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An ER visit with my Daughter amidst a Delta Wave

I wanted to write this to share a perspective on how choosing not to get vaccinated impacts other people. I wanted to write this to reflect and process something traumatic in my family’s small corner of the universe.

In the middle of December, during the height of the delta wave in Michigan, I got a call from my partner. She quickly and hurriedly informed me that my daughter fell and split her head open on the edge of a bookshelf. Thankfully I was less than a mile away. I rushed home to take her to the ER with my wife applying pressure to her head with a kitchen towel that was changing color before my eyes.

When we arrived at the ER it was staggering to see the sheer amount of people spilling out of triage into the hallway.

60+ people looking worse for wear with a medical staff tragically under-suited for the wave of people. We waited 4 hours for care*. The pediatric and E.R. were at capacity. Everyone was.

When we finally saw the pediatric staff my daughter was still bleeding. The floor in the room was incredibly sticky and unclean. The Nurse Practitioner came in, greeted us and asked, “What can I do for you?” as if she wasn’t informed of the situation. We asked for clarification because we were confused by the question. My partner told her what happened and mentioned that my daughter had been complaining of nausea, and that her eyes had been dilated differently earlier, at which point the Nurse Practitioner rolled her eyes. She reluctantly proceeded to ask all the concussion questions. She looked over and had this look on her face like told you so. We wrote this off as COVID exhaustion.

The Nurse Practitioner told us they were going to put a gel on her wound to numb it. They also recommended something to calm her nerves before the procedure. We agreed. Everything seemed normal when they applied the gel to numb the wound. When it was time for the anti-anxiety spray (which after the procedure we learned was Fentanyl) they then informed us that it burns and makes most children cry. My daughter cried and cried.

After she stopped crying and started acting goofy they strapped her to a board with her arms bound at her sides and had me hold my telephone with cartoons. My daughter seemed aloof and zoned out. She was aloof to the Nurse Practitioner applying the internal stitch. My daughter then proceeded to scream relentlessly as they started the external stitches. Startled and distressed we asked if this level of pain was normal. The Nurse Practitioner insisted she wasn’t feeling any pain, but just the pressure. She proceeded while the other staff were relatively silent.

My daughter let out the longest scream I’ve ever heard.

She looked me in the eye and wildly pronounced, questioningly, “I am going crazy????”. I asked the other staff if this was a normal response – they didn’t answer. My wife asked the question to the Nurse Practitioner again and she stopped stitching to say, “Well if you are uncomfortable with me proceeding we can numb it more, but she isn’t feeling any pain.” I blurted out to my wife that the Nurse Practitioner was obviously lying.

My wife and I looked at each other and asked the other staff again if this is normal. Finally someone spoke up and insisted it was the normal response. They went and got a popsicle for me to give to my daughter. I held it to her mouth and the Nurse Practitioner started stitching again and my daughter started screaming. Finally, the last stitch was finished. Everything felt like a blur after that, but what lingered in my core is that It felt cruel and strange to hold a popsicle to my daughter’s mouth while she screamed.

The feeling that sunk into my being was powerlessness. I brought someone into this world and I couldn’t deliver as a father. I was angry and felt as if I was causing undue trauma to my child. I just wanted it all to end.

It’s going to be okay.

The only words of comfort that could escape my partner and I’s mouth during the stitches were, “it’s going to be okay” and “they are almost done” and “you are so brave.” I think it was like our brains’ internal response and we just repeated back to my daughter like a prayer for ourselves and not for her.

I still feel tremendously guilty and like I failed in a crucial moment of trauma my daughter had to experience. What’s worse is I still don’t know what normal is. If it was normal why weren’t my wife and I prepared for what was to come? Maybe I could have said something more encouraging. Maybe I could have formulated my words to be more empathetic.

I have no context as to what happens when you perform stitches on a five year old child high on fentanyl. So I have to take their word. When you ask other medical people they don’t want to answer. They say things like, well, the stitches were done beautifully. Or I wasn’t there so I don’t really know.

The things I do know:

Waiting 4 hours for the E.R. to fix a bleeding head wound feels excessive. I also know that not preparing / setting expectations for the parents in a situation like this isn’t right either. The nurses and Nurse Practitioner seemed inconvenienced and frustrated by our questioning and anger. They could have avoided it entirely with a five minute conversation.

I can’t help but blame the unvaccinated for putting an unnecessary burden on the hospitals. I respect their freedom of choice if they were also willing to accept some responsibility that their choices negatively impact others. But they seem so eager to dismiss it all until they are in the hospital and complain about the care. I don’t blame only the unvaccinated, but I can’t help but believe our experience was a direct result of their actions.

The others who deserve blame are the hospitals for under staffing and underpaying their employees; The healthcare system and the government for not providing more adequate healthcare. I know the bills are coming. We are already out of pocket $200.

I think to some degree my wife and I blame ourselves for an accident that may have been preventable. Five-year-old energy is raw and powerful and hard to contain.

So after processing the trauma I do reflect thankfully that my daughter had gotten her second COVID shot the day before, so the anxiety around catching COVID at the ER was lower than at any other time during the pandemic. I am also thankful that both my wife and I had access to booster shots when parts of the world are still waiting. I do think Pfizer and Moderna should open up access to the vaccine to provide vaccine equity throughout the rest of the world.

Trauma has a way of informing, for a brief moment, how we should all be looking at the world around us. We are in this together. However, it surprises me how easy it is to be hypocritical and selfish, to switch back to the routine we find so comfortable.

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