Thursday, July 3, 2014

Becoming the patient - How being a preemie parent changed my perspective on healthcare.

Being a preemie parent -- or the parent of any medically fragile, medically complex child -- changes your perspective on things.

As of yesterday morning we'd been to the ER (emergency room) a total of three times this summer. Twice for J's severe illnesses, once for his older sister's broken arm.  That's more than the previous three years combined.

Yesterday we added one more ER visit and I became the patient. It was a dumb injury. I tripped on an uneven sidewalk. I was carrying JAM. I protected his head and body with my arms, so I didn't have anything to stop my fall. My knee fell on another piece of uneven concrete that acted like a knife, cutting a 5 cm gap in my knee. I knew immediately that J was scared and I was more badly injured than just a scrape I could walk off. Thankfully, my brother had just turned the corner down the same street and saw us fall. He acted as a first responder and took me to the ER, my sister-in-law took the other kids home, including an utterly unharmed Jonathan. I did my job well. My baby was safe. (I will wear my scar as a badge of honor.)

The admitting nurse asked to look at the injury. I lifted the towel. She looked shocked and immediately covered up my wound again. Yes, I know, that there is nearly entirely exposed kneecap. That's how I knew I needed to go to the ER. That one isn't going to heal itself. She told me it was one of the worst lacerations she'd seen. I thought "no, this isn't THAT bad. Looks pretty clean to me. Besides, I'm not in any danger here. It just hurts."

Yep, being a preemie parent changed me. I'm a bit tougher. After all, it's a knee. It's not NEC.

Ways being a preemie parent changed my experience in the ER:

1. They asked me my date of birth at registration. I gave Jonathan's DoB and then realized I was older than two.

2. It ain't a "medical emergency" unless you need to be sedated or put on oxygen. This here was just an inconvenience.

3. I automatically interpret numbers on the machines, it's second nature now. "Oh good. My blood pressure is pretty close to normal and my blood oxygen only a little lower than usual, but still in a normal range, so I am actually handling this fall pretty well. Guess I'm not going into much shock."

4. I understand the medical wards better. I knew why they got me in fast - I was the scariest one in the waiting room - and I suspected that if the child with burns had come in ten seconds earlier, my wait would have been about eight minutes longer. And I wouldn't have minded a bit.

5. In general I have a lot more patience and am a lot less demanding -- I know what to expect now.  They're not going to give me sprite until they see if I need surgery, so there's no sense in asking until I'm no longer NPO.

6. At the same time, I also know when I need to ask questions and how to answer their questions.  I feel like I'm part of the medical team now, from the moment I walk in. Being dramatic doesn't do anyone good. Unless you are afraid you're bleeding out on the sidewalk with only your infant around. Then, by all means, one should scream as loud as possible (and I did). But once they're attending to you? Keep to the facts and be honest about how you're feeling.

7. I notice cleanliness. Yes, nurses, I saw when you didn't put on hand sanitizer as you walked in the room. I also notice when nurses put on gloves and then rummage around opening and shutting eight different drawers trying to get the bandage for my hand ready. Yes, I know you're protecting yourself -- but if you'd first gotten out the bandage and set it aside and THEN put on the gloves, you'd be helping protect ME, too. I don't think I would have noticed before. Yes, I know this isn't a sterile procedure, but we're in the ER, and there are lots of germs around. And this here is an open wound. (They were a lot more careful and absolutely sterile when dealing with my knee -- as that was a surgery and not just a band-aid.)

8. I've seen a lot of medical procedures over the last two years. And the short of it is, I'm used to blood and needles. As such, I thought it was kinda fun to watch myself get stitched up with two layers of stitches. It's all super interesting, once you get over the shock.

The one thing that hasn't changed: I still make really bad jokes when I'm in pain. I inherited that from my father.

"This wound is 5 cm."
"Oh, good, I'm half way to having this baby then."


Really?  I really thought THAT was an appropriate response?


For those of you with medically complex kids: how has parenting changed your perspective on medicine and doctor's offices?


  1. HaHa! 5 cm - love it!
    You have experienced a lot, and I love that you've turned that into strength. You've learned, you've become empowered, and you've grown. I'm sure it's never what you wanted, but you've made the most of it, and that's inspiring. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I can relate to every single one of these! But number 7 is my favorite. Since I had my 24 weeker, my friends call me the germ nazi. I am constantly noticing when people do or don't or should wash their hands.


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