The Emergency Room Pro

Last month, I wryly told a colleague that in almost 18 years of parenthood, I have made about 10 trips to local emergency rooms.


A month later, make that 13.


In the past two weeks, my 17-year-old daughter fell off her bike and fractured her elbow (and to think I was worried about her driving!); my older son broke his middle finger at football practice (requiring a splint that has amused him to no end) and my younger son wrenched his back diving over the back seat of the minivan.


Without a lot of fanfare, my husband and I trotted them off to the ER, waiting patiently, and smiling stiffly when the admitting nurse said something like, “Oh, yes! I see by our records you’ve been here before.”


I have earned this sense of calm in the face of adversity. I am a pro. But if I’m truly honest, a small tickle of fear rears its ugly head whenever we make that trip, no matter how calm the patient.


There is no feeling like the one that seizes a parent when it becomes obvious that their child’s injury is more severe than they thought. Or, God forbid, just as bad they thought. It’s part terror, part adrenaline, and chances are, you react one of two ways: You’re coolly calm, or you come completely unglued. I’ve experienced both, and sometimes just in the course of the short ride from our house to John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek.


Very fortunately, most of my trips have been “routine”: a cracked head that needs stitches after a fall into a bike rack (fooling around after a Cub Scout dinner, no less), a broken limb from a tumble off the monkey bars, an infant’s ugly cough that terrified her new parents – that kind of stuff. I say fortunately because my kids were fixed with a few simple stitches, a couple of casts or a dose of antibiotics. Many parents have experienced far more severe – and frequent – trips to the ER, especially those parents whose children suffer from chronic illnesses.


Still, no matter how “routine” a visit to the hospital is, there is nothing like seeing your baby – no matter how old – writhing in pain or with blood seeping out of an open wound.


Or, in the feeling of foolishness you get when nothing’s wrong. Like in the case of one of my ER trips when, seeing my 3-year-old son happily playing with the toys in the hospital lobby, the admitting nurse said, “So, he cracked his head, huh? Yes, I can tell it’s impairing his ability to function.”


Then there was the time I hauled off my 13-year-old daughter in the middle of the night with what we feared was an appendicitis, only to discover it was the onset of her first menstrual cramps.


But the fact is, I am relieved that I had someone smarter than I am telling me that my kid was OK.


In this issue of Bay Area Parent – our annual health issue – we look at things every parent should know BEFORE they make that trip to the ER (page 20). Chances are, in the throes of an emergency, you’re not going to have the presence of mind to say, “Honey, you load little Mikey into the car – be careful of that dangling arm – while I search for that old issue of Bay Area Parent.” Chances are, you – like me – will be clicking into gear, calculating how many tickets you’ll get if you run every red light between home and the hospital. You’ll be fishing for your cell phone to call the neighbor to watch your other kids. And you’ll be wondering if your new wool sweater is the best fabric to use to staunch the flow of blood. You’ll be in the Parent Zone – which is where you should be.


So, take a look at this article now, while your kids are relatively safe, to make some preliminary plans for when accidents happen. Because they will.


Also in this issue we introduce you to Dr. Jennifer Gunter, a San Francisco OB/GYN and pain-management specialist who embodies the phrase “when doctor becomes patient” (page 26). Her heart-wrenching story of losing one of her triplet boys at birth shows her remarkable spirit and strength, and is an inspiration to us all.


Finally, we have some solid tips on how you and your kids can avoid the flu this season (page 38). After all, you don’t want to make any unnecessary trips to the ER!


– Peggy Spear, BAP Editor
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