I have a three-year-old son. You know that saying that a little boy is just noise with dirt on it? Yep, that is our Liam. A couple nights ago, around 10:30pm, when he should have been asleep, Liam fell over the guard rail of his sister’s top bunk bed. I heard the thud from the next room and knew immediately what had happened. I ran in to find him face down on the floor. I picked him up, just as he was catching his breath to launch a full-fledged protest against gravity. I was relieved when he began kicking and screaming. Thank you, God, that my son is awake and able to move all his arms and legs.
I sat down on the sofa to examine him. He was still screaming; telling gravity where to go. The top of his ear was bleeding. I asked my oldest daughter to bring me a wet washcloth and to find my cell phone. She obeyed quickly. As I cleaned his ear and examined his head and hand (which were already beginning to bruise), I asked her to call my husband, Ben, who is an EMT. He ran me through the list of what I needed to check:
Nothing broken? Check.
Eyes equal and reactive? Check.
Cut on his ear? Minor.
Lethargic? Definitely not.
He told me to give him some baby ibuprofen. As long as Liam was alert (he was still screaming), I was simply to comfort him. It would be alright to allow him to fall asleep as long as I woke him in an hour to make sure he could still be roused easily. Check.
Liam slept fitfully next to me in bed that night. He complained that his head, ear and hand hurt. Thank you, God, that he isn’t showing any signs of lethargy. The next morning, while Ben was fixing the kids’ breakfast, Liam threw up. We thought maybe it was because he drank a lot of juice on an empty stomach. He wasn’t showing any other signs of a concussion, so we didn’t think it was necessary to take him to the doctor. In the afternoon, he napped twice and was uncharacteristically mellow, but otherwise normal. Right before dinner, he vomited again. Ben called our Physician Assistant friend to consult. We wanted to make sure we were not being paranoid. We weren’t.
Only moments after I carried Liam into the ER waiting room, he threw up again. Thank you, God, that this happened in a hospital and not in our car. I raced him over to a garbage bin and held him until he was finished. The floor, the garbage receptacle, he and I were all covered in vomit. The lady at the admissions desk called cheerfully over to me,
“Are you here for the emergency room?”
I affirmed that we were as I began pulling wet wipes from my bag and cleaning Liam’s face and hands.
“Flu-like symptoms?” she asked.
“No, he fell last night and hit his head.”
“Oh no. Poor dear. What is his date of birth?”
As I worked to remove my son’s soaked clothes and wipe puke out of my hair, a security guard brought us vomit receptacle and a towel. He apologized that he wasn’t fast enough. I laughed and thanked him. Then, another woman from admissions came out from behind the desk to bring me the paperwork, so that I didn’t have to choose between carrying Liam up to their desk or leaving him alone sitting on the chair. She was very polite. Everyone was. Housekeeping came to clean up the mess. The housekeeper was a woman in her fifties with a kind face. She spoke gently to Liam, “Oh, honey. I’m sorry you don’t feel well.” I asked if she has a garbage bag I could use to contain his wet pants, shoes and both our sweaters. “Of course. Let me give you two, just in case.” They called his name shortly after that. They charted his temperature, pulse, weight and height cheerfully before taking us to a private room. Everyone is very kind. Thank you, God, for people who are helpful and kind.
The nurse comes back to take his vitals again. She asks Liam what type of books he likes: animals. She comes back with a board book about lions: “That is yours to take home, Buddy.” Ten minutes after Liam takes the Zofran, he starts feeling better. Twenty minutes later, he is almost back to himself. He is laughing and talking again. The doctor pokes his head in, “How’s it going? Are you ready for a popsicle?” Liam answers exuberantly, “Yeah!!!” Thank you, God, that my son is improving. After Liam finishes his popsicle, he is running and jumping around the room. The doctor comes back to check Liam’s eyes and ears again, “Some kids present differently with concussions, so you made the right decision to bring him in. I think he is ok to go home, but if he gets worse: projectile vomits, acts drunk or lethargic, bring him back in. Otherwise, see your primary care doctor tomorrow.” He gives us a prescription for more Zofran and discharges us. Liam is almost back to his normal self again by now. We go home. Liam sleeps through the night and so do I. The next morning we check in with his primary care physician, and he is continuing to improve, despite having a probable minor concussion.
So there it is: a hospital story that will never make the news, that won’t be shared, that isn’t remarkable — because it happens all day
long, every single day. The truth is that the majority of healthcare providers do their job well, but that never makes the news. The only stories we hear about are that one in a million where that one doctor screws up, and it can make it easy to forget about the other 9,999,999. It can give us a false impression of the reality of health care in America — which isn’t perfect, but it isn’t half bad, either. I am thankful for the many excellent experiences we have had at various hospitals. As Liam put it, “The doctor fix me”, the nurses were caring and polite, and we are satisfied customers.