How our holidays went

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We had an interesting Christmas this year.

THE SHORT STORY

On Tuesday, 12/18, our not-quite two year old son started limping. We assumed he’d simply twisted his ankle, or bruised his heel.

On Thursday night, 12/20, he woke up several times in the night saying “Ow!” and grabbing his right foot. This was when we decided to check it out and see what was up.

As it turns out, in the ages from about 2-5, infants are susceptible to joint infections, especially in the hips, knees, and ankles. The way they get infected, usually, is the child has an upper respiratory infection, then bruises or injures something in the joint.

This is what had happened with our son. We were in the hospital from 12/21 to 12/25 – Christmas Day, of course. Once he started receiving treatment – copious amounts of antibiotics, delivered via IV, he started recovering almost immediately. He’ll be receiving antibiotics here, at home, through a PICC line until the 4th, but he seems damn chipper now.

However, the stay in the hospital, and the bad timing of it, has enlightened me to a lot of things I never knew before. I will review these things for your edification, and mine – I have not, unlike my parents or a lot of people, ever had to care for someone at a hospital. It was, shall we say, eye-opening.

First off,

NO ONE KNOWS WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON AT A HOSPITAL

And not just diagnostically. You have about twenty or thirty people dealing with you, the patient, every day and night, and they all just hop on shift and they have no idea who you are or what’s going on.

We went to the orthopedist, who made a quick (and, as it turns out, accurate) diagnosis, and arranged for us to stay at the hospital, but the pediatricians and internal med folks obviously hadn’t heard shit about this and had no fucking clue who we were or why we were in the hospital.

Then the pediatricians (after DAYS OF WAITING) arranged for us to have an MRI, and the MRI people and anesthesiologists had no idea why we were there – they just knew he had to get an MRI, and we had to tell them which leg was the problem, and what the suspected cause was. (They actually had to change the MRI considerably because they didn’t know they’d be taking pictures of his foot.)

Then because the MRI wasn’t conclusive, we had to get Infectious Diseases in (who chose to wear, as you would expect, a mask and gloves), and she openly thought the diagnosis was crazypants. She was wrong, and quickly realized it, but when she first walked in we had to review the story for what seemed like the 50 millionth time.

This doesn’t take into account all the nurses and all the sort-of-random doctors who just happened to swing by, for whom we had to recount everything all over again. Same goes for all the other little shit – blood drawings, etc.

Secondly, we learned

NO ONE AT THE HOSPITAL GIVES A SHIT ABOUT YOU UNTIL YOU HAVE A DOG IN THE FIGHT

We arrived on Friday at around 4 PM, and got a room, presumably to get an MRI. We’d rushed hugely specifically to try and get the MRI done on Friday.

We didn’t see the doctor until 6:30 PM. They were completely perplexed, and even a little mistrustful, about why we were there.

I asked them when we’d know if we were getting the MRI. The response, from the senior doctor, was “in the next few hours.”

I do not know if she knew at that time that the anesthesiologist had gone home at 4:30 PM. But I do think she was chiefly thinking about getting the fuck out of there so she could get home for the holidays.

It wasn’t until late Saturday that we actually got the MRI – because we weren’t a priority patient, all the other emergencies took precedence over us. But we had to nag and nag and nag and nag until finally one set of doctors took up our case and actually coordinated everything that needed to happen (which was a lot).

EDIT: I forgot to mention that because we were waiting on an MRI, he couldn’t eat or drink. So we were basically starving him for 36 hours, keeping him only on an IV. This made him incredibly fussy, of course, and he lost about three pounds – around a tenth of his original body weight.

Which is the next lesson:

IF YOU WANT SOMETHING DONE IN THE HOSPITAL, EITHER BE DYING OR BE A HUGE BITCH

Seriously. It took us 36 hours to get something done, and when it did happen it was because a few of us had said “fuck” a whole lot or asked a zillion questions.

But part of the wait was because…

MODERN MEDICINE IS ABOUT KNOWING PROGRESSIVELY LESS AMOUNTS OF NOTHING

Even though the immediate diagnosis was the correct one, it was never certain. The X rays showed nothing bad. The MRI showed inflammation of the joint, and water behind the heel -but not enough water for a biopsy/aspiration. The bloodwork wasn’t hugely conclusive. Eventually they went with a broad spectrum of antibiotics, which worked.

This sounds short and sweet, but it took THREE AND A HALF DAYS OF WAITING 24 HOURS TO GET THERE. And it was NEVER a case of “This is 100% what this is?” You want to know something? You got to do a test. Scheduling the test is work. Getting the test done is work. Reading the results is work. Figuring out what to do is work. It’s all work, work, work, which for the patients means waiting, waiting, waiting.

Sometimes the doctors would call us down from waiting for our son to come back solely to wait in a second, closer-by room, with no windows or amusement, for about two hours.

In other words,

BESIDES BITCHING, PATIENTS AT THE HOSPITAL WILL MOSTLY BE WAITING

So bring your iPad.

Some other lessons:

IF YOU HAVE TO TAKE YOUR CHILD TO THE HOSPITAL, PRAY THEY’RE TOO YOUNG TO REMEMBER

Holding my child down while the nurses tried to re-insert an IV, him screaming “LET ME GO!” (something I didn’t know he could say), my wife trying to distract him, all while blood poured out of his hand… That pretty much sucked.

STAYS AT THE HOSPITAL WILL RUIN YOUR DIET

Burgers, pizza, Schlotzky’s, and my wife’s folks brought Christmas Dinner on Christmas Eve. It was a rich diet. My toilets need to have their own charity. But it reminds me that…

WE HAVE SOME AWESOME PEOPLE IN OUR LIVES

We were almost never alone. Family, friends, everyone was there, and my folks came up on Christmas Day to see him. My wife’s parents were there every day. And this was important because…

STAYING AT THE HOPSITAL WITH AN INFANT IS LIKE BEING ON A NEVERENDING PLANE RIDE WITH AN INFANT

He can’t use his arm, because he has an IV. (See the GIANT ASS SHIELD ARM they had to make for him below.) He can’t walk, because his ankle is septic. And he can’t leave the room, either because of the IV or because every other child is wildly contagious. So no arms, no legs, no leaving.

Entertaining the baby got tough. Having folks there was important.

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CHRISTMAS AT THE HOSPITAL ISN’T AS DEPRESSING AS YOU’D THINK

Mostly because you aren’t aware of time passing. Is it 10 AM? 3 PM? You never know. Days lose meaning. But…

CHRISTMAS AT THE HOSPITAL MEANS A FUCKING SHITLOAD OF TOYS

EVERY person who saw him gave him a toy. It was really nice of everyone – I mean, it was Christmas and all – but, eventually, when we had five or six stuffed animals, we started feeling like we’d prefer if they treated our son rather than giving him toys.

Someone even gave us a four-foot stuffed dog, which you don’t give to people in a small house.

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TEXAS MIGHT THINK IT’S CAUCASIAN BUT ITS HOSPITALS DISAGREE

The patients, staff, and doctors, were almost overwhelmingly nonwhite. I would say that most of the patients in the ER – which was always stuffed to bursting – were Latino. And it was pretty clear that most of them were at the ER because they couldn’t afford non-emergency care, as the ER legally has to take you. It was pretty troubling, on Christmas.

SCHEDULE TIME AFTER THE HOSPITAL TO BE SICK

Because you will be. We all have a wildly contagious cold virus called RSV.

IT’S A MIRACLE MY WIFE SURVIVED

She’s a confirmed germophobe. Seeing me walk across the hospital floor barefooted gave her conniption fits. At that point, I didn’t give a shit, we’d just been marinating in it nonstop.

But the real thing I learned is…

MY SON IS A TOTAL TROOPER

Here is on Saturday, still in pain and before his MRI.

2 comments on “How our holidays went

  1. Well, he seemed to like the dog, at least. And yeah, that video is awesome.

    I went through a lot of this when each of my parents died. You have to be a nagging jerk to get anything done, and then the staff get annoyed, but if you step back they merrily put their attention elsewhere. Thankfully one of my mom’s nurses took a great shine to her and went to bat for her a lot, which made it a little easier to get her treated.

    The toys are not surprising because most people want to give stuff because they think it will make people, especially children, happier.

  2. Nikki Devitt says:

    First I am glad you and your family are free of the Hospital Hell and your son is on the mend!

    I had to stop and catch my breath when I saw the photo of him in the crib/jail (as we called it) for the flood of memories it brought.

    Been there, Done that, is the saying right?

    My oldest son who is 15 spent four days in the Hospital at about the same age and reading your plight was like deja vu.

    His stay was brought on by a severe infection that started off like the common flu, ended up with him dehydrated and in pain all over his body with Doctors (including the one who told me the day before to quit overreacting it was the flu) scratching their heads.

    I vividly remember trying to wrangle him down for the tests and that awful giant size mess they immobilized his arm with. Not to mention the staff acting as if I should be completely alright restraining my screaming terrified son. Who the hell was I to ask if there was another way while he screamed bloody murder. Four tries with the IV line is normal, something every parent should know.

    Thank you for putting voice to an experience few understand and fewer would even want to think about. I came to your site as I am reading your book, American Elsewhere, and I’ll keep following it because your so wonderfully real and honest. Refreshing to say the least!

    Best to you and your family, and you said it best, it is lucky he is too young to remember, as my son has zero memory of any of it. If only we were offered the same courtesy!

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