During the seemingly endless Chronicles of Florida, we had a brief intermission, in which I noted that Twinks had nearly broken her neck.
Well, she did. Nearly break her neck, that is. Luckily, she only wound up with a case of whiplash, and a bruised and sore back. She had to wear one of those neck collar things for several days, and she had several really uncomfortable nights, but she is pretty much over it now.
I wish I could say the same.
I was in the kitchen. Twinks was at the kitchen table. She shifted awkwardly in her chair, and for just a moment, I thought she was going to hit her head on the table. Then, everything went into slow motion - that terrible, horrible slow motion where you see it all happening, and you just can't do anything. You can't move fast enough to stop it.
Twinks jerked back, trying to regain her balance in the chair. Now, she and the chair are both going over sideways, but she's trying to fight her way back up. The rounded top of the chair back hits her squarely in the back of the neck, throwing her head to the floor. The chair spins out of control, twisting her legs in the rungs, and slapping her hard on the back.
Then, for one long horrifying moment, everything was completely quiet and still. Even Twinks. Especially Twinks. She wasn't moving, wasn't breathing.
Then she screamed - with pain, fear, and anger all at once. She was trying to push the chair off of her, and I had to scream at her so that she would hear me over her own yelling. Stop moving, or I can't get your legs out of the chair.
It scares you to the marrow when you think your child has either actually killed themself, or nearly. And what really scared me the most, was my reaction to it. I didn't keep it together at all. Ordinarily, I am Cool, Calm, and Collected. Unflappable. But I *screamed* at Twinks; first to stop moving, stop hollering, and then to get up - get up NOW - because this stupid, irrational part of my brain said that if she didn't get up, it meant she was going to die. So, I screamed. Because, you don't scream at a nearly dead kid, right?
So instead of making her lie still on the floor, I made her get up, and sit on the offending chair. I should have called 911, so that the EMT's could stabilize her neck and back. I should have had the paramedics transport her by ambulance to the hospital. But galloping lunacy had set in - and so I told her to go to the potty, because we were going to have to go to The Damn After Hours Clinic, and God Only Knows how long we'll have to sit there, waiting to see a doctor.
Truly, I am just the worst mother. Ever.
It was on the drive to After Hours that I began to regain control of my emotions, and I apologized to Twinks. It was an accident. I should not have yelled. You will be fine, and we will all laugh about this someday. Then, I apologized some more.
We arrived at After Hours, and were put into an exam room in record time. (Apparently, telling the staff that you think your kid might have broken her neck gets their undivided attention) The doctor on duty did not hesitate, and promptly sent us across the street to the E.R. at the Big Hospital.
Dear God in Heaven, if her neck is indeed broken - as the doctor thinks it is - then I have just driven my child clear across the Greater Metro with her head unsupported. With a broken neck. And, possibly a broken back.
We checked in at a desk staffed by an enormous man in blue scrubs. His job, aside from shoving paperwork across the desk, and directing people to the bathroom, seemed to consist entirely of scowling at the occupants of the waiting room in a vaguely threatening manner. The paperwork was quickly dispatched. Scowling Man had told me that we would go in for Triage, and then we would wait "out there" (pointing in the general direction of rows of seats) until called back to a cubicle.
I had called The Wrench while we were en route between the After Hours and the E.R. - but they couldn't find him because his supervisor had loaned him out to another section of the facility. Finally, they took a message, and one of his buddies sprinted clear across the base to find him. The Wrench called just as we were going into Triage; he was out on the dock (the superstructure that surrounds the airplane while it is being worked on), and he only had a few minutes at best to talk. I told him that the After Hours doctor thought she might have broken her neck, and that they had just put a neck-brace thingy on her. He promised to call back as soon as he could, or before he left work, whichever came first. We both forgot that [a] he didn't know which E.R. we were at, and [b] I would have to turn my cell off when we went back into a cubicle.
As we waited that night, we got a True-Life Lesson(TM) about "Why the E.R. is so crowded".
The great majority of the people in the waiting room weren't really "emergency" cases. They needed to see a doctor, to be sure, but they didn't need to be at the E.R. They needed to be at a regular Clinic; maybe an Urgent Care facility. But most of them were just plain old sick.
I had to wonder why these people were there - why didn't they just go to their regular doctor? As time passed, and I listened to the stories told to The Scowling Man at the desk, I realized that we were seemingly the only people there who had insurance of any kind. That we were the only people in the room who had been sent there by a doctor - everyone else who came in had no "regular" doctor.
It became more and more obvious that nearly everyone there had at some point needed to see a doctor, but had not done so. Now, due to neglect , the lack of insurance, or the inability to pay a "regular doctor", their medical condition had reached a point where it had become (in their mind anyway) an "emergency, and so they came to the E.R. to see a doctor. Had they been able to see a doctor in a timely fashion, they wouldn't have been there. Even Twinks, sitting stiffly in pain for more than two hours while we waited for our cubicle, realized this.
I had plenty of time to ponder the situation, and not much else to do. There were no magazines to read, and the TV in the corner was on CNN Headline News, with the sound turned down. I thought about what we would have to do if we didn't have insurance; about how it would change our ability to provide Twinks with all of the medical care that she needs.
I felt very grateful that our HMO would pay for nearly everything, and that I didn't have to worry about how much each and every X-Ray would cost, or if we could afford to get her prescription filled.
I wondered if someday the E.R. wouldn't be an E.R. anymore - because everyone used it like a clinic, and there seemed to be no real emergencies. Maybe those all came in over on the ambulance side.
So we waited patiently (no pun intended) and finally it was Twinks turn. She was briefly examined, X-Rays were ordered, she was examined again. More X-Rays, and another examination. Finally... Finally... we were released. Five pages of "care instructions". Two prescriptions. $200 HMO co-pay. Five+ hours.
The Wrench was home, waiting for us. When he couldn't get through to us on my cell, he decided to go home and wait for us there. We called from the hospital parking garage, to tell him we were on the way home. When we got there, he didn't ask what had happened, he just gently, carefully hugged Twinks, and did not reproach her, or lecture her. He helped tuck her in bed, and fixed her a cup of chocolate ice cream. He pampered her a bit until she fell asleep.
It wasn't until after she was sound asleep that he confessed that he couldn't hear me when I had called him at work. He thought I said "fell off her bike", instead of "maybe broke her neck". He was expecting a skinned up knee, or maybe a broken arm.
As I told him the whole story, he became very pale, and he sat down with a thump. When I was done, he shook his head, then got up and moved quietly down the hallway, to stand in the darkened doorway of Twinks' room. She was still dozing fitfully. We watched her, together, for several minutes.
He turned toward me, and held me tightly. We stood that way for a long time; holding each other, silently grateful that our beautiful daughter was there, sleeping in her own bed.
Twinks is fine. She still gets a "twinge" if she twists or turns too quickly, but she'll recover completely.
I am still mortified by my behavior. I lost it completely. Very un-Thim like. Not cool. Not cool at all.
The E.R. is still crowded every night. And it likely always will be.