When you have children, and they get sick, you err on the side of caution. Always. Or at least we do. And we will continue to do so until we are dead and buried.
Gabrielle has been living with a low-grade fever and a dry cough since Saturday when, yesterday (Monday) her fever spiked and her cough turned mean.
That grouchy, wet cough that sounds like you've backed over seal. Her nose began running a lot more, her mood turned sour, and she didn't eat much.
After going to bed, she tossed and turned and refused to sleep by herself. She would wake up every half hour crying and coughing and gagging. Then, at 1 a.m., I woke up sweating and realized she was so hot she was giving ME a fever.
For the number of children we share between us, Corrine and I have 62 years of collective experience. I'm not naive. Take that number and multiply by two for Corrine (or any mother, for that matter) and you have a more accurate accounting. Moms nurse the sick more than Dads, that's just a universal truth.
The point is, however, that even with the number of children we have, and the numerous times we've dealt with various types of colds, flus, fevers, vomiting episodes, lethargy and colds in our lives, there's always that doubt when it happens again.
You sit up in bed, it's dark in the room, and your child is so hot that she acts intoxicated. You just know that if you go to the E.R. they're going to tell you to pound sand. There's nothing really they can do.
But you also, in those moments, recall the stories shared by friends, relatives, acquaintances or you've read about in the grocery store tabloids about kids who just seemed to have a fever and that was it, but who ended up far worse.
My personal memory file cabinet always slides open to Jim Henson, Kermit's father, who thought he just had a really bad flu and it turned out to be pneumonia. He ended up dying.
And there's always that newspaper headline that pops up in your head that reads "Most Emergency Room Visits a Waste of Time, Drives up Insurance Costs"
The subtext being something about parents overreacting to every kid sniffle.
Corrine is probably the most adept at handling kid sicknesses. She was a nurse, once, and also worked in (I think) radiology. Don't quote me. My point is, she's seen a lot of sick folks. And I've never known anyone with quite her encyclopedic knowledge of rash, cut, bruise, cold, flu, bump, or hair loss remedies.
So when she's on the fence about something, then the caution flag goes up in my head.
So I took Gabrielle to the E.R. at 1:30, knowing that E.R.s are the only places that have waiting lines when there's no one there.
We actually got in fairly swiftly. But still didn't leave for another 4 hours.
Gabrielle, who is a girl, in case you missed it, was referred to as "Gabriel" right off the bat.
To us, her parents, that's like calling Marie "Mike" or Donald "Debbie."
But I digress.
Gabrielle, with very little experience with doctors under her young belt, got the full assault.
She was forced to wear this plastic sandwich bag device that they place on children when they need a urine sample. Okay, bear with me and I will explain this thing. Think of a clear plastic freezer bag. Remove the zip lock and replace it with Scotch Tape on the inside edge of the opening. Then stick that to your child's crotch.
It's effective, to be sure, but not until your child, who is potty trained, understands that it's now okay to pee while not sitting on porcelain.
"I gotta go peeeeeee!"
"'Kay, just go"
And she would try to jump off the examining room table to actually GO to the bathroom.
"No, stay here. Pee in your diaper."
And she would give me the "Dad, you need a drug intervention" look.
All I could think was that the nurse was undoing months of training by traumatizing her with the plastic sticky crotch bag. (Which, incidentally, is a name I secretly assigned to one of the nurses. You'll know which one soon. Keep reading)
Gabrielle then needed a chest X-ray. Her first. That, thank Christ, went okay. I told her that she was having her pictures taken. I just know that somehow that's going to come back to haunt me. Like, now when she has her school pictures taken, she'll strip to her panties and expect the Iron Man steel plated vest they put in her lap to protect her from scrambling her internal girl parts.
Blood was drawn next.
This. Was. Hell.
The nurses marched into the exam room in a single formation carrying battlefield equipment. One nurse tied a rubber tourniquet around her bicep, making sure to pinch a pound of skin while doing it. The other nurse grabbed her by the elbow and shoulder while her fellow torturer swabbed a spot on her arm with turpentine or tree pitch or sewage. Not really sure what that was.
Then, pretending to be gentle, she inserted a needle into my 2-year-old's arm and proceeded to "try to find the little bugger" which I assume is med school vernacular for "vein." I knew I should have finished college.
Either way, they could never find the "little bugger" - I think I'm spelling that correctly - but not from a lack of trying. I mean, I could SEE the needle moving beneath her skin, in search of the "little bugger" (so THIS is Latin?) and it looked like something from one of the Mummy movies.
They gave up on that arm.
And moved to the OTHER arm. The same damn sequence. And again, to no avail.
Have you ever heard your child scream in terror? Not whining. Not "I bumped my head on the table" crying. Not "There's a monster in my closet" screaming.
Bloody. Freakin. Jami Lee Curtis in "Halloween" terror?
Legs kicking, mouth wide open, eyes closed, tears pooling in the folds of her neck, which has turned purple from the strain.
I'm telling you, had Corrine gone (she stayed home because she is breastfeeding Griffin -WHO IS ALSO SICK) she would have turned the hospital into a parking lot. That fierce, nuclear bomb-like explosive reaction would have leveled everything in northern New England.
When the sadists left, they had finally found "the little bugger" in my daughter's hand. Leaving her looking like a heroin junky with all the bruising.
And then the wait. The infernal, staring at the same leaf-patterned curtain, listening to the old urine-smelling man down the hall yell about his Aunt Gloria's roses, smelling the hospital antiseptic/sick-people smell kind of wait.
Gabrielle, when she had come out of her trauma-induced, coma, wiled away the hours playing with my wallet and asking me "Is the doctor mad?"
"No, honey. The doctor is not mad. He is happy to make you feel better. The nurse is a Nazi. Stay away from her."
"Right on, little lady."
"Can we go home now?"
"Sorry. We have to wait a little longer."
And then she would resign herself to putting on the latex-free gloves the doctor had "gifted" to her (cha-ching!!) and play pretend some more with her toy stuffed buffalo.
"Okay. Hold still. This. Won't. Hurt. A little. Bit. Ouch! Oh, are you 'kay?"
So, our fears were assuaged after all. The doctor, after his computer solitaire tournament was over, finally came over and said she merely had a common "three out of five children get this" viral thing.
Yes, I felt relief. Despite the hassle of waiting, I knew it was going to be this way. It always does. And regardless of the feelings of inadequacy (E.R. doctors just have a way of making you remember your 1.2 college GPA don't they??) as a parent, I do not regret taking her.
And when I told Gabrielle it was time to finally go home, she beamed.
"I love you, Andrew," she said.