At the ER
This was uttered by at least one EMT and one nurse who saw Charlie yesterday.
Charlie's age and his height and size are always on our minds, but ever so much on Saturday. In the morning, we took him to his pediatrician's office. Earlier this week, Charlie had bitten his mouth at school. The school nurse had checked him and, while we knew he wasn't so comfortable, he's been eating and we kept an eye on his mouth. But on Christmas day, his lower lip was becoming discolored and by Saturday morning, it was infected and he woke up tense and distressed. A visit to the doctor—to the office where Charlie has done really well on numerous appointments, and where the staff has shown a great deal of understanding and kindness to him—was in order.
The practice's main building is located in an old Victorian house and its spaces—waiting room, exam rooms—aren't too spatious. Charlie's always been ok on one of the plastic-cushioned benches by the front window and that's where he went to sit while I signed him in and Jim parked the car. It was as well; every seat was taken with sniffling, coughing children—all about 6 years old or under, it seemed—and their parents.
I turned in time to see Charlie's face drawn, his teeth gritted, and his head thrown back. The glass shattered, he cried, the woman sitting with a young child beside him gasped. Actually, everyone was gasping or crying. A doctor appeared, a nurse appeared, Jim appeared and Charlie was very, very, very upset.
Several minutes later, he was calm, though weeping as he stood in a corner of the now-emptied waiting room, when the EMTs arrived and I answered questions in a low voice while Jim gently ushered Charlie out. I stayed several minutes longer to talk to the doctor and office staff and assure them that we'd pay for the window and to thank them for taking care of Charlie over the years, all while thinking, are we never going to be able to take him back here. And knowing it wasn't the moment to think about this. Though of course I started thinking, maybe if both Jim and I accompany Charlie……it's time to start looking for another doctor's office……..
We went to the ER of our local hospital. I went in and registered Charlie while he and Jim parked the car and took their time coming in and that's how we managed what turned into over two hours of waiting (though we would have waited even longer if we had not come in the morning; the waiting room was half-filled when we came, and packed when we left at 2.30pm). With the tight quarters of the pediatricians' waiting room in mind, Jim and Charlie walked around the hospital and stayed in the big, well-lit waiting room after his name was called and we were told to wait in the pediatric waiting room.
This room was triangular shaped with only a few chairs and a low table in the middle, with a bead coaster, the same exact one Charlie was once entranced by. All the chairs were first occupied by four adults, one baby, one toddler, and a lot of diaper bags and baby carriers. A nurse appeared after a few minutes and everyone, and all their stuff, disappeared behind a door. I sat down, texted Jim, and pulled out a book.
There was a time when I was never without a book in my bag. This was in the time before iPhones and Blackberries and the whole hand-held menagerie, but also before Charlie was born and I'd get to appointments a bit early to sneak in a few more pages, or not mind it when I was in a long line at the supermarket. With Charlie a babe on my arm, and then a small child requiring constant hand-holding and watchdog supervision, I was never "without anything to do"; quite the opposite. That's never really changed though sometimes—waiting in the car to pick up Charlie—I've done some hasty reading in preparation for a class.
But it happened that I had a book, not looked at since college, of this author with me and, Charlie being with Jim, I read about "the central issue of Senecan moral philosophy [being] the control of the passions [affectus] and the attainment of inner peace through rational conformity with nature" while two women with headscarfs and a baby in a carrier sat down beside me, and an older woman in a green quilted jacket carrying a pale baby and a younger woman (whom the baby closely resembled) took what seats they could find. The younger woman in the headscarf went to the cafeteria and the other woman noted that she was, indeed, young, and hadn't brought a change of clothes for her daughter (the baby), who kept vomiting. The woman in the green coat noted that she works at the hospital, that it's a teaching hospital, and why weren't there more residents around to deal with so many patients (including her grandson, who was chewing on her leather purse strap and looking at me with big blue eyes).
I kept texting Jim; Charlie was fine, sitting, asking for the car, still sitting. But as the second hour was nearing an end, and with the memory of that broken window on my mind, I pushed open the door to the exam rooms and asked, how much longer? Another doctor was coming at 2pm, I was told. And then, bring Charlie in.
The nurse who first came in chided Jim and me when we answered his question of "how old are you." "He's autistic," Jim and I each said; "no one told me," replied the nurse. It's the case that we often rush to tell people just that piece of information, only to get the response of "yes I know, what's your big concern?". It was hardly the time to quibble and the nurse looked Charlie over and then left and, while we waited, I noticed that the two women and the toddler across the hall had been among the original people I'd seen in the pediatric waiting room.
Another nurse had mentioned that our pediatrician had called ahead about Charlie and maybe that was why a doctor (first name: Pompeo) came in soon. He was decisive in his manner and movements and Charlie responded to his requests to open and close his mouth, and let the doctor pull at his lip and look into his mouth and at his gums, for quite awhile. The doctor told us that the infection hadn't spread beyond Charlie's lip and told us to watch if it did (and to come back to the ER if that happened), and that it was good that Charlie had not lost his appetite. A nurse brought in an antibiotic in cup and pill form and was very surprised when Charlie gulped down the (quite large) pill I handed him. As we went out, I saw the second family who'd originally been in the pediatric waiting room still in an exam room and they kind -waved, kindly.
The cold air and the rain felt good as we hurried back to the car and then to the Golden Arches and then Walgreen's (my 7th trip in 5 days, should you need to know!).
I've read so many articles about "how to help your autistic child get through the holidays" and about getting through doctor's visits. But so few address how to help your older, pre-teen, adolescent, teenage, adult autistic child get through the holidays and the doctor's office (and just the waiting room). On the one hand, all these years with Charlie have taught Jim and me what to do and what not, but now that Charlie is older—"only" twelve, but older—what once worked doesn't, or only works to a certain extent. Everyone was very helpful and kindly to Charlie, but just as he's now going to a separate school for autistic children, so we're thinking that it might be best to bring him to a clinic that sees more patients with disabilities (with a roomier waiting room). After the pediatrician's office, Charlie did so well waiting for an seemingly endless amount of time and then following the doctor's directions (and letting the doctor poke his fingers in his mouth). And all while he must have been suffering from a tremendous amount of pain from the infection.
He's a growing up boy. He can handle a lot, but people and places that can reach out to handle his needs—these we need to keep looking for, and to keep creating.