There’s nothing worse than the feeling you get when you are confronted by your child running towards you screaming and clutching a heavily bleeding hand, and you realise that you have to take him to hospital. A little part of you hurts with him, a big part kicks into Efficient Mummy Mode, and yet, if you’re honest, there’s that teeny weeny part that thinks ‘Oh God, now I’ve got to face A&E’. This is, as most parents know, one of the hardest things to do with a sickly child. We are very fortunate in this country to have a thriving NHS, which although antiquated in parts, has a very ‘fair for all’ policy, and which attempts to take care of all who walk through its doors. And this policy means that on entering A&E your case is assessed at various points, and those who are deemed less of an emergency than others are constantly shunted down the list as more pressing cases are admitted.
As a parent of three boys, we have had our fair share of hospitals – and primarily all through the A&E. Eldest Son has had major surgery on a finger, several overnight stays and a couple of x rays. Middle Son who went through a phase of running into walls and coffee tables, has been glued and stitched on his head three times, and as a baby had breathing problems and associated overnight stays. Little Man has been x rayed several times, has had his chin glued, and once had an emergency five night stay in a hospital in Devon. And from the sound of it, this is not that uncommon in a family of our size and with no (touch wood) ongoing health issues.
In our area, the hospital is relatively big and modern, and we have the main A&E and then the childrens A&E – which differs mainly in the décor with enormous animal murals, books and toys and a TV with set stations blaring throughout the day. The access is through the main A&E, where people with blank faces sit staring at a sign which tells them that they will be waiting for an hour if they are lucky, and would say (if it could talk) Why Didn’t You Bring a Packed Lunch? Which is precisely where the clientele of the kids A&E differs, in that most parents know that in the case of an emergency, a spare chocolate bar will never go amiss, but only after assessment and Calpol.
In amongst the snuffling of babies with bunged up noses and chests, teenagers proudly holding sprained limbs from just sustained sporting injuries, and where toddlers with viral induced red faces try and beat each other up with saucepans over the toy kitchen, parents wait patiently, as CBeebies blares continuously in the background. And then a tired doctor with a friendly smile calls you into a cubicle and draws a curtain, so that no one can see your reaction, and can only hear your child’s.
And then it’s glueing or stitching or x raying, or up to another department. Occasionally it is an overnight stay where you slump uncomfortably in a chair beside the tiny figure of your little boy as he tosses and turns in fever, his cries mixing with the other on the ward. And despite needing the toilet, you can’t leave him, for fear that he may rise and find you gone.
And at dawn he wakes up, temperature gone, angry cheeks pale once more, and he smiles and stretches. And you feel like a used tissue, crumpled, slightly damp and stuffed into the corner of the chair. And a crisp smiling nurse with a starched top and a cheerful voice signs you out, as you emerge into the sunlight, blinking.
We may moan at the state of the NHS, or the wait at A&E, but when the going gets tough for your kid, there’s no better place for them to be.