Our night at Sick Kids was our very first introduction to well, the world of sick children. From the moment we pulled up to the emergency room until the next morning when we left, it felt like a surreal experience. First was the semi-argument between Faraz and me about where to park.
“You can’t leave the van in the ER bay,” I said.
“We’ll just be a minute and I’ll get you two inside and I’ll come and move it,” was his reply.
“How will you know where to find us?” I was starting to panic. I was feeling out of my element and worried about Olivia and the sleeping boys at home (what if I don’t have the right words to describe what’s wrong? What if the doctor says it’s nothing and sends us home? What if they say it’s something and they keep us? What will the boys think when they wake up and we’re not there?).
He shot me a withering look.”I’ll find you. Now go!”
I grabbed a wheelchair from the entryway, hoping it was okay to borrow it. I mean, I was bringing a child into the hospital, not leaving with the wheelchair after all. It felt strange and foreign to push, like a very short, heavy baby stroller. Wheeling up to the reception desk, I awkwardly manoeuvred Olivia in the wheelchair to wait behind this red line of tape on the floor, beside a hand sanitizing station. I marvelled at how civilized it all seemed. Where were the wailing kids with bloody noses, broken bones and high fevers? This quiet, organized place did not fit my mental schema of an emergency room for children.
The receptionist behind the desk was a young guy in his 20’s. He was unflappable. I suppose that’s why they hired him for the night shift and I wondered what he had seen thus far in his 20-something years on earth. He took Olivia’s information and sent us to a waiting area which was empty except for a set of parents with a small girl with gigantic eyes with an equally gigantic cast on her leg and a weary-looking mom pushing a sleeping baby back and forth in a stroller. Still no wailing or blood. I began to feel like maybe we were in the right place after all.
Olivia was seen within an hour of arriving at Sick Kids. They were actually having a busy night (I guess the quiet emergency room waiting area belied the truth) so the only exam room left was the supply room. Someone had thoughtfully placed a stretcher in the room along with two chairs – a vinyl recliner and a regular, upright waiting room chair. Faraz and I would take turns throughout the night, both of us trying to (unsuccessfully) doze in these equally uncomfortable chairs. Olivia fared no better on the stretcher, being in pain and feeling out of sorts herself.
When the doctor came in, he introduced himself to Olivia first and then to Faraz and me. We liked him right away. He listened to our story about why we were there and told us that it sounded like Olivia might have a case of SCFE (Slipped Capital Femoral Epiphysis). This is where the ball and socket of the hip joint slips out of place and causes pain, limping and possibly a broken growth plate. The only cure for SCFE is surgery. The doctor immediately ordered x-rays and a blood test and said he would be back as soon as he had more news.
So yeah. That was that. It was scary for Olivia. All she heard was “blood test” and “surgery.” Silent tears rolled down her face and she lay in the bed trying to get comfortable. Faraz and I pulled our chairs close and each took turns holding Olivia’s hand and talking to her, trying to distract her from her fears.
We couldn’t let her know how scary it was for us too. This is the part of the “club” (the club called “Parents of a Sick Child” – this is one club you don’t want to join). Never let your child see your fear. She needs you to be strong. She needs you to take her worries away. So you put on a brave face. You cry in the shower/garage/parking lot/elevator. And then you pick yourself up and go tend to your child. Because that’s what you do; it’s what you have to do.
After one blood test, a set of x-rays and lots of tears (Olivia’s), the doctor came to us with some news. At this point, it was 6 am. Faraz and I felt like bleary-eyed, grey, worn-out shells of our former selves. I don’t know about him but I felt slightly panicked that I wouldn’t remember – or understand – the doctor’s words. But I needn’t have worried because his recommendations were simply to purchase crutches (yes, purchase them – cash or credit card payment accepted conveniently right there in the ER!) to relieve the pain of walking and to wait for a call for an MRI appointment. The blood test results indicated a high level of inflammation in Olivia’s blood. The x-rays showed no signs of SCFE but did show “some changes” to her left hip.
So with that vague diagnosis, we were dismissed from Sick Kids in the bright sunshine of a July morning: our 9 year-old girl slowly manoeuvring herself on shiny, new crutches, carrying her favourite stuffed lamb (oh-so-creatively named “Lambie,”) and her parents carrying the weight of this new medical world on our tired, sagging shoulders.
And so it began.