My son is standing on the sidewalk covered in blood. He’s got a gash on his chin, and a tongue that looks like someone took a steak knife to it. Pogo stick. I’m trying to decide if I have to take him to the emergency room.
I am grappling with the conflict between my role as parent and the truth: I don’t want to go. That makes me feel guilty, because surely a good mother would not hedge about taking her child for medical care. And then that just makes me feel guilty about living in a society where we even have healthcare, because there are parents in underdeveloped nations who would love to take their kid to the ER.
Ultimately, guilt wins. I drop off his sisters with a friend and go the ER, the one my friends and I refer to as the “knife and gun club.” I think about driving farther to go to another ER, but I don’t want to be a snob. Besides, I figure the “knife and gun club” will do a good job with stitches.
Lest I forget where I stand on certain issues, four hours into waiting I am writing over and over again on a yellow legal pad, “Healthcare is a right and not a privilege.” Despite my best efforts at tolerance and acceptance, I’m tempted to offer the client services guy a hundred bucks just to get my kid in to see the doctor.
After four hours (with my 5-year old spitting blood in the bathroom sink) wondering why people like me, the one’s with health insurance and bleeding children, don’t get to the front of the line, the inequality of me actually having money that I could use for bribery didn’t bother me. Neither did the immorality. But given the number of cops in and out of the ER, I was afraid of getting arrested.
My husband was traveling, my closest friends were already tag-teaming it with my girls, and I had no good options for who was going to bail me out or pick up my son from social services because his mom was in jail.
Besides, me getting cuffed wouldn’t speed up the process. I’d have to get my kid in cuffs to get him some medical attention. If you enter the ER cuffed to a cop, you don’t have to wait. So, too, the addicts, when they start throwing up. If they are just freaking out, the officers cuff them to a wheelchair and stick them in the corner.
After more than four hours of Animal Planet, even my son was sick of bugs, so he marched up to the guy with the gun, who was the only person allowed to touch the remote (something I found hilarious) and asked him for a video. By this point I had run out of Band-Aids, and my son was still bleeding.
I went up to the client services worker, who was guarded by the guy with gun, and asked for a Band-Aid. Client services didn’t have a clue where to get a Band-Aid in the ER. He asked the guy wearing the gun, who had to go ask the nurse, who was busy with the addict who was barfing all over his wheelchair, so she couldn’t help us either.
No Band-Aids. We went back to the bathroom and my kid spit more blood in the sink. I thought about our high deductible and how much this visit was going to cost me as I got a wad of paper towels and some toilet paper out of the john.
After five hours we finally got to see a doctor. She was great. So were the nurses. Even the cleaning person, who was high as a kite and asked me for 10 dollars — I assume for more drugs, which you can easily buy just outside the emergency room exit — was lovely. The doctor sewed up my son’s chin, took a look at his tongue and sent us home.
After finally picking up the girls and getting everyone to bed and putting my son’s bloody clothes in the wash, I answered a frantic phone call from my husband, who was concerned about his son.
Um, yeah, about that. Next time? You’re own deck.
Maraya Steadman, who lives in a Chicago suburb, is a stay-at-home mother of three children. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.