This is Serious

I was in the middle of enlightening a student about notes and crescendos and how to press ivory keys to express musical intent when my phone rang. My phone rings approximately once every seven days, and it’s only ever one of my boy-children on the dialing end.

‘Hello.’ Question mark. Meaning, as I have tried to explain the previous thirty seven times, there should be a meritorious reason for the call.

‘Mom. This is serious,’ the oldest of my boy-children announced, and my heart was on the cusp of getting slightly jittery at such a dire proclamation when I considered the source: a child with a very precise vocabulary prone to serious, exact speech since he was three.


‘The boys got in a fight and the Hen has scratches all over his neck and is crying in the basement and Percy is in his room hyperventilating. HE CAN’T BREATHE.’ Two exclamation marks.

A barely dulled soundtrack of tears corroborated part of his assessment.

Science was never my best subject, but in the nanoseconds that followed, I considered whether someone who was crying loudly was, de facto, breathing. I surmised-guessed that crying required breath.

‘No one’s dying,’ I countered. ‘I will be home in forty-five minutes.’ And amid muffled exclamations about how I don’t even care, I ended the call, urged the professor via text to expedite his journey home and returned to my lesson.

A short while later, I walked through the front door to find a solemn crew waiting for dinner and the professor corralling the contents of the fridge onto the table. No one appeared to be speaking to anyone. I had exactly five minutes to eat and cross-examine before heading out to the next thing. I learned nothing that I hadn’t already heard on the phone.

There was talk of going to a skate night despite the conspicuous absence of skates, skating ability, or interest in skating. I left the matter in the professor’s weary hands and jumped back in the van, for one more lesson where part of the conversation touched on the Olympics.

‘I haven’t watched any of the Olympics,’ I confessed, explaining that the winter Olympics did not have the likes of Michael Phelps or Usain Bolt to compel me to find sports events being streamed online.

Two hours later the boys, having gone to the skating slash curling night, walked through the door. Their spirits undoubtedly buoyed by excessive hot chocolate consumption. ‘I got hit in the head,’ Percy announced matter of factly when I asked if they’d had fun.

There were neither tears nor histrionics and I didn’t think much of it until, a few minutes later, he mentioned getting hit in the head again. I swiveled him around to get a look at the back of his head and found a bloody lump with a gash. My heart and stomach lurched at the sight and I motioned, wide-eyed, for the professor to take a look.

[Side note: It amuses me to no end that I seriously considered going to medical school at some point, despite my tenuous history with science and my visceral reaction to anything containing blood. In my defense, I was only ever going to study psychiatry, so I wasn’t entirely deluded.]

Next, I did what all mothers in 2018 do when confronted with a possible medical emergency. I googled ‘cut in the head…..stitches’ and learned, according to ‘somebody’, there was an 8-10 hour window to get a cut stitched. That timeline precluded calling our family doctor first thing in the morning and begging for an appointment.

I then texted two friends – one with actual nursing credentials, and the other a mom who had experience with children getting stitches. The nurse didn’t reply, and the stitch-mom, after about 20 texts back and forth, did not seem opposed to the professor’s opinion that we should just clean it, get some New-Skin and call it a night.

So the professor drove to Shopper’s Drug to procure a bottle of liquid bandage and it was well past the boys’ bedtime when we finally gathered on my bed for our nightly reading; Percy reclining his sanitized head against a towel-covered pillow. His head was still oozing blood when my nurse friend replied to my earlier text that it might be a good idea to take him to the ER.

After checking with the young lad regarding his amenability to a late night hospital visit, I loaded him in the car and drove the ten minutes to the children’s hospital, reminded at every turn of how much there was to be grateful for in our situation: a car to drive, good healthcare within (short) driving distance, a fairly minor reason to access healthcare, sufficient funds to purchase the necessary medication, and a chance to watch the Olympics.

Who knew when I’d said just four hours earlier ‘I haven’t watched any Olympics’ that I’d have a some free time in the ER to do just that.

The triage nurse examined Percy’s head and asked questions. She doled out a popsicle and Tylenol and it reminded me of a year ago, when the Gort had to go to the ER. Upon being presented with two Tylenol capsules, he’d asked ‘what am I supposed to do with that,’ having neither seen nor swallowed a tablet in his life. Much to the amusement of the nursing staff.

Having given me the distinct impression that the doctor was unlikely to do anything else for us, the triage nurse directed us to the smaller waiting area for people with non-contagious reasons for stopping by the Children’s Hospital at 10:30pm. I proceeded to watch snowboarding and women’s hockey while Percy played on the ipod his oldest brother had generously loaned him for the occasion.

‘How long is the wait.’ The professor, resident emergency room expert, texted me.

‘I have no idea. She didn’t say anything about how long it would be.’

And then I turned to the giant digital sign on the wall.

‘Average wait time from triage to seeing a doctor: 2 hrs 33 minutes.’


Being far more interested in observing the other people in the waiting room than the uniformed athletes on a screen, I gathered scraps of evidence to flesh out the stories around me. Twin girls, one of whom had swallowed some of her father’s medication. A couple of boys with sports injuries, likely direct arrivals from that evening’s games or practices. One snack-loving family who’d even brought a blanket to maximize their wait-time comfort. And an adorably dressed African boy whose reason for being there eluded my detective skills. He was smiling, walking around, his parents did not seem overly distressed except when he tried to interact with us.

Tu déranges, his mother chided, and I considered whether I had enough high school French to say ‘no he’s not bothering us, we are bored and tired and need something to keep us awake.’

Alas, I just smiled and wondered whether it would be ‘illegal’ to leave the ER without having seen the doctor.

Shortly after 1am we were seen by one Dr. K who uttered approximately 30 words, the gist being: New-Skin was a fine solution, go home.


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