When my son, Dexter, was just under a year old, he got sick. A high fever and obvious pain led us to take him to the Emergency Room. He’d had a couple of seizures due to his fever, and when I related this to the nurse on duty, she had me in tears with her judgmental accusations because I hadn’t called an ambulance for him. For hours, I felt like the world’s worst mother until the doctor explained that what we thought were seizures were actually minor “rigors” due to his body temperature trying to regulate itself. She was incredibly comforting. When she diagnosed him with tonsillitis, she sent us home with care instructions and advice to just keep doing what we were doing. It was my first experience of the ER as a parent, and it stuck with me.
We have been very lucky since then. Though we have had a few trips to Urgent Care through the years, we’ve been able to avoid the ER. Until a few months ago. With three very young boys in the house, I’ve always known it was just a matter of time until they did something that would necessitate emergency intervention. I fear the day they climb too high or fall too far or just have an accident that would result in stitches or a broken bone. But nothing prepared me for the day I walked down the stairs and saw pills… everywhere.
My two older sons had gone into our bedroom and found a stash of vitamins and painkillers. They had managed to get past the babyproof caps (a misnomer if I’ve ever heard one!) and opened four separate bottles! Between them they ate the entire bottle of gummy vitamins because they thought they were candy! They also got into bottles of biotin, magnesium supplements and most worryingly of all, candy-coated ASPIRIN!
I was frantic. I was terrified. I called my husband to come home immediately so we could take them to the Emergency Room. As we waited, I cried and worried, and when he wasn’t home in five minutes, I even considered calling an ambulance. I had no way of knowing how many pills they’d eaten or what it may do to them. I was out of my mind with worry.
When we got to the ER, the staff was very calm and collected. They spoke to us about worst case scenarios and let us know exactly what was going to happen before they did it. We had thankfully collected all of the pill bottles and remaining pills so that we could figure out how many they MIGHT have eaten. The only thing truly concerning to the doctors was the aspirin, and the only way to deal with it was for them to test the kids’ blood and then have them drink some activated charcoal to soak up any of the poisons.
The reassurance we received from the doctor that day, and the fact that he stayed so calm throughout was something I can’t forget. I went into that room convinced my kids were about to die slow and agonizing deaths (an overreaction to be sure, but as a mom you tend to get that way) and within minutes, I was calm enough to find the whole situation kind of funny. Incredibly, my boys thought it was the most fun they’d had in ages. Even having to have blood drawn and drink an icky drink, they were having the time of their lives.
Our story ended well, thankfully. The blood results showed very little of concern, and the doctor said the only real thing to worry about is that they might have some gross poo for the next few days. He reminded us to lock up our medicines and keep them out of reach of little hands. There was no judgement there – he simply was doing his job as a doctor, which was to give us the best care and advice he could.
Children’s ERs see the highest volume among ages 0 – 4 years. When a child is taken to the ER, it is the whole family who is affected. While the remedy goes to the child, it is also the parents and other family members who are being treated, as well. In both of my ER experiences, everything ended well and proper care was given. But that very first experience brought me so low because of the nurse’s lack of empathy and kindness.
My love for my kids is extraordinary. There is nothing like the connection a mother has with her child/ren. I would never knowingly put them in harm’s way, and I do my best for them every single day. We all do. When we ask for outside help, like taking them to the hospital, we rely on the human connection to help us through it. Doctors and nurses who use communication, empathy and kindness to help the whole family are the difference between a good experience and a bad one.
Dignity Health has a Children’s ER in Las Vegas, with a new, expanded space opening this fall. They provide 24/7/365 Pediatric Emergency Medical Physicians that specialize in helping children. They are devoted to compassion and quality care to make your ER experience as stress-free as possible. Kids have their own special needs that need to be addressed, and Dignity Health offers collaborative care with your family pediatrician.
Tell me about a time you have had to take your child to the ER. How did you feel? What was the outcome? Do you think the doctors were comforting and compassionate?