I call my son’s doctor at 7:59, hoping to grab one of the appointments they release upon opening each morning. His ear has been hurting all weekend, and now it’s beginning to redden behind the lobe. My poor little buddy is miserable.
I’m placed on hold, and seven minutes later when the receptionist comes back to me, there are no appointments available until tomorrow. I take the 9 AM, disappointed to have to wait it out another day.
It’s hard when your people are sick. Another of my three sons is having ear pain and seasonal allergies. My husband has been coughing through the night for a month (the doc says his is allergies too). Both of the foster babes we’ve helped care for this week have been punky – teething, snotting, watery eyes – ALL the fluids! And the hip I’ve been doctoring for two years has been especially angry.
We’re kind of a sorry bunch around here, yet I trust it’s all temporary.
On the way to the doctor’s office, my son asks me if he’ll have to get a shot.
I don’t think so, Bud. You will most likely get an antibiotic medicine that you drink.
Will it taste bad?
They try to make it taste fruity – sort of bubble-gummy. But honestly, it’s not the best.
Have you ever had to have an antibiotic?
Quite a few times. Most people do at one time or another.
I’ve had strep throat before. I had pneumonia once. And I’ve had IV antibiotics after my c-sections.
A needle in your arm that delivers fluids or medicine straight into your body.
Will I have to have that?
I don’t see that happening today.
At the doctor’s office, we wait in a room with a photograph on the wall of a man I recognize – a family practice physician who has devoted a good deal of his time providing medical care to impoverished people across the globe.
In the photo, this doctor, a gentle-faced middle-aged man in a white labcoat, leans toward two mothers clutching their young children in a makeshift hospital room. One of the children appears unwell, with an oxygen tube at his nose. The mother’s eyes are tired. Fearful. I wonder what is wrong with her precious baby.
Our doctor enters the room for my son’s exam. She looks in his eyes, throat, and ears. My son grimaces in pain.
He has a very painful outer ear infection. We are going to go after this with both an oral antibiotic and a drop that goes directly into the ear canal. If he does not show significant improvement in two days, I want you to go to urgent care and have them put a wick into his ear to help get the medicine through the swollen tissue and into the middle ear.
An hour later, we’re at the pharmacy waiting for the prescription that was supposed to be called in. I do my best to keep my boys out of mischief while we wait. One launches a bounce ball so high it nearly touches the ceiling. Another sails a stuffed monkey through the air. The sick one sits quietly, staring at the steel gray carpet.
Come on, come on, come on. Please let them find the script so we can get home and get this medicine in my son’s body.
They do find it. We do get home quickly. And I do, of course, coax my son to swallow the chalky liquid that will make him well in a few days’ time.
It’s evening now. My son rests on the couch. My hands are in the warm dishwater.
I’ve been thinking about those women in the photograph all afternoon, those mothers. Are their babies better now? Are they grown up? Did they have a chance to grow up?
In the last couple days, I’ve felt frustrated about having to wait. I waited on hold when I called the doctor and waited until the next day for an appointment. We waited in the exam room for twenty minutes before the doctor arrived. I waited at the pharmacy while they located the misplaced prescription.
Did I really wait, though? Was that actually waiting?
From the time I called the doctor (with my phone) to the time I drove home (in my car – one of two that we own) with antibiotics (which five pharmacies near me stockpile) 27 hours had passed.
Twenty-seven hours. Barely more than a day, and the infection-fighting medicine is safely stored in my climate-controlled refrigerator, protected from light and heat. Here I stand, washing the dosage cup in clean, machine-heated water from our family’s personal well.
I didn’t track down a healer or carry my suffering baby down a dirt path to the nearest village. I didn’t beg, borrow, or steal to acquire what my child needed.
I have no idea what it is to wait.
I have a medicine cabinet in my own home stocked with pain relievers, cough suppressants, balms and oils for every ailment. There must be a dozen family practice doctors working within 20 miles of my home. If I truly can’t get an appointment, there’s an urgent care clinic/ER a half hour away (and an ambulance I could call to get us there). No one is denied care.
Sometimes, I gripe or complain about what I perceive to be “problems,” like the inconvenience of sickness within our family.
And sometimes I’m reality-checked so hard it hurts.
I think of the conversation in the car with my son – the antibiotics that have saved my life and will save his. I think of the c-sections that allowed these three children and their mother to be alive in this world. I hear my OB doc’s words after delivering my first child, a twelve pound baby: A hundred years ago you would have both been in trouble.
A hundred years ago. Yes. Or maybe today.
A hundred years ago, or a thousand miles away. Down a dusty road or muddy path. Beneath a thatched roof hut or a sweltering tent or a jungle canopy.
Somewhere, a mother is laboring with a baby too large to be born.
Somewhere, a mother rocks her sick baby and wishes for the medicine that sits in my fridge and my cabinet.
Somewhere, everywhere, a mother waits.