If the emergency room at Rivergate wasn’t completely empty, I’d feel a little sheepish, bringing in Col, my 7-year-old son, who skips alongside me noting proudly, “this is the latest I’ve ever been at the hospital!”
Col’s has a headache on and off for 2 days. The on-call pediatric nurse, after assessing our answers to her battery of questions, announced that the protocol for children with headaches and neck pain, who had also been feeling dizzy and nauseous, was to go straight to the ER.
It seems a little over the top – heading out to the emergency room when we were just closing in on bedtime – but, it’s not like Col to complain about physical discomfort. His sister, Rose, delivers up-to-the minute reports on her physical and emotional weather systems, while Col, like his dad, is primarily a man of action.
A nurse takes Col’s vitals and tells us that Dr. Paine will be in shortly.
“Ha! You get to see Dr. Paine!” I shriek. “I hope it’s not pain-ful.” Because really, it’s never too soon to teach a 7-year-old the joys of irony.
It’s a rare pleasure to spend time alone with my oldest child, even here. And though the ER is deserted, we wait just long enough to play a knee-slapping round of rock, paper, scissors while my mind samples crazy words like brain tumor.
“How’s your headache now?” I ask my son, his muddy shoes scuffing the white sheets on the hospital bed.
“It still hurts a little. Now lets play: you try and slap my hand before I pull it away,” he says.
Col was born extremely premature and spent his first four months in the Neonatal ICU in Denver. Minutes after birth, he was given synthetic surfactant, a medicine that prevents the alveoli of the lungs from collapsing. Before I ever held him, his life was a flow chart of life-saving protocols. I cut my parenting teeth in the medical world. And yet, tonight, in the ER, I squeeze back a few tears seeing my small son on that large bed, tears that feel a little like gratitude and a little like fear.
Dr. Paine is kind and disarming with Col. He has Col walk a straight line and touch his chin to his chest. He asks many questions, and when it’s revealed that Col has been earnestly practicing the art of headstands, all the buzzers go off on the game show, “guess the cause of that ailment!”
The doctor, in a very doctorly way, doesn’t rule out all the other possibilities (dehydration, overheating, sinus infection), but, having seen Col turned upside down all week like a fallen ice cream cone, I know we’ve got the winning answer.
I am flooded with gratitude for having health insurance despite Col’s pre-existing condition; for the kindness in this small town; for the luckiness of having – but not needing – good medical care and for another day of good health.
Reach Rachel Turiel at firstname.lastname@example.org.Visit her blog, 6512 and growing, on raising children, chickens and other messy, rewarding endeavors at 6,512 feet.