Ever taken your kids to the ER only to spend at minimum four hours in a waiting room or patient room with no toys? Haven and I found ourselves in just that situation on Thursday. A bored toddler who doesn't feel well anyway cooped up in a boring environment is a recipe for meltdown. However, with the right attitude and a little creative thinking, the ER can really be a fun place. Here's how Haven and I enjoy ourselves on our trips to the ER.
You will probably spend some time in the waiting room, even if you appear to be the only people in the hospital. Don't let this get you down. Use this time for fun!
* Play "find that germ." - there are a plethora of interesting buggies at the ER. Encourage your toddler to touch and lick every possible surface. Face it, he is going to do it anyway, so you might as well look at it as a hobby.
* Visit the bathroom as often as possible - in addition to being another excellent source of nasty germs, the bathroom has many fun toys in it such as the automatic paper towel dispenser, flush toilet, and running water.
* Your child will likely have the opportunity to increase his or her vocabulary by a few choice words when the unruly drunk who has been refused treatment is escorted out by security.
* There is generally a candy/snack/soda machine in the waiting room. Your child is already ill, do not worry about good nutrition at this point. Spend as much time as possible letting him select crap to eat and drink, insert coins, and push buttons. This exercise is not only good for learning negotiation skills, but also improves hand-eye coordination and can be referred to for bribery later in the visit.
* Once you meet the triage nurse, you can spend a few minutes entertaining him as he tries (valiantly) to weigh, measure, and examine your little one. Encourage your child to be as challenging as possible. This not only helps the nursing staff to hone their skills, but also kills approximately 4 times as many minutes as cooperating.
In the examination room, a myriad of educational opportunities await you and your toddler. Use the posters to discuss body parts and encourage the child to find the matching body parts on his or her own body. ("Eye...where's Haven's eye? Good job!
* Nose...where's Haven's nose? That's right! Tonsil...where's Haven's tonsil? Try again. Nope. Look at the poster, honey...")
* Children love lifelike pictures in vibrant colors. Help your toddler learn all about the various infectious rashes displayed about the room.
* The examination room is also an excellent place to learn about cause and effect. For example, when you pull the cord attached to this picture of the nurse an alarm will sound and nurses will come running. Okay, in reality, it's more like when you pull the cord attached to this picture of the nurse a nurse will appear in approximately 20 minutes unless your mother deciphers the obscure symbolism of the mechanism and turns off the alarm in which case no one will ever show up to inquire and if your mother brings it up the nurse will exclaim, "Oh, that's what it was!"
* When the doctor comes in your seriously ill child will probably perk up immediately, flirt a little, speak in complete sentences, and wrap up the show with a charming song and dance number. This is highly entertaining for both the child and the medical professional, but somewhat uncomfortable for the parent or parents who are still trying to convince said doctor that the child is, in fact, quite ill.
* The doctor is likely to order any variety of medical testing in order to placate you, the worried parent. This is great fun for little ones and they will usually ooh and ahhh over all of the bright colors mommy is turning as the doctor patronizes her.
* Of course, the entire trip cannot be fun and games. That's why there are medical tests. However, you can still make this time as fun as possible. I like to think of blood work as a wrestling match. Sometimes it is a toss-up who will win. X-rays are similar to a game of freeze tag with less running. Gagging during the strep test makes for some funny noises! And if your child has an RSV or influenza screen, just point out that someone ELSE is picking their nose for a change. See? Wasn't that fun?
* After the medical tests, your child will probably need some comfort even if you did an excellent job of making them game-like. This is the perfect time to whip out the junk foods you purchased in the waiting room.
* Now that your child has a sugar high, you two can explore the examining room together! Haven and I do several fun things while we wait for the doctor to come back in and tell us that it's viral and we should just go home: investigate all of the cupboards and drawers...there's lots of stuff in there and you're probably paying for it all, anyway; pull out the little plastic tips for the ottoscope and replace them in the top of the tube (this can last for HOURS); try latex gloves on baby's hands and feet and then wad them up and stuff them back in the box; let baby try all of the buttons on the pulse-ox.
Before you know it, it's time to go home, play time is over. Your child may be sad and even refuse to leave. It is best not to threaten, simply reassure the child that you will return soon to play. Remember that it is important to follow through on your promises. The next time your baby is ill and you have about $400 and 4 hours to kill, head back to the ER for more fun!