ER? No Thanks

Growing up in my parents house, I never saw an Emergency Room past the age of 7–when I spectacularly almost lost the tip of my left middle finger after catching it in a storm door at Brownies. There was a lot of blood and a lot of histrionics on my part (and some amount of laughter on the part of the other Brownies, but that’s for a later day), and I learned a lot, intensively, in the next hour.

It wasn’t for lack of activity that Mom and I didn’t go see the doctor. I’m sure there were visits for strep, bronchitis, Mom’s menopause, that kind of thing. But the simple stuff?

Mom had an utter passion for yardwork. Poor thing, she wanted to recreate her youthful memories of Wisconsin using a backyard in Kansas. She refused to believe it wasn’t possible. With enough trees, anything could be done. So she and I dug holes, lopped branches, worked with all kinds of sharp implements while I was growing up. Clippers, trimmers, cutters, loppers, choppers–I don’t know the names for the tools, but she and I sure used them. The most spectacular injury I can remember was the time when she degloved the second knuckle on either the index or middle finger of her right hand with something. Blood filled the bathroom sink, and I wasn’t allowed to look.

While I was 10-11, we ‘took care” of some American Shetland ponies, half wild animals that we worked at gentling. Later, there were Saddlebreds. I was lucky enough not to get kicked, but it felt as if everything happened me: I was bit, stepped on, ground between irresistible equine side and immovable object (usually a fence), and bucked off. there was probably some barbed wire around. Nails. Splinters. Once I came off a pony and landed on a triangular piece of glassy rock that gouged a hole right in the center of my palm.

Mom was also an accomplished cook, with the corresponding knife stable. Old, old steel knives and a serious antique sharpener. Which, occasionally, would mean a sacrifice to the kitchen spirits.

So when skin was broken and the blood flowing, we followed a set protocol. Wash out the wound with warm water and gentle soap. Douse it all in merthiolate (remember, 30-35 years ago). Salve with A&D ointment. Gauze, and tape–or a bandaid, if the laceration or contusion was small enough. No, we never went and had stitches, or had a doctor look at anything. After two kids with three ER visits between the two of them–which took 7, 5, and 4 hours respectively, I’m very glad they didn’t. I also realize I’m very blessed that we haven’t needed to go more than those times.

I read this, and I think, am I bragging? I dunno–maybe a bit? I’ve been so disillusioned with the ER care that I’ve run into, that my first reaction when hearing someone wonder if they should go to the ER for what seems to me a minor wound is utter puzzlement.


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