The night in the emergency ward

Sitting in the emergency room at 2 am is every parent’s nightmare and we spent one night last week doing just that. The OA and I were out for dinner and got back to see the Bean wide awake and refusing to settle in to bed. The maid had tried everything in her power and was at her wit’s end.

We took over and the OA took her back to bed. He came back looking rather pleased with himself but that smirk got wiped off his face the moment the door creaked open and a little head peeped in. I groaned, got out of bed and walked her back to sleep. Lather, rinse, repeat.

And with each trip she got progressively worked up and soon was in tears. Eventually we got to the heart of the matter – The aliens were coming to get her. Telling ourselves that we wouldn’t be reading anymore bedtime stories about aliens and monsters we tucked her in between us and gave up the quarter-hourly trot to the nursery.

But it didn’t end and she kept tossing, turning, fidgeting.  We began to panic and she finally said she had a throat ache. Sips of saline water, honey and what not later, we were back to square one. Tossing, turning, fidgeting.

Finally she admitted to an ear ache. The OA and I frantically ran around medicating and ear-dropping. No joy there either. By this time she was in fine fettle, throwing herself from one side of the bed to the other, climbing on one prone parent and then the other. I rocked her in the rocking chair, walked her around the room and loudly begged the Good Lord to have mercy on her and as a result, us.

Finally it seemed like the medication wasn’t taking effect and we bundled her into the car and headed to the hospital. It was a stormy night and the roads were deserted. We reached the hospital and were surprised to find no staff at the door to guide patients, a lazy security guy who vaguely pointed the direction we should be heading in and empty corridors with none of the bustle you see in other hospitals at all hours. We were also rather unimpressed with the reaction time in the emergency ward. Yes, a child’s ear ache is small change compared to those dying of a heart attack and brought in off an accident scene, but they had none of those that night. Nurses stood around chatting in Malayalam while the OA and I desperately asked someone to give us a hearing. A doctor who seemed in charge smiled apologetically and said – I’m a cardiologist, I can’t help you.

Yes, well then who can?

The OA was drooping with sleep, the Bean was wriggling around mercilessly and I was close to sticking a scalpel into a nurse just to get some attention. Watching your child suffer is not easy. Watching your child suffer while others chit chat about the weather is simply frustrating.

Finally I pushed the OA awake and sent him to get someone. No joy there. Then I played the exhausted mother card and walked out of the Emergency Unit, found another doctor and got someone to page the ENT Specialist on call. She came after 45 minutes by which time the medication we gave the Bean had naturally taken effect and she was fast asleep. We were even considering going home with her when we decided that it would be better to wait and get it examined in case she woke up screaming again. Of course the doctor examining her woke her up again but she was now out of pain and manageable. The doctor was rather sweet and kind and nothing like our last experience here with the Brat.

We’d brought the Brat in on an emergency  too – his throat began to swell to alarming proportions one winter morning and suddenly he could neither swallow nor talk. Again, we had taken him to the emergency where after a long wait we got an appointment with the Head of one of the Pediatric departments.  Dressed in a short tight skirt and jacket the lady looked really out of place in a hospital and more off the off the sets of Santa Barbara. Fifty plus, heavily made up face and stiffly blow dried hair, long painted talons and massive diamonds twinkling on all her fingers. The wall behind her was decorated with testimonies of how great she was – awards, certificates, photographs with dignitaries.  She was talking to a number of people while looking questioningly at us. A certain impatience making us wonder if we as patients, were intruders in the doctor’s chambers.  Slightly mindful of manners and loathe to interrupt the OA and I finally explained what was wrong with the Brat.

Perhaps we should have walked out the moment she looked blankly at the Brat and said ‘What swelling?’ The huge lump under his chin wouldn’t be missed by a blind man and here the expert needed us to guide her. We kept pointing, she kept asking, and digging her talons into the child and dragging him closer while he baulked at this treatment and pulled away. Finally she told the OA to hold him and when the OA failed to do it to her satisfaction she yelled at him and made him make bands of his arms and literally strap the Brat down. It was unnecessary when all it would have taken is some warmth – he’s not unnecessarily intractable. I wondered how she fared in the pediatric department with no bedside manner, no way with children.

Finally one of the acolytes pointed out where the Brat’s neck was swollen. The fine lady just nodded and said okay, but I don’t know what it is. Could be tuberculosis. The acolyte politely mentioned that this infection of the gland was doing the rounds in schools. I deliberately pulled the Brat away from the high priestess and focussed on the acolyte. No mother wants her children being manhandled by someone who doesn’t know their job.

This hospital is one founded by a famous cardiologist and the entire point, I was told, was to get good affordable healthcare to the general public. But two emergency situations with poor turnaround times and terrible service and I’m not convinced that his vision is working out the way he planned.

And so that night too, we left with the Bean, feeling rather dispirited. At one level glad that we’d had the knowledge to deal with her pain and given her something that worked even before the doctor got to her. At another, feeling disappointed that as parents we couldn’t provide her with better medical care. The skies were pouring forth by now and as we got into the car, tired, sleepy, exhausted, pissed off and grumpy, the wide awake by now Bean pointed up to the sky – Look ma, lightning scribbles.

It reminded me of this book that is doing the rounds – Go the Fuck to Sleep.  You can read about it here and here and here. I have the pdf copy so mail me at if you’d like to read it too.

57 thoughts on “The night in the emergency ward

  1. Hey MM! Maybe I am too bad, because all the while I was waiting for you to snap at some doc there, I was kinda getting impatient with them too!

    I hate to be worried, and with kids everything, even micro is a macro, so glad you guys did not think it was some child’s idle story to avoid sleep.

    Send me the book na..wanna read it too 🙂

  2. It’s so sad that you had to go through such treatment.
    I’ve had my share of grouses with the doctors – have never written about it, though. I agree it can be frustrating to see your loved ones suffering and no attention being paid to them; rather talks of weather and the like are going on, as you say.

  3. Yikes! Hope the Bean is ok now. Go The Fuck To Sleep made me smile – my son is currently “adjusting” his sleep schedule – but this statement in the first article you linked gave me pause: “Whatever the cause, it is definitely the case that, when faced with a kid who refuses to go to sleep, we get annoyed, like all parents before us, but, rather than just abandoning the child to the dark and telling it that it can go to sleep or stay awake as it likes but it is staying in the bed until morning (remember Proust at the opening of “Swann’s Way”?), we sit there with it, reading to it and singing to it and distracting it with swirling night lights until it decides it feels like going to sleep, all the while thinking to ourselves, Go the fuck to sleep, kid.” This she attributes to us not being “adults”. I think that in many Asian countries people would traditionally not abandon their kid to the dark. This idea is quite a modern one – and has worked for some people and not worked for others. I think methods like cry-it-out became crucial in the US because they have NO help. Not saying it is bad – my sister did it with not much pain but there are others for whom it has not worked at all. When I suggested we try it for my son, my Filipino helper looked very doubtful and unenthusiastic. She is the one who wakes up for his night feed but she is not enthusiastic about sleep training him. So even in her culture, it is unusual to leave kids to sort out their own stuff in the dark.

  4. I have been in India for less than a week and I am SICK and TIRED of the services available for those who have the money! I shudder to think what happens to those who do not have the money 😦

    I hope the Bean is feeling better now

  5. bleddy assholes the docs in this city/town are. i hate most of them. assholes. u dont know who to trust.

    hope the Bean is all ok now.

  6. increasingly it seems that top doctors (atleast the ones who are considered to be so) are getting more and more rude with their patients. i know in this case we’re not exactly customers but still we pay our hard-earned money in the hope that they can ‘fix’ us, or more importantly if we have kids, our kids. paying upward of 300 for a rude doctor, who might not even glance at my baby and will be irritated if she cries and wriggles is not my idea of money well-spent. and actually money wasted is the least of the problem then. what happened to docs who smile and atleast look interested and then give the baby a toy or candy for behaving well?

  7. I know how hard it is to see ur loved ones in pain.. My dad too was admitted abt 3 years ago.. and it was one of the most reckless nights ever… Hope the bean is fine now?

  8. Yes, it’s frustrating to see hospitals be so callous with patients. I stopped going to famous paediatricians/hospitals – what’s the point of waiting 4 hours with a feverish child in AC environs that’s going to make things worse ? Unless of course the child has to see a speciality doctor for some major ailment/handicap. I am happy with the motherly paediatricians I managed to find both in Chennai and Kolkata who don’t mind the odd call on the mobile and quick visits to examine the child.

    Hope bean is better now .

    • Yes, I don’t go to them either but it was 1 am so i didnt want to wake up a regular doc. emergency seemed a better idea. plus we havent found a good one in gurgaon 😦

      • There are good docs every where sweetheart…. have been lucky to find two such docs.. whom I call at all odd hours and when required even sms them for advice….and we had a good experience at the same hospital emergency… with Joy….they wee excellent……or maybe we were just lucky…..

        • And all good peds don’t have to be grandmothers….young docs do a wonderful job as well….. it’s the ‘touch’ that matters….

          • I prefer the grandmothers. They have not just knowledge but experience on their sides. You can’t deny that 30 years of practice shows you more cases than five. And yes I know one can call at odd hours etc, but I can’t bear to. 😦 I hate people calling me for work during my off hours so I do them the same courtesy. I realise that doctors are meant to be there when you need the, but I take the kids if they need regular vaccines etc to the family doc. But for emergencies – we’ve not had too many (touchwood) i go to the hospital to the people who are paid to be on duty at that time.

  9. I have done one too. When my son’s fever was refusing to come down. 5 am to the hospital. But they were not so bad. The doc came and gave him a shot in 15 mins which brought down the fever.

  10. Hey, I hope bean’s feeling well now and been there done that with terrible service….
    I’d really like to read the PDF of that book, since am on my way to Baby 2, emailing you now..

  11. I so empathise. Hope she’s better ? Must have been an infection – hope she had an antibiotic course to clear it up. Love and huggz.
    As for the docs – ugh is my reaction. So what if he is a cardiologist ? He bloody well knows the basics of medicine doesnt he ? And about the paed – she needs to be slapped. Hope you have yourselves a good paediatrician in the vicinity…

  12. MM, Emergency rooms are bad even in the US. Like you said, the big stuff gets attention, not screaming kids – in recent years the trend here has been to have separate urgent care or paed. emergency centers for these kind of late night, non life-threatening situations. In India, acc. to BIL/SIL the ONLY thing that works, is a personal relationship with a ped – They had theirs on speed dial, when they were in India. Being anon in a hospital just doesn’t get you anywhere – so find yourself a good ped ASAP.

    • My experience has not been the same though. Perhaps it depends on the hospital or the county. I live in Maryland, US and we’ve been to the emergency quite a few times with my kid. Every time the staff has been very polite and professional. It’s a relief when you see your child feeling better…

    • Actually I never call peds at night, no matter how sick the child is. I just feel that they have a right to some sleep too! I have seen many hysterical parents with the doctor’s number on speed dial. That way you call and get your medication on the phone and dont end up paying the doc’s fees either, with no thought to the fact that you are disturbing them for a mere runny tummy or something at 1 am. I prefer taking the child to the hospital where people are paid to be up at that time of the night and they can actually examine the child and see if anything else is required. this is just my take on it.
      and yes, we have had a personal relationship with the peds until now. we now have to find one of those old warm grandmotherly ladies in gurgaon.

  13. Hi MM,

    I hope she is feeling better now… It is an harrowing experience to wait at emergency with sick kids but indifferent/inconsiderate doctors make it worse. Sometimes I think whatever happened to the “noble” profession…

  14. ouch. I see from the comments she is okay now, thank God!

    I hope for you to find a warm, good doc for the family soon enough. I’m yet to find a good MD in chennai, yet! It was easier finding good ones in the smaller towns we lived in.

  15. Hope the Bean is feeling better now. I can only imagine how tough it must have been.
    We went to a doctor, aged, lady for my son who was down with cough. He also had a little dry blood in his ear. Freaking out as any parent would, we rushed to the first doc we could find.
    She wanted to see his ear. I was helping him lie down, turn around… “NO! YOU DONT INSTRUCT HIM”.. she yelled at me.. Ok, i thought, handle him yourself.
    My son refused to cooperate with her. She had more complaints about that. Had she spoken to him kindly first, the whole consultation would’ve been easy for all of us.
    Finally what little she saw of his ear, she declared that a part of his ear membrane was missing… while his hearing has had no problem at all….
    He had apparently scratched his ear in his sleep and made a small bruise on the outside which had bled a bit…
    I swore never to go back to her ever, even if I she was the last human on this earth.

  16. Hugs. I went thru’ this in Feb, and completely lost my temper at the entire ER of a pretty famous hospital whose attitude to my son whose lip and front tooth was smashed and bloody was shockingly casual and neglectful. Will blog about it and link back. I’d gone the next day and met the COO and complained later and apologised for losing my cool, and he listened very kindly to me, but never got back later with either any explanation nor apology. So I’m looking for another hospital…

    What is the matter with these doctors?

      • True. I even felt that the ER should’ve just hung a board outside saying, “children will not be treated”. It was disgusting reading this and reliving our experience too, to see the total lack of professionalism and system and documentation. If you have a life-threatening emergency (and frankly, a swollen throat or excruciating earache are not to be discounted, they need to be checked and treated promptly too)…then God help you. Even when we’ve had good experiences in Indian casualties, there was no system at all. No information, no notice about the possible wait periods, no policies on prioritising of patients, nobody talking to parents freaked out about their kids…

        And it feels like parents better be on their toes scrutinising the doctors’ treatment, pursuing them and questioning them and TELLING them what to do. All this in a state of shock, worry and exhaustion. How is it possible?

  17. Pingback: “It’s not bleeding, so you go home.” « Things do not change…until we change!

  18. Glad that the bean is fine now. Whats with these kids and not realizing its an ear ache right away? Just 2 days back my daughter was turning and tossing the whole night, came to our bed and told me her ear is aching only around 4 am.(Inspite of me asking her the whole time if something was hurting)
    I thought she was just acting out just to come to sleep with us and felt guilty later:(
    I guess they dont realize the ache, huh? Luckily she slept afterwards and I took her to the ped in the day.

  19. Doctors and hospitals are annoying… but very helpful only in the worst emergencies, I can vouch for it…Hope Bean is better now…but may I add sometimes with earaches its just TLC and Daddy-Mommy that kids need more than medicine…steer clear of antibiotics! (but that’s a whole new topic in itself)

  20. uh oh… poor beanie and u guys. Hope all is well now?

    I was a li’l taken aback when u said you would send the book to us in pdf and after reading those link-ups…it was interesting to see that piracy can have a positive influence!

  21. Well well well its really sad to see this thing happening in India , you should see the crappy care we get in emergencies here in Toronto, where we always extol the virtues of decent in time health care options in India.

  22. God! good to see in the comments that beanie is fine..but seriously these specialty hospitals have no sense of you mentioned ear ache may not seem as much urgent as a heart attack, but for heavens sake its a four year old kid you are talkign about ugh!

    and that lady who treated brat, did you confirm if she really IS a doctor? doesnt seem real at all!

  23. MM,
    Good to know Beanie is fine now! Its really sad to imagine Beanie in pain and crying – I hope she is back to her Beanie-isms by now!:-)

    Mail me the book too pleaasee? Some free time at work – at last now! 😀 Would love to read it…

    Thanks in advance!

  24. I am imagining this situation and can see myself feeling utterly pained and frustrated. We have had to take KB to the ER may be about five or six times so far – other than long waiting time after the immediate check up to make sure he is OK enough to wait – I do feel they have been good to us so far. I still dread those ER visits. And if I had to deal with this kind of situation that you describe I would be really terrified every time KB got one of his coughing bouts…
    Funny – my last post was about this – not an ER visit – but how it felt when I saw KB suddenly hold his head crying in pain in the middle of the night…now we are going through sickness also at the same time for our kids?! 🙂

  25. MM- thats terrible. Happened to stay in ggn and cannot see kids suffering at the hands of incompetent docs. My daughter till date suffers from one wherein she was prescribed antibiotics on every cough and cold. Thankfully when my son was born, we found a doc who believed the little medicine, the better. I mean even when my son got to a hospital with viral diarohhea, he did not write any antibiotics saying its a viral and not a bacterial infection and will get over on its own in next 2-3 days and it did. Since then come what may, i ensure the kids go to them. have recommended him to couple of friends and colleagues and they all swear by him ( and no he doesnt pay me any commission 🙂 ). You can see more details on his blog let me know if you need more details but reason for sharing is that our children surely deserve competent and able docs

  26. It’s the same everywhere! I remember about 8 years ago when R came to visit me over winter break and he had the worst case of stomach pain ever. We walked to the hospital near my student apartment and it took a couple of hours for someone to attend to him. Then we were in a room waiting for a nurse to take vitals, then wait some more for a Dr to come by. At the end of 8 hours he was asked to get a CT and it turned out to be some stomach bug and not a ruptured appendix as we feared but it was just ridiculous! Someone could have died in that much time…may be they have some special powers in knowing what a ‘real’ emergency is and what’s not? GAH

  27. The so-called doc who checked the Brat – you should have scratched her eyes out. You have some forbearance- I would have pulled my Lady Macbeth act on her and raved and ranted till everyone in the hospital came to see what the matter was. Docs like that make me so angry!!! Dunno how far it is from your place, but try Max in Gurgaon – we had an amazing experience with their emergency care for dad last year, and even the Max in Delhi was great with the kids

  28. Hey MM checking this post late 🙂 Not sure if you have tried this medication before.. 5 ml of Ibugesic plus relieves pain in a matter of 15-20 mins. This can be repeated every 4-6 hrs. Applicalble for all aches unless the child is vomiting, This was recommended by my ped and works well until i am able to make it to the ped’s clinic next morning.

  29. MM, do us a favor and tell us the name of the ped. PLEASE. you owe it to other parents. Hospitals make us pay the consultation fees BEFORE we hit the doc’s office and we dont want to be stuck with a sick child and a sickening doc at the same time.

    While we are at it, pls do try Artemis and Paras. Paras emergency was more effective than Artemis emergency for my kid.

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