Our first trip to the emergency room was after receiving a call from the school that our then-nine-year-old daughter had fallen doing a cartwheel and was complaining of a sore arm. I headed to the school to witness the first ever broken-arm-by-recess-cartwheel. Three weeks after this cast was removed, we received a similar call. The same daughter had broken the same arm in a game of tag. It was Ellie, our middle daughter, now age nine, who got us thinking about how we could make these emergency room visits a little less stressful on everyone with just a few minutes of preparation. Ellie had torn a ligament in her ankle but thought running a 10k for charity might offer some magical healing power. Instead, it landed us back at emerge. Here are nine things I wish I had considered prior to our hospital visits.
Most parents are thinking about snacks 24/7 (or is that just me?), but in an emergency situation, it might slip our minds. Even if your emergency happens immediately after a meal, a healthy snack will come in handy. Protein bars, fruit and foods that aren’t emitting ripe odours are best. Having visited several emergency rooms with our three kids, I have yet to find a food item in any vending machine, kiosk or counter that won’t make you sicker. It’s all cinnamon buns, brownies and sugar-laden drinks.
You might leave your house on a hot, summer day wearing shorts and tank tops, but when you emerge from emerge, it’s a different temperature. Layers are key. Throw a sweater in your bag for you and your child and a pair of socks if you are in bare feet. A pillow and a favourite book can go a long way. We spent a few hours in the first waiting room wearing sandals. A pair of socks to keep things a little cozier as the hours passed would have made things much more tolerable.
As I mentioned previously, there are no vending machines selling healthy options, not anywhere, not ever. Our last trip to emerge, my daughter made a game of timing me as I ran out to the car for more water. On the plus side, it gave me time to stretch and my daughter stayed hydrated. If you don’t drink water, before long, your body will feel like you’ve been on a long flight except all of the passengers are sick and when you land, you’ve only made it as far as the X-ray department.
This might be the most important reminder in case you can’t find a spare wall outlet behind the vending machine. This is your only contact with the outside world. This is your lifeline. Have the kids and spouse you left behind send you pictures of things like your apple tree to remind you what season it was when you left the house. You will feel like you are in a prison cell receiving letters on Sunday but without the conjugal visits.
We all carry around salted caramel and ripe raspberry sanitizers, but strong scents can upset those around you or make a sick child even more nauseous. On our last trip, we had mint-scented sanitizer that was less offensive than the pumpkin spice flavour we had left in the car. You can even offer it to your chair-mates to help diffuse the spread of unwelcome germs.
This is one time a handheld device might be a welcome distraction for your child. A piece of paper and pen also makes it easy to play games like tic-tac-toe and hangman, plus you can use the space in between to jot down notes from the doctor.
If it’s your other less patient kid(s) who are injured, ask yourself if it’s really worth it. Your calmest most adaptable child is the best guinea pig for your first emergency room experience. (OK, you might not have control over this one.)
Even if your kids haven’t worn diapers for years, someone else in the waiting room might run out because they had no idea they would be in the waiting room for two weeks. Go ahead, be a hero.
On one of our hospital visits, I started reading a recipe that required fresh strawberries. By the time we were discharged, it was raspberry season.
Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, Winter 2017.