As I sit down to write this post, I’ve gone back and forth on whether or not I want to share this experience. On the one hand, it was very scary and therefore feels incredibly personal. On the other, it’s all I can think about.
We made our inaugural visit to the Emergency Room with the Little Monkey on Thanksgiving night. Veteran parents have told me this is a rite of passage, but it was one I was far less happy to embrace than, say, being peed on or having a sleepless night.
On Thanksgiving Day, the Little Monkey was his usual happy self. He charmed his great-grandmother, sampled a little turkey, and posed for photos. Towards the end of the meal, I kissed the top of his head and thought he felt warm. I didn’t think I’d been a mom long enough to have those fever-detecting lips that they all have. He was in good spirits and seemed fine so I didn’t take his temperature. Later, he went down to bed early, a little cranky, but that was nothing that missing his afternoon nap couldn’t explain. We changed into our pajamas and settled in front of the TV, planning on bed by nine to sleep off our big meal.
Two hours later, the Little Monkey woke up screaming. As soon as I touched him I could feel how hot he was. He was flushed, sobbing, and inconsolable. When I took his temperature, the display read 103.5. My husband and I thought that was far too high; we agreed to take it with another thermometer. While we looked for it, we talked about our options. It was 8:30 at night on a holiday, if we needed medical attention it would be the hospital or nothing. But, we assured ourselves, the thermometer was wrong and once we confirmed that all would be fine. While I went into the bathroom to find the Tylenol, assuring myself that was the only help we’d need, my husband took the Little Monkey’s temperature again. I heard him say, “OK, get dressed, we’re going to the hospital.”
Stay calm, I kept telling myself, as I pulled on clothes, found the Little Monkey’s jacket, and confirmed his insurance card was in my purse. Stay calm, we said to each other as we threw some favorite toys in the diaper bag, called the pediatrician to tell them we were headed in the hospital, and snapped the baby into his carseat. We headed out the door and arrived at the hospital.
If he had the same fever and we were going to the doctor’s office, I think I would have been far less scared. But something about the late night car trip and the sight of the baby in his coat over his footie pajamas made the situation feel so much more highly charged. I imagined all the terrible things this could mean and struggled not to freak out.
We rushed into the Emergency Room and to the front desk. The very kind woman who took our information down misheard me when I said the Little Monkey’s date of birth.
“2009?” she said.
“No, 2013. He’s only 9 months old. He’s a baby… ” was all I could say before I started crying. She stood up behind her desk and grabbed my hand.
“Don’t get upset,” she said, “because he’ll pick up on it. You need to stay calm for him.” She was right about that, of course, and over the next couple of hours I tried hard to maintain my composure and keep from crying. This was not easy.
They did take us back into intake almost immediately. They took his temperature, which had gone down a bit from the Tylenol, and all of his vitals. They asked us a million questions about his (very short) medical history. Then we were led to a cot. I could hear a man from behind a curtain with a hacking cough, and all I could wonder was if one of us was going to catch something even worse than whatever the Little Monkey already had. They’d brought the Little Monkey a stuffed toy, and lots of people who walked by smiled at him (he does look pretty cute in his footie pajamas) but nobody came to see him besides the billing coordinator who took down our insurance information. All I wanted was to see someone in a white coat. All I wanted was for someone – the intake person, the billing coordinator, even the guy with the cough – to tell me the Little Monkey was going to be OK.
Finally, a physician’s assistant arrived. He made me feel better immediately when he told us he had a one year old at home. He examined the Little Monkey and diagnosed him with the very non-emergency problem of an ear infection. We were sent home with a recommendation to try Advil for the fever, a prescription for Amoxicillin, and reassurances that we had done the right thing in bringing him in. We arrived home by 11 and put the Little Monkey to bed.
A couple days later, many temperatures taken, clothes stained pink with spots of medicine, and hours of sleep lost as the Little Monkey’s fever and happiness fluctuates, I am still reliving those two short hours spent in the ER. I am terrified when I think of the potential diagnoses we could have received, beyond relieved that it was something easy to treat, and once again, amazed by how vulnerable having children makes us, like turtles without their shells.