Anatomy of a hospital visit

It starts off with you debating back and forth, back and forth. Should I take him, or should I not? Could this be the time when something is really wrong? Probably not, but what if it is? After a few hours of this you decide, best to rule things out and go. So you pack up the car, never knowing if you should pack for a couple of hours, a couple of days, or a couple of weeks.

You arrive at the hospital and sign in. The moment they see that your kid is disabled, you go right in to the triage nurse, while all the other parents who have been waiting for hours bore holes in your back with rage and envy. They can’t figure out why you got to go in right away. Not yet anyways, since we rarely use the wheelchair. Maybe once we do they’ll think differently.

After being triaged you’re admitted and sent to wait in a bed in the ER. Shortly after, a tired looking doctor walks in, usually an intern and usually very young. They ask why you’re there, and they ask for your child’s medical history. A few sentences into it you see their eyes glaze over with confusion as they wonder how to handle the situation with such a complex child.

And then talk of the shunt begins. The lovely, dreaded shunt. The shunt keeps Nathan alive. But we can’t walk into any sort of medical facility without the shunt proving to be our undoing. Because no matter what symptons we present with, the question is always – could it be the shunt? Oh my child has gas, could it be the shunt? Oh my child is breathing weird, could it be the shunt? We’ve never walked out of an ER without them first doing a CT to check the shunt.

Anyways, the young doctor then consults with whoever’s just above them, asking for help about what to do with the cute disabled kid. Another doctor walks in, we repeat our story all over again. He’s breathing really weird, and coughing. He looks very pale and has thrown up his food for the last 3 or 4 days. He doesn’t have his usual energy and seems to be working hard to breathe. And their first question is, when was the shunt last checked?

And then you have to wonder, when they see Nathan, do they see a humoungous walking shunt, or do they see a person underneath the shunt? A person with many organs and possible issues. Because it seems to me 90% of them just see the shunt.

Finally, that doctor hears the story, looks at his ears, throat and nose, listen to his heart, and they walk out saying we should order a CT, but they’ll talk to the attending just in case.

In case you haven’t figure it out from watching all the medical shows on TV, it goes something like this: interns are still going through med school, then residents, then fellows, then attending. I might be wrong, but it’s somewhere along those lines.

So once your kid’s been seen by the intern and the resident, the last person to come in is usally the attending.

Immediately you know that person knows what he’s doing and you wonder why it took 4 hours for you to talk to him/her. You repeat your story again and the attending will ask something like, so what do you think we should do? Do you think we should look at the shunt, or do you think something else might be going on? They appear to listen as you tell them that you don’t think it’s the shunt but that your kids been mostly sick for the better part of 2 months and SOMETHING has to be going on, and can you please figure out what?

Then, while you wait for the latest trauma to clear out of the CT room where you know you’ll end up soon enough, the torture begins. Of course they’re going to want to draw blood.

And you start wondering, what was I thinking to come here? Then the screeching begins as the RN tries to find Nathan’s tiny invisible veins. And right when the room is so thick with tension you can cut it and you’ve pulled handfuls of hair out with your bare fists and the insides of your cheeks are almost bleeding from how hard you were biting them so you don’t hurt the nurse torturing your kid, you see the blood finally flowing into the vial.

And it’s usually at that point that I start packing up and muttering, I’ve had it, stupid people, why did I even come here. After everything is packed up I start scouting the hallways to see if I can make a clean break for it and wondering if anyone will notice and if the alarms will go off. And then right before I make a break for it the doctor will walk by and I’ll say something like, he seems better, can we go now? And they tell you that they wouldn’t be responsible doctors if they let your kid walk out without his shunt being checked. And after I beg and say I don’t care and I’ve changed my mind, they use the big 3 letter threat: AMA.

Against. Medical. Advice. Once you willingly walk into a hospital, you can’t leave unless they say you can go. It’s a bit like checking yourself into an institution. And if you decide to leave AMA, be prepared to pay for it – big time. Insurance won’t pay if you leave AMA. And in some cases they’ll even call child protection.

So even though I dream of our big escape, ultimately I know I just can’t do it.

So we wait around for hours and what could’ve been a 2 hour thing has now dragged on for 5 or 6 hours. Nathan is getting to the end of his patience and starts showing signs of being fed up with watching TV, which only happens at a hospital. Anywhere else he can watch as much TV as you can dish out. But when you really need to hypnotize him, he won’t allow it.

Finally when you think you’re going to streak in the hallways to see if you’ll get someone’s attention, a nurse will walk in the door to escort you to the CT scanner. THey strap Nathan down, taping his head to the head supports to keep his head completely still, and the banshee roars to life. The kid can’t move, but try to keep him immobile, and the beast roars to life. Then after the 20 longest minutes of your life the CT is finally done and you pick up a snotty blubbering mess of a child.

You haven’t quite made it to your room when another nurse barges in with your discharge papers. The blessed shunt’s been seen, now get out of here, we need your bed. But why is he throwing up? Why is he having trouble breathing? You refuse to leave until you get some answers.

The first intern you saw walks back in. We don’t know why he’s throwing up, but good news is, the shunt looks great! Follow up with your doctor as soon as you can! And out they go.

So, 8 hours later, you leave the hospital, a few hundred dollars poorer, having lost an entire day, and still wondering the exact same thing that you wondered when you walked in those doors – what’s going on with my kid?

This is the true story of our day today, which has been an exact replica of the last 3 ER visits we’ve had.

So now you know what it’s like – sadly, it’s never like HOUSE. You hardly ever get your diagnosis. They just rule out anything fatal, and you’re on your merry way.

At least I can sleep somewhat peacefully knowing that you think (you hope) you did the right thing. Until 3 days from now when the new bug he picked up while waiting around the hospital rears its ugly head.


  1. That post is so true. That is exactly how I feel when Tyse gets sick. Do I take him or not? Because if I do then they will ask me questions about things that don’t matter right now and won’t handle the real problem at handle. They will think it is no big deal.

    Thanks for that post. I needed that. I hope you figure out what is going on with Nathan and I hope he gets better soon.

  2. Sorry to hear that Nate has been sick. Hoping he is feeling better real soon.

  3. Sorry about your ER visit. However every time we go to a GI doctor with my son we have similar experience. I’m in the middle of making decision right now should I schedule app with GI doctor or not since it’s sooooooo worthless.


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