I took my eldest daughter to the emergency room the other night.
Suddenly in the middle of dinner, Alannah started grabbing her foot and howling that it was broken. It came out of nowhere, although she had complained of cramping earlier in the day. When I tried to massage it at the table (a manners faux pas for certain), she screamed even louder.
I told her to wash her hands and face, brush her teeth and go to bed. But before she even started changing her clothes, she started howling even louder.
I grabbed my coat and put on my shoes and said, “Well, Darling, I guess we have to go to the emergency room”. I was certain this would scare the howling out of her. But instead she got up on her good foot, and hopped down the stairs to get her coat.
“Okay”, she said between sobs.
Now you might think me heartless for not believing Alannah, but she’s not above faking an illness to get out of the next day’s school, especially when that next day is the first day back after a four day Easter weekend holiday.
So we hopped in the car and we drove to the hospital. Not a howl or even a whimper from Alannah sitting in the backseat. Instead she was talkative as Tiger’s baseball talk with Pat Caputo was on the radio.
I parked on the street – because it’s free and I am cheap. Alannah climbed out the car and started to hop to the Emergency Room down the street. I couldn’t see her hopping the whole way – although I was tempted to let her try – So I picked up her seventy pound frame and put her up on my shoulders.
I put her down as we entered the building. The attendant at the door – the guy predisposed to telling everyone to wash their hands before entering – pointed to a wheel chair in the corner that my again hopping daughter could use.
Then he told us to wash our hands.
Inside, the place was packed. The waiting room at this hospital is perpetually packed. So we took our seat and waited the twenty minutes or so to be seen by the triage nurse, then to get admitted at the registration table.
“What’s wrong sweetie?”, asked the Triage Nurse.
“My foot hurts”, said Alannah – simply stating what in her mind was a fact.
“Does this hurt?” asked the Triage Nurse as she squeezed and poked different parts of the foot.
“Ouch”, exclaimed Alannah, as calmly as an “ouch” can be exclaimed.
The Triage Nurse looked at me, and I simply raised an eyebrow in reply.
We found the only two seats left in the waiting room, very close to the cubical the Triage Nurse occupied. And we waited.
And we waited.
Alannah formed my coat into a pillow, and we waited. It was now midnight and Jimmy Kimmel was on the waiting room TV, although the sound too low to hear back in the corner we camped in.
And we waited.
After Jimmy Kimmel was over – and most of the same faces still waiting in the room, the traffic into the room picked up. Alannah woke up and started taking notice.
“Daddy, why is that man wearing a dress?”, she asked of a Shiite Muslim man wearing a turban and robes, and clearly not feeling well.
“Daddy, why is that baby crying so much?”, she asked of a newborn who appeared to me to simply have a bad case of colic.
Then, in came a mother with her seventeen year old daughter. The daughter was distant and clearly stoned and out of sorts as the mother was guiding her like one would guide a child who fell asleep on the couch to their bed. The girl was despondent and nearly incoherent.
From our location we could not help but hear the conversation. “
She took my pills!", exclaimed the Irritated Mother to the Triage Nurse.
The Despondent Daughter simply stared into space. She listed off what seemed like a list of narcotics and blood pressure medicine and sleeping pills.
The Triage Nurse became panicked and started yelling instructions to the already Irritated Mother, and time was wasted as they argued about who to call to bring the pill bottles from home, and why hadn’t the Irritated Mother thought to do so.
After the arguing – the Triage Nurse asked the Despondent Daughter why she had taken all these pills.
“Who cares”, replied the Despondent Daughter. “Because, I guess”.
In a few seconds more – two attendants rushed over with a gurney to rush the girl to an area called Poison Control to have her stomach pumped.
Alannah heard all this. And twice I subtly nudged her to look straight ahead instead of staring at the girl, who looked like the kind of girl that under different circumstances Alannah would have looked up to.
And then we waited some more.
Finally, Alannah’s name was called, and we were ushered into a second waiting room. Alone, I asked her what she thought about the Despondent Daughter’s predicament.
“She was dumb Dad”, she said. “I don’t get it”. Alannah was kind of shaken up by what she witnessed.
So we sat and had a conversation about how sometimes people try to hurt themselves thinking it will make others around them take notice. And that people do take notice, for all the wrong reasons, and that person is then looked upon differently. And that sometimes the person’s plan … backfires. They go to sleep and don’t wake up.
Alannah looked at me with big eyes. And she hugged me and I hugged her back.
A doctor came to see Alannah, looked at her foot and sent her away for x-rays. As we waited, Alannah was still and quiet. After another long wait the doctor returned.
The hands of the clock on the wall read 4:05 AM.
“Honey, there is nothing wrong with your foot”, said the doctor. “You can go home now”.
“Oh, that’s good”, said Alannah and she got up out of the wheel chair and started hopping down the isle.
I thanked the doctor – who reconfirmed to me that she really is fine. It could be growing pains but there is no sign of anything at all on the x-ray. I picked Alannah up and put her back on my shoulders. As were leaving we passed the stall where the Despondent Daughter was recovering having had her stomach pumped. Her Irritated Mother sitting beside her, looking more put out than concerned.
Then we passed Alannah’s x-rays on the light table, so we stopped and I pointed out to her that all her bones looked strong and no lines showing breaks – and nothing was swollen.
“That’s good, right Daddy?”
“That’s very good.”
“Are you mad at me Daddy?”
“No, I am relieved. But I hope you weren’t pretending for attention and to get out of school?”
Alannah didn’t answer, but she hugged my head as she rode on my shoulders.
We got home at 4:30 AM. Alannah went to bed as did I. But when the alarm clock rang at 6:30, I didn’t wake Alannah. Instead only Ashley-Rae got up with me, and we got ready for work and school.
But if you ask me if that was a wasted all-nighter at the hospital that night, I would say no. I think maybe … just maybe … Alannah was supposed to be there with me – to witness the Despondent Daughter and her Irritated Mother, and learn a lesson.
A lesson about how dangerous looking for attention can really be.