chest. He asks many questions, and when it’s revealed that Col has been earnestly practicing the art of headstands, all the buzzers go off on the game show, “guess the cause of that ailment!”
The doctor, in a very doctorly way, doesn’t rule out all the other possibilities (dehydration, overheating, sinus infection), but, having seen Col turned upside down all week like a fallen ice cream cone, I know we’ve got the winning answer.
I am flooded with gratitude for having health insurance despite Col’s pre-existing condition; for the kindness in our small town; for the luckiness of holding for another day that winning lottery ticket called good health.