We continue to live in the House of Plagues. I am considering daubing a big red cross on the front door, to warn people that herein lies every known – and no doubt some unknown – lurgy. It reached its nadir late last week, about nine in the evening. B awoke, screaming like his willy was on fire, and we rushed up to see what was going on. Between screams he was coughing like a Marlboro smoker, and between that he was gasping for breath. This, we concluded through a shared glance above his head as he writhed in M’s arms, was officially Not Good. After another couple of episodes of B seemingly not being able to get air into his lungs, all talk of NHS Direct was gone and A&E seemed the only option.
We had a quick game of ‘Who has drunk the least?’, which, it turns out, was me. Damn. I flew round the house packing a bag with essentials (I looked longingly at the bottle of red, but decided against it) and bundled B into the car, giving him a quick puff of the inhaler he was given for his last cough, just for good luck.
I arrive at A&E, having spend an inordinate amount of money for the privilege of parking my car, and go up to one of the receptionists. Explaining that my son was struggling to breathe, she peers over the desk at B in his pram, who gives her a little smile. For fuck’s sake. She looks back at me, and I know exactly what she is thinking: paranoid time waster. She picks up my form and sticks a green sticker on the front. I am pretty sure I know exactly what that means too: paranoid time waster. Mind you, the man next to me has hurt his elbow, and has waited three weeks to see if it would heal before deciding he can’t carry on a moment longer and has come in to get it sorted. I guess there is just not much on the TV right now.
I go through to children’s A&E with a sinking feeling, pondering if that green sticker means I am in for a bloody long wait. B is triaged by a lovely nurse and a not so lovely man of unspecified medical training who asks me if B’s tummy is always that big, the cheeky shit, and then we take a seat in a very crowded waiting room. I play a bit of ‘Whose disease is it anyway’ with the variety of kids and babies around the room, musing on an article I read that morning about an adage that doctor’s apparently have to remind them to look for the most obvious cause of the complaint rather than something more exotic: when you hear hooves, assume it is a horse, not a zebra. Quite frankly, if it’s hooves they are hearing there’s a high possibility that they have trained as vets, the morons.
And still we wait. One couple with a young baby have brought the grandparents along, and are having a merry old time taking up half the bloody waiting room, talking loudly and finding this an ideal time to share cute videos of their offspring on their phones. A little boy is moaning incessantly, which is already getting right on my tits, and B is getting bored of sitting on my lap, so I am forced to stand up and jig him around. And we wait a bit more.
An hour comes and goes in a jigging-pacing-sighing blur. B is getting more fractious by the moment, wailing the second I have the audacity to sit down or try to lower him into the pram. So I pace and jig, jig and pace. The only excitement is when the nurse comes into the waiting room to call the next patient. There should be a drum roll… will it be me? Are we next? She opens her mouth… the waiting room takes a collective breath in with anticipation… no. We are not next. Of course we are not bloody next, we have a green sticker on our form.
More jigging and pacing. I am sweating with the exertion of holding my son for nearly two hours, not helped by the fact that the room is at a tropical 25o. Because why wouldn’t they have the children’s A&E room this hot? It’s not as if half the kids in there have inordinately high temperatures or anything. Even those without a high temperature have huge red cheeks it’s so bloody hot. I would imagine that 25o is about the perfect temperature for viruses to spread, but given that the medical profession can only throw its hands up and back away frantically making the sign of the cross the moment they suspect a virus, they probably haven’t figured that out yet.
We are in hour three. I am so exhausted from all the jigging and placating and waiting that I can hardly think straight. I am desperate for a drink of water but dare not leave the waiting room in case they pick that moment to call us in. A woman bursts through the door and collars a nurse, angrily tackling her about how long she has had to wait. The nurse tells her she is next in the queue and her daughter suggests they stay in the waiting room, to which the mother replies: ” am not waiting in here! It is full of sick people!” She has a point, but really, there’s plenty of virus to go round, she should come and try some.
B is getting more and more vocal about the fact he is bloody tired, feels ill and wants to go to bed, and my various attempts to placate him are useless. Another mum comes up to him, stroking him and gently shushing him, and he falls quiet immediately. It’s always so nice to have your parental incomeptencies demonstrated to a room full of people.
At the point the nurses explain to those of us left in the waiting room that it is midnight so they are going home, a mild depression settles on me. Soon, just B and I are left with another mum and her daughter. No one else comes in or out. By this time, B has decided that he is just so bloody tired that there is only one thing left to do: scream. So with shooting pains down my back and a fierce burning in my shoulders, I jig him around a bit more. A registrar comes in and we all look at her with hope, but she sits down at the desk and only acknowledges our presence when B’s yelling is obviously annoying her and she turns and gives me a hard, black stare. The end of my tether slithered away to get some sleep over and hour ago, and it takes all my will power not to dump B on her lap and tell her to do a better job if she can. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Actually, that’s bullshit. There is no laughter at this juncture whatsoever.
At 1am, four long, lonely, hours after we arrived, another registrar appears and calls us into a cubicle. He looks at B, who has stopped crying, no doubt from the shock of actually having some medical attention, and tickles him under the chin. B giggles. I could have flipped up the lid of the metal bin next to me and popped him in right then and there. The registrar continues to tickle and coo at my son. Er… sorry. I have waited four hours to see you. I am not sure I am really that keen on wasting time like this.
“Isn’t he lovely?” the registrar says. I grit my teeth. That is not a fucking diagnosis, doctor-man, so shut up.
“He was struggling to breathe.” I state. He looks at his form, looks back at B and starts gurning at him again. No. Stop this. I may have to punch you.
The registrar steps back and looks at B, before waving at him. What the hell is this? Do you not want to listen to his chest? Check for a rash? Look in his ears? At the very least, wipe his bloody nose. DO SOMETHING, FOR CHRISSAKES.
“He seems to have calmed down now.” No shit, Sherlock.
“It is probably a…”
No, I think to myself, as the words come from the registrar. Don’t say it. Not the V word.
The virus. That stealthy interloper, insinuating its way into blood streams under the cover of darkness, undetectable and unfathomable by our greatest scientists. And our medical profession. Got a load of symptoms and can’t work out what it is? We’ll call that a virus. Got a load of different symptoms and still can’t work out what it is? Well whadda you know, we’ll call that a virus too.
He smiles again at B. “You can go home.”
I am so tired and angry I cannot speak, so plonk B in the pram and head home.
I blame that bloody green sticker. Maybe it didn’t mean Paranoid Time Waster. Maybe it meant: Diagnose as a Virus.