Prescription for Disaster

Monday, 1 December 2014

It's not for my protection, it's for yours

When your kid is sick you do whatever it takes to get them better. Suddenly your own issues don’t matter.

And you know how much I like to make a good scene.

My daughter, Kaitlynn, had been pretty sick since Ireland. We had all gotten food poisoning (that story is on its way!) yet all of us had more or less gotten over it but poor Kaitie. So, burning up and with a fever-bear sticker slapped on her forehead we took her in to the hospital on Sunday evening.

Now, I had just had chemotherapy on Friday, so a hospital full of hacking, coughing, ‘God knows what they’re carrying’ sick people is the last place I should be. But, you know. Sick kid. Parenting. All that jazz.

So Paul dropped the two of us off at the A&E (emergency room) doors and drove off to park the car – we could at least get things started. I walked in carrying Kaitie on my hip and burying my face in the neck of my sweater, trying to keep out the germs. Upon checking in I explained to the receptionist that I was severely immunosuppressed, so she kindly opened the lucrative emergency room doors for me so I could go ask a nurse for a face mask.

Now, to an emergency room full of people that have been waiting there for hours, waltzing directly from giving your name to the receptionist to the revered emergency room without waiting gets you some pretty dirty looks. Around 50 people in the waiting room and they all suddenly loathed me.

I know they did, because I feel the same when I see someone get to skip the queue and waltz in. There’s no compassion with thoughts of ‘wow, her daughter must be in awful shape, I’m glad she’s being seen so quickly.’ None of that nonsense.  None. It’s pure hatred.

And that’s okay, because when I walked back out 3 minutes later wearing a HAZMAT face mask the collective attitude of the waiting room changed from hatred to shock.

Especially during a world-wide Ebola scare.

See, the entire point of my treatments is to beat down my immune system. So, I pretty much don’t have one. Wearing a mask is awkward and uncomfortable but in that moment, it very well might just keep me alive. Looking like a complete idiot is actually a rather low price to pay.

I walked back to the children’s waiting area, still holding Kaitie on my hip. You could see the panic in the eyes of the other parents – the ebola woman was coming in here, this glass enclosed partition full of children. Some of them got up, grabbed their child and bolted out of there. Others just shifted uncomfortably in their seats. All of them stared.

Have you ever worn a face mask in public? It’s an odd experience. There are small things that we do, gestures that we make, to disarm people and to lighten a mood, such as offering a small smile.

See, while wearing a face mask I couldn’t do that. I didn’t quite realize it in time though, so I smiled at the other parents, only then realizing that they couldn’t see it. So I smiled with my eyes in a wise, knowing way. Well, that’s what I was trying to do. Instead I just opened my eyes wide and stared at them intensely from behind an Ebola face mask like some sort of serial killer.

Another parent picked up their child and left.

We were called right away, back up to the reception for triage. Never has an A&E waiting room been so silent as when I walked through the sea of people up to the desk. Moaning and coughing stopped. You could have heard a pin drop. It was… surreal.

The triage nurse hadn’t noticed me yet and when he looked up to see me standing there in my Ebola mask ‘smiling at him with my eyes’ like a creeper he shouted “Whoa!”. It took him a minute to compose himself before he continued. “Um… and what is the mask for exactly?”

“Oh.” I said. “I’ve just had chemo and am severely immunosuppressed.”

A collective sigh of relief flowed through the room like the Mexican Wave at a packed arena. Color returned to the nurse’s face as he leaned in toward me conspiratorially and stage-whispered “You know, if you were Japanese nobody would have batted an eye.”

We went through Kaitie’s condition, he gave her something to bring down her fever and then leaned in close. “You know, with the stuff you’re on you really shouldn’t be here.”

“I know,” I countered “still a mum, though. And when your kid’s sick…”

“Alright. Well, I’m going to list her as extremely urgent then. Not just because we really need to protect you given your condition, but also because you’re scaring the pants off of the other patients. It’s not a huge deal, but if you’re here much longer like this a news crew is going to show up.”

He then winked at me and in we went – this time nobody hating us for jumping the queue.

All around it was about the fastest A&E experience of our lives. Packed waiting room and we were in and out in just under an hour. Now, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t all wait our turns – especially in hospitals. I’m Canadian, I’m all about waiting my turn. And we’re almost British, so we do love to queue.

But slapping on a HAZMAT face-mask in a hospital doesn’t hurt if you need to speed things up.

Just saying.


  1. I'm dreading going into work in a few months with a tube up my nose down into my stomach and plastered to my cheek. I reckon one of those masks might be a little less humiliating. I think my husband has some of those in the shed for when he's sanding. Definitely gonna try it. Failing that, would yours go through the post do you think...?

    1. Oh man, I would have SO much fun with that.

      Can't wait to hear the stories !!