Before beginning the story, I would like to point out that prior to the experience I am about to recount, I had been home alone with my sick children for seven (7) days. The only time in those seven days we had left the house was to get groceries, and anyone who has gone grocery shopping with four sick kids knows that this does not really count as an outing. I was a hostage in my own home.
It was Spring Break and we had visions of playing outside in the sunshine and catching up with friends. Instead we watched the snow fall relentlessly from our sick beds. The children were all sick with sore throats, coughing and congestion, but when Max broke out in a rash all over his body, we started to get a little more worried. Rob took him in to the doctor and Max tested positive for strep throat, so we were told we needed to bring everyone in to get antibiotics. Of course, by the time it had come to this, it was early Friday evening, and our only course of action was the dreaded weekend walk-in.
Saturday morning dawned and instead of leaving the house to visit some family like we had planned, we loaded the family into the minivan and descended upon South Calgary’s new urgent care facility. We are sort of a big, loud family, so when we marched single file into the previously quiet waiting room, it created a commotion. Each child was armed with an arsenal of books and toys to distract them for what was bound to be a long wait. My purse was loaded down with snacks to assuage the fear my children have every time they leave the house that they will starve to death.
The triage nurse remarked that never before had she processed such a large family all at one time. What a novelty we were. I smiled inside wondering how novel our family would seem after a couple of hours in the waiting room. We checked in with a whirlwind of health care cards, lots of loud talking, and Rob holding my large, apple green handbag because with all the snacks, it was too heavy for me. I think it was safe to say we had taken over the waiting area.
Having been triaged, we now sat down to wait. I read the red and white cautionary signs plastered throughout the waiting area. Apparently, patients were seen according to the severity of their sickness, not on a first come first served basis. I groaned; this did not bode well for us.
We had been there less than half an hour when one of the kids spotted the shiny red of an apple in my purse. He sounded the alarm and immediately they all descended upon me like vultures. I tried to warn them that if they ate their snacks now, there would be nothing left for later and we were sure to be here much longer. They paid no heed to my caution, and these very sick children began to chomp and spray through apples with surprising fervour. They immediately moved on to the bananas, cheese strings, and cookies, ignoring my futile pleas for restraint.
When the food bag was emptied, they promptly found other forms of entertainment; contorting over chairs and armrests as if on a playground. The one covered in a rash, could usually be found laying on the floor, despite my repeated demands that he get up because the floor is full of germs. Amidst all this commotion, I hear my daughter’s cries. She has wedged her foot in an awkward angle between the armrest and the seat. It appears impossible to remove without her ankle being broken. Well, I guess we are in the right place. Through a series of careful manoeuvers, her foot is dislodged without any broken bones. I celebrate the small victory and glance at the clock. We have been there barely an hour.
The next hour crawls by with more of the same until finally we hear the nurse call our name; it is our turn to see the doctor. In an attempt at efficiency, they pile all of us into one room. The curtain is drawn and there is a patient on the other side. Quarters are tight as despite it being the last week in March, we all have our winter jackets, plus the toys and the books. Tension mounts, sweat runs.
We wait for the doctor to finish up with the patient on the other side of the curtain, and no matter how many times I hiss that they are to be on their best behaviour, the mood is one of barely controlled chaos. They keep peeking around the curtain to see what is happening on the other side (to the elderly gentleman wearing the mask, I apologize.) The volume increases, and despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, no one admits to breaking wind. Interestingly enough though, everybody immediately assumes the role of detective, trying to determine who could have caused the smell.
It is about this time, Rob discovers the control pad with buttons on the back of the dentist-like chair one of the kids is sitting in. (I dearly love my husband, but in situations like this, I tend to mentally group him in with the kids, as he is often the one who escalates their behaviour.) He starts pressing the buttons and to all their delight, the chair starts to rise. He happily obliges the chorus of “Higher, Daddy, Higher,” and turns the chair into entertainment, completely ignoring my repeated huffs and eye rolls. (Yes, I am the mature person in this group.) To my surprise, immediately after rolling my eyes at his childish antics, I hear myself begin to encourage him. Let’s see how high the chair will actually go. I am experiencing Stockholm Syndrome, and have begun to identify with the very ones holding me hostage.
The doctor finally enters the tiny quarters to assess our brood. He looks at all the children and then at Rob, completely ignoring me, and asks incredulously, “Are these all yours?!” Rob nods, and the doctor, obviously a very intelligent man, rephrases the question in case Rob has not understood it correctly, “Every one of them is yours?” When Rob again answers in the affirmative, the doctor concedes that they do certainly look like they could be. The kids stare at the doctor in confusion, who else would they belong to? Are there a lot of men out there who take random children to the urgent care on a Saturday morning, just because it’s so much fun?! I shake my head; next thing you know he’ll be doing DNA swabs just to make sure.
The doctor works quickly; desperate I’m sure to get us all out of his hair and on our way. Trying to keep everyone straight, he assigns them numbers correlating with their birth order. He keeps getting mixed up, pointing to the child he is addressing but using the wrong number. We try to correct him, “no not that number three, the one with the dark hair . . .” and it begins to feel like an episode of “Who’s on First.” The children cycle through their turn on the chair for a quick examination. The funny thing is, as soon as it’s their turn on the chair, it’s like their brains turn off, and they stare blankly at the doctor in response to his questions. One of them, after being asked to cough, just stares ahead, unresponsive. Hoping the familiar sound of my voice will jolt him into action, I ask him to cough for the doctor. He turns his somewhat panicked eyes towards me and says, “Mom, I forgot how to cough!” Really??!! (My husband quickly ascertains that they have inherited White Coat Syndrome from their mother.)
And because it’s not quite crazy enough, every time the doctor puts his head down to write, my husband tries to speak to me in Low German, incredulous that a doctor would actually wear sweat pants to work.
We finally leave with bags of antibiotics and pile back into the minivan, ready to head home. Glorious relief! I sternly give the order that the drive home will be silent. In the silence, a plot begins to hatch, and I lean over to discuss it with my husband. Number two sweetly reminds me from the backseat that I am breaking my own rule of silence.
And so darling children, whom I love more than my next breath, be forewarned. Fifty years from now, your Father and I will be sure that our medication will run out on the weekends. Because you are such dears, you will take us to the closest urgent care to have prescriptions written. While we wait, your Father and I will execute our well-laid plans. We will drop our teeth on the floor. As we know you would never put dirty dentures in our mouths, we will now beg you incessantly for snacks. Without said teeth, we will mush and smack bananas loudly between our gums and dribble them down our chins. We will stare at other patients and question you loudly about them, unafraid to raise even the most sensitive of issues. I will whine and complain that your Father keeps stepping on my wheelchair brakes so he can race me up the hallway; he will protest loudly that I did it to him first. And knowing your Father, he will gladly incorporate all manner of bodily functions into the experience as well. You will drive us home, happily medicated once again, and we will smile in blissful contentment; for this is the circle of life.
Disclaimer: Mom and Dad, should you read this and begin to get any ideas, I feel this is a good time to remind you that surely I was an exemplary child, far too compliant to subject you to any of the aforementioned behaviours. Thus my expectation is that you continue to age gracefully and compassionately. 😉