Michelle Martin

What’s another trip to the ER?

Sunday, June 29, 2014

We have three children. One of them plays hockey. He is the only one we have never had to take to the emergency room. So far.

To be fair, it’s generally not injuries that have led to the other emergency room trips. In most cases, it’s an illness, something that seems mild and normal at first, that suddenly turns scary. And at a time when the doctor’s office isn’t open. Three a.m. seems to be the time when children suddenly wake up feeling Much Worse.

That’s what happened this weekend. Teresa had a runny nose for a couple of weeks, seemingly suffering from the seasonal allergies that have plagued roughly 85 percent of the people in the Chicago area this year. Children’s Claritin seemed to help, until late last week it didn’t.

Then the 3 a.m. wake up, asking for a drink of water. Then the cough, dry and tight. And the realization that she felt a bit too warm, and was breathing a bit too fast. So we gave her Tylenol and sat her up, to see if a change in position would help. Nope. Just fast breaths, more than 40 a minute, now with a bit of a wheeze.

So we called the 24-hour nurse at the doctor’s office, and after what felt like endlessly describing symptoms, including holding the phone up to Teresa so the nurse could hear her breathe, we were told what we pretty much expected to hear: go to the emergency room and have her checked out.

We packed up the iPad, the Kindle, fresh clothes for Teresa and enough cash to keep us in coffee for a few hours and off we went. As I said, we’ve had trips to the ER before, and at the best of times, there are going to be tedious stretches.

By the time we got there, nearing 5 a.m. and getting light, the mist outside seemed to have helped, and Teresa walked into the hospital under her own power and started charming the staff. By the time we finished registering, she was with the triage nurse and ushered directly to a cubicle.

Three hours, an albuterol breathing treatment — which made her feel better almost immediately — and a chest X-ray later, we were sent home with an albuterol inhaler and a diagnosis of a viral infection that had led her airways to narrow.

Yes, there were stretches of tedium, but mostly there was a feeling of relief. We have access to medical care, so when one of the kids seems sicker than usual, when something seems like it’s not right, we can call a doctor or go to the hospital. In most cases, they can help, or at least alleviate our fears. I feel for people in my grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ generation, who might have been helpless to do anything but watch and wait and pray when their children were ill. I feel even more for people who don’t have health insurance, who have to do the calculus about whether a child’s condition is serious enough for them to jeopardize the family’s finances. I haven’t seen a bill for our ER trip yet, but I expect it will be somewhere over a thousand dollars, maybe $2,000 or more. But I know what our copay is, and that we can afford it.

So this weekend, my prayers include thanks for modern medicine, and hope that everyone will be able to benefit from it.


  • michelle martin
  • family room