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Life and Death in the ER


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.

40 Comments to

“Life and Death in the ER”

  1. On February 20th, 2012 at 10:14 am Mayor Gia Says:

    Oh gosh. This totally triggers my death-fear. That feeling – thinking about how its that person (and one day your own) last everything. Ugh. I can’t.

  2. On February 20th, 2012 at 10:42 am Crystal Says:

    I went through that last year with my daughter. We tOok her in for fluids for a flu (that’s what her pediatrician and the health nurse said) and turned out it was a blood clot that stole half her small intestine. Took two weeks before she could go home and they were the longest two weeks of my life.

  3. On February 20th, 2012 at 10:57 am Your Aunt Becky Says:

    So, so, scary. SO scary. *shudders*

    Is she okay?

  4. On February 20th, 2012 at 10:44 am Paula Says:

    That reminds me of when my mother-in-law was in the ICU, and the patient in the room next to her had passed. We were witness to the body bag being unceremoniously wheeled from the room, and it was so cold and clinical. 🙁

    How is Alex doing today?

  5. On February 20th, 2012 at 10:57 am Your Aunt Becky Says:

    He’s really, really sick. A-typical pneumonia. Poor baby.

  6. On February 20th, 2012 at 10:49 am Halala Mama Says:

    Becky, how is Alex now?

  7. On February 20th, 2012 at 10:58 am Your Aunt Becky Says:

    Not a whole lot better. The fever has broken and we’re keeping the house at a nice balmy 75 for his poor lungs.

  8. On February 20th, 2012 at 11:43 am Halala Mama Says:

    Hang in there Alex! Is 75 at least good for Orchids? 😉

  9. On February 20th, 2012 at 11:06 am Kristin (@atyourcervix78) Says:

    Hope everything is well with the middle of the littlest now. *hugs* and love you. It’s sucks to be a knowing bystander.

  10. On February 20th, 2012 at 11:17 am Jayme Says:

    I went through this same thing when my daughter was 2. Pneumonia is so hard when they are that sick. I hope he is getting better. It really is so scary to think that one moment it could all end. I am worst case scenario sally. Whenever someone is sick or something happens to someone close to me I always think of the worst thing that could happen. I feel like I need to be prepared. I wonder how I do not have an ulcer.

  11. On February 21st, 2012 at 1:58 am Devan Says:

    I always say I have “worst case scenario brain”. If a one-in-gozillion chance exists, it’s probably going to happen to me or one of my kids. My brain conjurs up the craziest shit! I probably DO have an ulcer! (SEE???)

  12. On February 20th, 2012 at 11:22 am Ina jones Says:

    I spent last night in the ER with my five year old. Highest fever I have ever seen. Got up to 106. I was framing out. Pneumonia for my little as well. Fucking scary.

  13. On February 20th, 2012 at 11:26 am Grace Says:

    Oh poor baby! I’m so sorry Alex is so sick! And what a traumatic thing to have to see in the ER!

  14. On February 20th, 2012 at 11:28 am thepsychobabble Says:

    Poor baby:( It’s so hard to watch them be sick.

  15. On February 20th, 2012 at 11:40 am alfred lives here Says:

    Yikes… scary stuff. Sounds like you will take great care of him… best wishes for a speedy recovery!

  16. On February 20th, 2012 at 11:58 am Lori (aka Bubbe) Says:

    Glad you got to take him home. When my youngest was 16 months she had pneumonia and was hospitalized for a week. Longest week of my life. My first husband and I took turns at her bedside. Another parent told us not to leave her alone which made it even scarier! Hope Alex is better soon!

  17. On February 20th, 2012 at 12:41 pm Brett Minor Says:

    I hope he gets better soon.

  18. On February 20th, 2012 at 1:02 pm Kristin Says:

    Pneumonia is a real bitch. Poor you and poor Alex. Hope he starts feeling better soon.

    BTW, this was a truly beautifully written post.

  19. On February 20th, 2012 at 1:45 pm Luna Says:

    I hate the ER so much. SO MUCH. We spent Wednesday evening there, and then Thursday morning in Peds. What a nightmare. I’m still composing the Longest Blog Post Ever. My littlest has to go back this Wednesday for a colonoscopy. 🙁

    I hope Alex is feeling better!

  20. On February 20th, 2012 at 1:49 pm Chibi Jeebs Says:

    Oof, mah heart. You just perfectly described why even the THOUGHT of the hospital gives me chills (no, seriously: check out my goose bumps, dude).

    Hope Alex is kicking ass. <3

  21. On February 20th, 2012 at 2:13 pm amy Says:

    Thank you for this today. I needed a kick in the heart.

  22. On February 20th, 2012 at 2:49 pm red Says:

    Ouch. Rough weekend. Hope you are all doing better soon.

  23. On February 20th, 2012 at 3:36 pm Jeans Y Says:

    Poor thing – glad it’s something they can treat. Sending hugs your way.

  24. On February 20th, 2012 at 4:00 pm alaina Says:

    It’s overused, but entirely true…life is too short.

    Glad your son’s fever broke.

  25. On February 20th, 2012 at 4:22 pm Janis Says:

    I hope Alex gets well quickly!

    Your musings on death made me think about how, during the five months my best friend spent in the CCU, what she wanted–even more than a coke and a cheeseburger–was to be able to go for a walk outside. She was in no condition to just get out of her bed and walk. Finally, one day she got her wish. At least three hospital personnel (nurse, orderlies?) and several relatives accompanied her as she got wheeled down the hallways and in the elevator until she was outside! She was smiling in the photos. After that, she was free to leave this world, which she did the next morning. (I sincerely hope I haven’t been too much of a Debbie Downer here; I’ve been meaning to join the Band one of these days and tell her story.)

  26. On February 20th, 2012 at 4:25 pm Mommaexpat Says:

    Feel better soon Buddy. I hate hospitals.

  27. On February 20th, 2012 at 4:37 pm Heather Says:

    Sorry to hear Alex is sick. Waiting in the ER for any XRay to be read takes forever. Sorry to hear someone else was having an even worse day. It does give you pause to make sure we’re enjoying the life we have today.

  28. On February 20th, 2012 at 9:41 pm Audrey Says:

    God Bless you & Alex–and especially your prayers. Hope he’s better soon.

  29. On February 21st, 2012 at 12:00 am Sedge | noob-dad Says:

    In 5 weeks, I’ll be in the hospital with my son. Except this is one of the better reasons to be there – I’ll be meeting him for the first time. : )

    I’m so excited.

    Hope the boy feels better, and perhaps, better learns where babies come from? Ha

  30. On February 21st, 2012 at 1:31 am Abigail Says:

    Poor buddy. Sending him lots of happy thoughts for a quick recovery.

  31. On February 21st, 2012 at 2:03 am Devan Says:

    You have a truely caring, loving heart AB! I heart your heart. 🙂
    I hope Alex is better Stat!

  32. On February 21st, 2012 at 6:05 am Maggie Says:

    Poor Alex! Hope he feels a lot better soon. I too spent part of my weekend in Accident & Emergency waiting for an xray, thankfully to be told that my elbow isn’t broken, but I should probably aim to avoid falling over my own feet and landing on it on concrete again! This is a lovely and though provoking post AB, thank you 🙂

  33. On February 21st, 2012 at 9:30 am Triplezmom Says:

    Stop making me cry. Just stop.

    Hope Alex bounces back soon. Hugs.

  34. On February 21st, 2012 at 11:19 am Rachel Says:

    Shit, what is it with little kids and pneumonia this year? My two-year old was hospitalized last week for atypical pneumonia too. Longest 36 hours of my life. On the day we were finally approved for discharge, our release was held up due to the child in the next room needing airlift transport to a different (more-equipped for serious illness) hospital. I went from feeling annoyed and exhausted to feeling utterly grateful that while my girl was 6 lbs. lighter and covered in hives, she was on the road to recovery while another mom’s kid was fighting for his life.

    I hope Alex is better soon. Hang in there.

  35. On February 21st, 2012 at 1:59 pm Liz Says:

    I hope Alex heals up fast. I only ever had to take one of my babies to the ER once, for lab work, and we left without having the work done because they were too backed up and we already knew what she had (and had the cure from the doctor).

    I had to go check myself into the ER for the first time ever last week – seriously – because that’s where my new family doctor has all of his blood draws done. I was a little freaked out. Hell of a Valentine’s Day. Now I have a lovely diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis, and I’m not even 40! I went in for a sinus headache and came out with stinking arthritis. At least the steroids made the headache go away.

  36. On February 21st, 2012 at 2:17 pm Marta Says:

    Hopefully the pneumonia will be short lived. My number one greatest fear is death. And my number one magical wish (other than more wishes) would be to live forever. My husband says I’m crazy but I 100% have my reasons.

  37. On February 22nd, 2012 at 12:08 am Zak Says:

    Oh mah heart.

    I hope he’s feeling oh so better.


  38. On February 22nd, 2012 at 8:55 am Becca Says:

    Get better Alex.
    Ugh. I HATE the ER.
    HATE it.
    We’ve got a punch card 😉

  39. On February 22nd, 2012 at 10:07 am alisha Says:

    i forgot you were a nurse, too. no matter how many of those trauma 2’s i work or live, i always feel just that way. sometimes, it’s the worst day of your life. xo. hope the kiddo’s all better.

  40. On February 22nd, 2012 at 2:19 pm leanne Says:

    Hope Alex is doing better! I think my daughter was having sympathy fevers/pneumonia — went to the doc on Monday and found she had a “touch” of pneumonia in one lung and the beginnings of an ear infection. Blech.

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