|© Jonathan Weiss|
My 4-year-old son went to the ER Monday night.
For the preceding couple of days, he had been refusing to bear any weight on his left leg. I thought maybe he had pulled a muscle, so I took him to a pediatrician Monday evening to get him checked out. The pediatrician couldn't pinpoint a problem and said that due to his complicated medical history, we should go directly to the ER at Boston Children's Hospital, where he could be seen by specialists.
We arrived at the ER around 7 p.m.
It. Was. PACKED.
I gave the triage nurse my son's information, and then we waited for his name to be called. My husband arrived, and we waited some more.
While we waited, two clowns did a little act, and the couple sitting next to us chatted with the strangers sitting across from them. Babies were called back to see a doctor. A child with a feeding tube was called back, too.
And we waited.
Young children sat next to their parents in chairs or on benches. Most seemed happy, if not bored. They played with their toy computers or talked with their parents or stared transfixed at the bubble wall. My son watched cartoons on the big TV mounted on the ceiling and looked out the window at cars and people going by. People who arrived after we did were called back.
And we waited.
At one point, my husband said to me, "How do you think this compares to the ER at Johns Hopkins?" (We lived near Johns Hopkins Hospital until our son was 20 months old.)
I said, "Well, we only went there once, and that's when Oliver was a baby. He was seen right away because he was having a shunt malfunction."
(He has a surgically implanted shunt in his head that allows excess fluid to drain to his abdomen. The shunt got blocked—i.e., malfunctioned—and he had to have emergency neurosurgery.)
I added, "We never had to wait this long at the ER in the Netherlands either." In the Netherlands, where we lived for 3 years until recently, our ER experiences were almost always quite urgent: Oliver would have seizures that we couldn't stop with his back-up meds and that required extra medication.
This waiting thing was new to me. I'm so used to taking my son to the ER and being immediately rushed to a patient room.
It suddenly occurred to me that this time, my son wasn't the most vulnerable patient. He wasn't an infant, he wasn't seizing, he wasn't in any noticeable pain. He wasn't the patient who needed medical care the most, and for that, I felt immense gratitude.
We were waiting because we were lucky.
Finally, after about 4 hours of waiting, we were called back. There were no rooms left in the ER, so we were led to a patient bed in hallway #7.
The medical staff ran some tests, including hip x-rays and blood work. Long story short: they didn't find anything wrong with my son's left leg or hip. The doctor suspected that his unwillingness to bear weight on that leg was due to a temporary gastrointestinal issue and that he'd be walking again within a couple of days.
Sure enough, today he's walking.
It was worth the wait.