Her mom brought her into the Emergency Room. They’d driven for 45 minutes, braving the snow, the icy roads, the darkening sky. And it was “rush hour” when they arrived—the waiting room crammed, beds full, almost shift change.
They waited over an hour in the waiting room. And then another 20 minutes in Room #9.
The nurse told me they were ready. And so, in usual routine, I grabbed the chart & headed toward the hanging curtain covering the mystery inside Room #9.
I prepped myself for the worst, as I always do in the ER. A bloody laceration? Motor Vehicle Accident? Head contusion? Compound fracture? Drug intoxication? Anaphylaxis?
With a pitter in my heart & a patter to my step, I walked toward the curtain. Anxious at what awesome medical mystery might behold m e…
And then I heard it.
Just three steps shy of the hanging divider, my hopes of awesomeness fell & shattered on the tile floor.
The squeal was unmistakable: a giggly child.
I pulled back the curtain, let out a silent, “hurumph!!” of exasperation & started my exam.
Lungs clear. No cough.
Neuro exam normal.
Bowel sounds present.
As so I told them something I probably shouldn’t have. Which is really why I thought of them today as I walked past the full waiting room outside the ER. The waiting room filled with a echoes of coughs, a handful of grunts, faces covered in masks, and one smiling woman with, you guessed it: a giggling little girl.
The words just came. Uncontrollably, almost.
And 10 months ago on a snowy December night in the ER, I told her to please not come back. To not come back, especially with her little girl; her barely sick, still eating, sleeping, & giggling little girl. I told her about the man around the corner with pneumonia, about the woman with the five MRSA abscesses we’d just drained in the room next door. I told her about the dying woman who couldn’t breathe, & the coughing man with end-stage emphysema.
And I told her this was an EMERGENCY ROOM. An ER where people died, where we saw blood & stool & vomit on a daily basis. An ER where we sewed fingers back on, where we sent 360 Joules of electricity through people’s bodies to bring their hearts back to life, where we dealt with trauma & tragedy.
An ER where she didn’t need to be.
She tried to smile.
I tried to smile back.
And then I walked out. A code blue was coming via ambulance and I wanted to see some real medicine, medicine that actually belonged in the ER.
That squealing little girl and her waiting Mommy visited the ER 10 months ago. They were getting ready to visit again today. And that same little girl & her Mommy will show their faces, voice their concerns, & expect to be cared for at every ER across the country later tonight, tomorrow morning, next week, three months from now…
I’ve heard other stories, too. Stories of brand new parents calling the ambulance in eight inches of new-fallen snow from a far-away location because their two-week-old baby had a runny nose. Stories of elderly women wearing nightgowns & curlers visiting in the early morning for a toenail trim. And even stories of farmers with belly aches because of the salsa they had for dinner.
We are blessed here in America. Blessed to have vaccinations, clean water, sterile needles, & ambulances available when we need them. We’re lucky to have hospitals, contact precautions, & operating rooms stocked with modern technology & highly trained physicians. And most of us are fortunate enough to have a slew of specialists at our fingertips: cardiologists, radiologists, gynecologists, gastroenterologists, urologists, neurologists…the list goes on.
In all our great fortune, our luck, our blessedness; in the midst of those shiny surgical instruments & new hospital blueprints, I want to believe that we’ve lost something.
Our perspective, perhaps?
Our gratitude, maybe?
Even our selflessness.
The night that red-throat giggly came in we had TWO code blue’s. BOTH patients died. The rooms were packed with people needing real medical attention—and needing it FAST. Emergencies truly did walk through the door that night…as they do every night.
But that red throat didn’t need 360 Joules of electricity sent through her body. She didn’t need a shot of epinephrine to open a closing airway or a set of sutures to stitch an open wound. Her visit didn’t require antibiotics or imaging, not even overnight hospital observation.
And truly, red-throat could have waited another 10 hours for the clinician’s office to open. She probably could have waited another 48 hours, 5 days, 2 weeks to see if the redness went away on its own.
But red-throat visited that night.
And she visited today, too.
And she’ll probably visit again tomorrow.
Not because Mommy was overly concerned. Not because she realized the gravity of bringing her eating, sleeping, giggling child into the petre dish of germs that floated in the air of the hospital halls. Not because it was anything but a routine virus that affects almost every child during every winter season.
But because it was convenient.
So I ask YOU: what have you lost in the battle of the newest, shiniest, most specialized treatment available? Perspective? Selflessness? Patience? Reassurance that your body can largely heal itself?
**This is NOT written as medical advice. Personal discretion should be used in individual situations where a visit to your Physician or local Emergency Room may be necessary. The author is not responsible for any consequences that may occur as a result of not visiting the ER.