Where my family went yesterday
My Fellow Inebriates,
Usually my parents do my typing, but for a change I’m going to chronicle what happened to them yesterday. I’m going to pretend I was there, even though I’ve learned this whole story after the fact, and even if I spent the day all alone trying to pry a near-empty Malibu bottle open.
Miss P wakes up after an epic night of vomiting. Radiantly happy—her default mode—she learns she has the day off school and prepares to wax some Batman villains on the XBOX.
Miss V wakes up after an epic night of sleeping through her sister’s retching. Despite ten solid hours of zzzzzzzzz she is grumpy—her default mode—but scampers downstairs to demand “something” to eat, refuses a dozen breakfast suggestions, and heads into the living room to sulk beside P and challenge her for control of the TV. And then V’s tummy starts hurting.
The tummy ache is suddenly acute. V announces she will produce the pee sample requested at the clinic the day before. Without so much as a stray splash she fills the jar all by herself and hands it over, sealed and dry. (This blows my mum’s mind. It took her a full pregnancy to learn how to aim in a cup.) Mum packs the kids off to the clinic along with the pee. Standard one-hour wait followed by another half-hour wait in the examining room.
V has already taken three antibiotic doses for the bladder infection suspected by yesterday’s doctor, who had no pee by which to check. Today’s pee sample turns up minimal microbes, however, and the clinic doc du jour advises blood work and pictures. He tells Mum to take V to Langley Memorial emergency. The clinic faxes her chart to the hospital, which falsely suggests to my mother that things will go smoothly.
Mum dumps the stroller at home and visits Translink Trip Planner. Realizing it will take two buses and a one-kilometre walk to get the kids to emergency, she calls a cab. This is a big novelty, especially because car seats are not required.* The cabbie is so hot to drive that he takes off before anyone is belted in.
Emergency is packed. Although staff members are pleasant, no one will provide a wait-time estimate. In fact, signs everywhere declare that wait-times are unknown, that first-come-first-serve does not apply, and that priority rules. Even if you are front of the line your complaint may easily be trumped by an arriving ambulance. V gets registered and braceleted.
Triage. Mum takes V to the wrong window and gets snarked at by someone who calls herself “just a clerk.” She modifies her inquiry—Is there a Tim Horton’s in the hospital somewhere? Apparently there isn’t. This is one dinky old little hospital.
V protests but eventually submits to a temperature and BP check. Her heart is going 120 bpm; the kid is stressed by the whole situation. Despite being very nice, the triage nurse cannot provide information. She says the wait might be hours.
Amazingly my mum finds three empty seats.
The woman who came in right before V has appendicitis; she’s pacing the waiting room to get her mind off it. You can’t swing a cat for all the patients plus their oxygen tanks, walkers, wheelchairs and whatnot. If everyone had known they’d be there all day you’d be dodging picnic baskets as well.
One bathroom serves the whole lot—mismatched taps, worn floor, detached toilet roll. V has a new sample cup to fill, but she balks; she is fastidious about bathrooms.
People get called and new people come in. The room is even more packed now. The woman with appendicitis is talkative; as she chats people up, their ailments become shared knowledge.
Miss P starts to look flushed and hot. She is bored and tired. V wants to know when…when…when….
An older guy who hasn’t been looking too hot gets called. Apparently his wait has been epic—people clap when he gets up. My mum claps reflexively. People are bonding here. They’ve been together that long.
As P lies down for a feverish snooze and V climbs over/under everything, stopping periodically when her tummy gives her a pang, still more people arrive. Someone comments that you could pass out here and no one would help. The only distraction is an old CRT screen displaying (thoughtfully) Treehouse TV with no sound. A scattering of magazines fails to appeal, certainly because of the titles (Reader’s Digest, anyone?) and probably because they’re getting handled by the sick. My mum picks up Woman’s World for the first time in her life. Across from her a man is thumbing through O magazine, but getting that next is out of the question—he’s licking his finger to turn pages, in this filthy, germ-riddled place. The chatty appendicitis patient elicits from him that he has a heart complaint, but within the hour he gives up waiting and goes home.
A woman sitting nearby asks my mum if the kids would like to play with some of her wet wipes. Struggling to think of an imaginative game that would involve wet wipes, my mum declines, pointing to her own stash of conveniently packaged wet playthings.
My mother defies the ubiquitous warnings and asks what the expected wait time is. Naively, she’s brought nothing but crackers and juice. Maybe it’s fortunate the girls have no appetite, because the triage nurse advises her against leaving. There’s just no way of knowing whether their turn is hours away or right away.
P’s fever jacks up as she dozes on and off. V, who has wanted to leave for three hours, becomes more insistent. Although the waiting room is thinning out, which allows P a full couch to spread out on, it’s obviously prime time for after-school injuries: one teenage boy after another reports with jutting bones, teeth out, bad sidewalk impacts. All these leapfrog V in priority.
A volunteer appears with coloring books and crayons. Imagine! my mother thinks, if we’d known about these five hours ago. The volunteer works the room, commiserating. It seems this is a day in the life for Langley Memorial’s ER. Someone remarks to my mother that a 12-hour wait wouldn’t be unusual. V says her tummy hurts, then it doesn’t, then it does. She wants to go home. She wants a drink, but not an available drink. Mum caves and pours all her coins into a machine for water (which V rejects), then potato chips of V’s insistent choice (which she rejects). More bleeding teenagers arrive, trumping her with open gashes and split faces.
P’s fever ratchets up and Mum adds her to the triage list, wondering if she’ll be shunted to last in line or included. Thankfully she gets to bounce to the front of the line with her sister. Apparently the girls are next.
Apparently the girls are next.
Apparently the girls are next.
My dad arrives with half a box of Timbits. Fellow waiting-room denizens are by this time commenting on the girls’ patience and good behavior—they can’t believe there hasn’t been a meltdown yet. The girls are too tired.
Cue angelsong/godrays here; the ER door opens and the girls are called in to a bed. P immediately sprawls across it, hot and shivering in her jacket. V sets about injuring herself, climbing and jumping over the bed. Her tummy ache is in abeyance, and Daddy is here, which signals playtime. She makes a jungle gym of him and the bed until finally she scratches herself on a bed corner, which freaks him out because of those crazy superbugs you find at hospitals. He gives her his phone.
No next steps are explicated. The family is occupying a stall. Nurses and orderlies pass but no one makes eye contact. Next door the kid who got his teeth knocked out is being treated. His friend looks just like Jonah Hill. P sleeps while V continues her bid to really get admitted. She’s punchy now, bouncing from bed to Dad to bed and back, squealing with delight. Every time she seems too happy, my morose mother asks her about her tummy. V usually says it hurts. Every once in a while she winces with the hurt. In between those times she bounces.
The kid next door has been patched up. Maybe the girls are next. When my mum dares to ask, she learns that this is just the medium-priority ER ward. There is another much more urgent area for the (two?) doctors to attend to. Two hours’ wait probably, guesses the person my mother guesses is a nurse.
V loses it. She has been waiting in various places for almost 12 hours. She has taken three successively more uncomfortable shits in unfamiliar toilets. The last one hurt. She howls and howls. She is done. She howls directly beside her sister, too deeply asleep to notice. And my mum is done. She lets V scream, hoping it will penetrate someone’s consciousness. She goes on the prowl, looking for somebody to help right now. And finally, a doctor with the longest name anybody ever pronounced comes over, smiles, and says they’re next.
But first he has another patient to see.
Meanwhile Mum wakes P and takes her to the grotty-looking bathroom, where P sprays the whole room including Mum’s coat and luckily the cup itself with urine. By the time the pee is in the cup the doctor has diagnosed V’s problem: distended bowel, causing stool to build up without ever fully evacuating. The problem has probably been building for months. It’s not a big deal—the doctor’s own daughter had this problem when she was little too. She just needs a stool-softening prescription, which can’t be bought tonight because it is almost
P’s pee is at the lab. The doctor says he’ll phone with the results. (And he does, later! Urinary-tract infection, and he’s phoning in a prescription for next-day pick-up.)
To think Dad considered buying only a couple of hours’ parking. Luckily he spent the extra two bucks for longer-term parking.
The whole family is in the car at last. It’s a ten-minute drive home this late at night.
It feels so good to be out of that crappy hospital. My mum says she hopes that ER doctor makes a million dollars a year.
Dad pulls hard over to the shoulder. V is throwing up all over herself. Car sickness? Another bug?
Perhaps she’ll be in a waiting room again tomorrow.
I got my family back. Everyone is asleep.
(But if you’re probably wondering if I ever got the Malibu open, no, I didn’t.)
(More importantly, V didn’t barf again. She’s feeling fine and has her new prescription.)