This is an amazing story by my good friend Mark Jeffery who has four beautiful children. Mark is a single dad and a faithful board member of Dads4Kids. The short title of the story says it all, “Heroes – Dads in the Emergency Room.”
My daughter sliced into her thumb with a Stanley knife – still makes my skin crawl every time I say it.
When it happened she was at her mother’s house. She came down the stairs holding a bloodied handful of tissues, and tears rolling down her face. Her mother was hysterical, but my daughter didn’t want to show her the injury. She didn’t want to show her step dad, or any of her siblings. My daughter just wanted me – her dad.
I got the call, and I made me way over to her mother’s house. My daughter wanted me to take a look and decide what we should do. One quick look and it was time to go to the Emergency Room.
I had been to this place before, with another daughter for stitches. I knew we were in for a long night.
Saw the Triage nurse, took our seat, and started the waiting game. I looked around the room and there were only two others there, so I said to my daughter “I think we might be in luck, in and out, a couple of stitches and back home in no time”. How wrong I was.
Then, almost on queue came everyone else. A young boy celebrating his birthday came in with a 2 inch gash to his forehead. A 2 year old with a facial rash that had engulfed his eye. A young mum, not sure why. Another older lady, an older man with a specimen jar. A father racing in with another 2 year old covered in blood. A young man with a fish hook in his arm. “Dude, just pull it out” my 11 year old said.
The waiting room was full, and we were sitting in the middle.
The Birthday Boy’s father was a big man, in size and presence. Obviously his first time in the ER as he wanted it to be apparently clear for all to see and hear that it was unacceptable that his son sit with a gash on his head and they do nothing about it. He was up and down. On his phone, off his phone. Sending pictures of the wound to his family and friends. He was back and forth to the desk. He was helpless and wanted something to happen. He seemed out of control, and his kid started getting worked up. The dad was then using that as a reason for the nurses to do more.
Dads are always helpless when faced with the hospital or medical field. We are so out of our depth. We feel it.
Dads are superheros. We tell our children with such conviction that not only do we know everything (we do, seriously, dads know everything) but we are the strongest, smartest, funniest people on the planet. To our Kids, we dads are everything.
So, when faced with the unknown, with the fact that we can’t help, we can’t alleviate our children’s suffering, we are helpless, clueless and hopeless all at the same time.
All we can do is go back and forth to the desk. All we can do is be loud and lobby for support. It’s all we can do.
The big man was the cause of many an eye roll, but I wanted to tell him – I feel your pain. It is a pain. It is painful to sit back and see your child look at you, like the superhero they think you are, for you to only look back with eyes that shout – I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT’S HAPPENING AND I DON’T KNOW HOW TO HELP YOU.
It’s traumatic for both of us.
So, it’s our turn. Our name is finally called. We get ushered into the consulting room, and there we wait. I guess we wait for about 10 mins, but it feels like hours. And it feels like hours because my daughter is asking me a million questions about what is happening and what will happen, and I have no idea. All I can do, is make jokes, try to lift her spirits and pretend to steal medical supplies for her amusement.
The doctor comes in and grabs her hand. Obviously a long shift, bedside manners for an 11 year old dwindle after the first hour. My daughter is pained. Her eyes are filling with tears, she is looking at me, right at me, and her eyes are begging the doctor to stop. Her eyes are willing me to do something, to intervene, to help. But I can’t. I can’t stop a doctor or tell him what to do. He was already over being there.
He starts preparing for the procedure. Injects the area with about 75 needles – okay, maybe 2, but I felt them all. My daughter’s face is red, eyes are red, tears rolling down her face. She is so upset, and I just stand there. Like a deer in the headlights – like a donkey with a spinning wheel (no idea what to-do).
He folds back the skin, washes it out. And then tells us that the cut is deep. Its deep into the thumb and has cut into the tendon. He can’t fix it, and needs a hand surgeon to take a look. I think to myself, oh great, now we need to wait for another doctor.
Oh no. We aren’t waiting for a doctor. We have to travel to Sydney tomorrow morning and be there by 7am. The doctor runs off to make some calls. I notice the time and its 10pm. An hour and a half later, we get all our paperwork, referrals, reports and directions on where to go. It’s a 90 min drive to Sydney, and we need to be there at 7am. We need to leave at 5am to be safe.
We finally leave the hospital, grab some McDonalds, on the way (neither of us had eaten since lunch time), and I finally got her off to bed by 12:30. I then had to clear my work day. I fired off emails till the early hours and finally got to bed around 1:30am.
Alarm goes off at 4:30, we are up and ready to go. My daughter is now fasting, so no breaky for her.
In the car and off we go.
We get to the Sydney Children’s Hospital in Randwick around 6:40, only then to find out the particular ward isn’t open till 7:30 – so more waiting..
And more questions that I simply cannot answer about what is about to happen, what will they do, what time will we be home, and the list goes on. My superhero façade is wasting away every time I say, I don’t know that answer..
7:30am, and into the next waiting area. Waiting, waiting and more waiting. It’s Sydney Children’s hospital, so its cartoons, play equipment and toys in the waiting room. We are joined by the other weekend injuries. Two broken arms, another hand injury and a head wound.
Sometime later, I think around 10am we are assessed by the surgeon. I had hoped and prayed that the surgeon would take one look and said it wasn’t that bad, lets drop those stitches in and get on your way. As the surgeon said “so when we go to theatre” I remembered I had no medical training and no idea – so all I could do was just nod.
Now I’m starting to freak out. My daughter is having hand surgery and all I can do is provide transport. I’m like the worlds worst uber driver. I can’t even make conversation because I don’t know what is going to happen.
My daughter is really upset, and all I can do is comfort her and tell her its all going to be okay. Then she snaps back with, how do you know, you don’t know…. And that’s when I remember (no medical training) that I don’t know. I do not have a single answer. I don’t know what they are going to do, how long it will take or what will happen. I am helpless and clueless all at the same time.
Around lunch time we start seeing the surgeon tell other children in the waiting room, that they won’t have time today to undertake their surgeries so they can leave and come back tomorrow.
The surgeon makes her way over to us. She looks at me and then does a double take. My face must have been saying how I was feeling – like I was about to get some bad news. The surgeon said that if we stay there is a chance we will have our operation. All the others have gone, so if we stay, there is a chance, but it could be as late as 9pm.
Inside of me I was excited. Not for any other reason, other than I had some control. I could make a swift, pragmatic decision and show my daughter that her Superhero was calling the shots.
We’re staying. If there is a chance, I’ll take it.
After all, I had freed my whole day, and if we had to come back the next day, it would be a whole other day of organising and shifting appointments – its just better we get it done today.
So we stay. Our waiting room is quiet, everyone else has gone home.
Then we get told we can move to the next part of the hospital, one step closer, but still no idea about how long it will take.
The waiting room is full. There are so many people around waiting to be seen. Kids everywhere, parents, dads, mums, aunties, uncles, grandparents and more kids. Its bedlam.
Thankfully, as we have already been ‘checked in’ previously that morning, we are taken through. We then get to wait in a section where some children are recovering from other procedures. I’m not sure what they had done, I wasn’t going to ask.
We ended up sitting here for about six and a half hours. And I just watched all the dads.
All the superheros whose capes were in knots. Whose super strength had found its kryptonite. Whose answers for everything we in another language.
One child asked his dad for a drink – dad went and got enough drink options for a football team. “are you hungry, I found food”, “need more pillows, I got pillows” the always useful “yes yes yes, you can have whatever you like, I’ll go and find it”..
Dads just want to help, be heroes, and be in control. Sick kids just flaw us. We are helpless, clueless and for some, hopeless.
Watching my daughter sit there, bored, sore, worried, scared, nervous and full of questions and concerns, and me not being able to answer was crippling to me.
My daughter wanted me there for a reason. She wanted me to take her. I foolishly thought it was because she wanted me to save her, fix her or magically make the day and injury disappear. She actually didn’t want any of that. She just wanted me there.
She wanted me to be close. To calm her, to be that presence. That rock, that stability. She wanted reassurance. She wanted her superhero to tell her that he thought everything was fine, that everything was going to be fine.
I thought she looked at me with tears because she wanted me to do something, to help her. My daughter was looking at me for assurance. She was looking at me with tears in her eyes because she wanted me to give her the look of “Its all good darling, they know what they are doing, and I trust them. Lets just trust the process”
She didn’t want to look at me only for me to look at her with eyes that said “I don’t know what’s happening, what I’m doing, what they are doing, I don’t have the answers, I’m freaking out”..
As Dads we constantly feel the pressure to be everything that we think our kids need. At the end of the day kids just want us there. They don’t need extra pillows, more drinks, or a million biscuits.
Children trust their fathers, we all trust superheros. So when we are cool, calm and at ease, our children know that they don’t need to fear anything.
My daughter wanted me with her when she went to get her first ever surgery, because she knows I am always calm, chilled, logical, pragmatic, sensible and at ease. If I was still my normal self, then she had nothing to fear.
I was her superhero after all, and she knew I would be. I was battling her enemy (fear) without actually realising it.
We have all been placed in this position as a Dad and the superhero façade we all want to keep for the sake of our children just wastes away with every new crisis in the ‘emergency room of life’. Don’t we all know all about it!!!
Robert Downey, Jr. who plays super hero Iron Man in the movies says it well: “Do I want to be a hero to my son? No. I would like to be a very real human being. That’s hard enough.” So, the homework this week is be a hero AND be real, all at the same time, because that’s hard enough.
Yours for “Real” Fathers
PS: We still need your help. All we are asking is that you give 5 minutes of your precious time to fill out the Dads4Kids Online Survey. Dads4Kids is in the process of renewing our website and newsletter. Please watch the video asking for your help here. We also want to grow and improve but we need your expert advice to do so. So far, we have had 138 responses so thanks to all who have taken the time to do so.
To thank you for your amazing expertise, we want to give you a FREE COPY of “The Little Blue Book of Tips for Fathers and Father Figures” by Dr Bruce Robinson. Please leave your address so we can send you the book. Sorry, open to Australian residents only! CLoses 31st May 2018.