I hate emergency rooms.
I’ve been in many as a patient and as a patient advocate. They are really one of the worst places for obvious and not so obvious reasons. I try to avoid the place as much as possible. I tend to go to walk-in clinics or make doctor’s appointments. But sometimes the emergency room is unavoidable.
Unfortunately I have a chronic ailment that lands me there sometimes. It is still unclear what causes the issue but it always ends with a visit to the emergency room. On my most recent visit about a year ago, I remember walking in and waiting in line.
Then it hit me. This waiting. The whole process is all about waiting to be seen and heard. You wait to be heard and seen in triage. Then you wait again to be seen and heard by a doctor.
Triage is the process of sorting people based on priority of medical need. If you google the definition, you also get this:
“Triage is used on the battlefield, at disaster sites, and in hospital emergency rooms when limited medical resources must be allocated.”
Battlefield, disaster sites, hospital emergency rooms. (Oh my.)
When Ever-Patient is away, there are times when my home resembles all three.
A couple of days ago my morning included an ice pack, nail polish remover, and a house-wide search to find a lost earring backing. The waiting line to be seen and heard never seems to diminish in my home. I triage each and every moment of my day. When multiple people scream “Mama!” my first question is always, “Is a sibling unconscious or is someone bleeding out?” I sort the priority of need before I get up and attend to it. I have to remember that I need to allocate a limited resource: me.
(It used to be just “Are you bleeding?” but that happens so often in our house with nosebleeds and minor wounds that it really can’t be a triage question anymore. But excessive bleeding, well, ok, now I’ll come running.)
Physical wounds are easy. It’s the emotional ones that are harder to triage. Emotions can run high simultaneously. I quickly run down the physical needs checklist: Are they just hungry and angry (“hangry”)? Is this exhaustion-induced hysteria? If I know they are fed and rested, then I run through the more difficult checklist: Is this out of character? Has this been a pattern? Is their heart hurting? Have I missed something?
It becomes a game of Holmesian deduction and investigative examination. I am on the case. Sometimes this may take a few days and there is some trial and error with my prescriptions – sadly, ice cream or a mama’s hug doesn’t always make the pain go away. I may get impatient because they can’t find the words to articulate what they’re feeling. They may begin to feel better and then relapse for no apparent reason.
Normally, if there is just one who is feeling a little off, I can deal. But when I am on my own and several need me, it’s like I am playing that game “whack-a-mole” but instead of whacking, I am tending. I am bouncing from one to the other, tending with bandaid solutions because that’s the best I can do. Trying to fulfill the emotional needs of five children, I often feel like we are stuck on a battlefield, disaster site, or emergency room.
More often than not, the answer is simple. My arms just aren’t big enough to wrap around them all at once. I take a step back and realize that Ever-Patient will be home soon to help and sometimes I need to call in my reinforcements. I triage by sending the kids to specialists. Specialists who can give them what they need right now – a laugh, an extra bug hug, a game, more attention, another set of eyes to see them, another set of ears to hear them.
Crisis averted but my house will always be an emergency room. But “emergency” comes from the word “to emerge” – to bring to light, to rise up. I will remember this as they scream my name or withdraw uncharacteristically. What is it that they are bringing to light? What is emerging from all of this? Who can help me raise them up again?
100 scribbles…hurriedly writing the here and now.