Braving the ER
Susan M. Lang


I sat on the hospital emergency room examining table with my arm around a sobbing redhead. I had seen the fear slowly envelop her face as the respiratory therapist entered the room. First, my daughter stared at me with a blank expression. Then she looked cornered and panicked, as if she were totally out of control, which in fact one is in an ER setting. Finally her face turned as red as her hair. I knew what was next. "Are you all right?" I had asked from my seat on the chair across the room. She never said a word. Just shook her head in a rapid negative response, with now moistened hair sticking to her face.

The respiratory therapist had given me a strange look when I hopped up onto the table to sit next to Mary. I could tell from his youthful look, and lack of a wedding band, that he wasn't well versed in handling children.

"What's a normal peak flow for an eight year old?" I asked as I watched him direct my daughter to blow into a little tube to measure her breathing. "I don't really know," he said. "A normal reading for an adult is 400-350."

I know that much, I have asthma too. It's one of those things I wish she hadn't inherited. She has my love for reading, writing, and crafting. She has her father's musical abilities, and a wonderful God-given singing voice. She has her own unique sensitivity and loving personality. But she's stuck with my allergies and tendency towards asthma. Asthma that was discovered when she was three years old, but hasn't acted up for nearly four years. This year it has returned, so she's out of practice dealing with her illness, and it's scary. For me too.

As the therapist opened the bag containing the tubing for an inhalation treatment, Mary tensed even more and looked at me with wide eyes. "It's okay," I said, "You just have to breathe through the tube. The medicine will do the rest." The therapist showed her how to hold the device and then stood there silently staring at her.

As parents, we make countless trips to the emergency room and each time I am stunned by how unfriendly, and frightening the experience is to a child. When our youngest, now five, was thirteen months old, she gashed her forehead on the living room video tape cabinet. I stood not six feet from her as she bent forward. When she picked her head up, she was crying, and bleeding. My top heavy toddler had fallen directly into the edge of the cabinet. I hadn't known that head wounds could bleed so profusely, until that moment.

That night we waited for over two hours before they were even able to start working on her. Most of the time she was crying. Her red face made the two inch gash look even more terrifying. She was in obvious pain and I couldn't do a thing but hold her. Thankfully her Dad and I took turns.

Although my parents made trips to the ER with my two sisters and me when we were kids, they were rare moments. But those were the days of home visits from family doctors. The doctor came to our house when I broke out with measles, and chicken pox, and when my youngest sister got the mumps. I still remember him holding her ankles and saying, "Yes, it's definitely the mumps." It's one of those odd memories. I still don't know if there are glands in your ankles, but it makes me laugh to remember it.

When I stabbed myself in the forehead with a pencil at six years old, my mother called our doctor's office and he had us rush over there on a Saturday afternoon so that he could take a look and clean the cut. I needed stitches, but I knew our doctor as if he were a family friend. He was calm, warm, and reassuring, as he gently numbed my forehead and told me to keep my eyes closed so that I wouldn't get myself more scared. I think he even turned the radio on so I'd have something to listen to. The procedure didn't seem that bad, even though I cried afterwards out of relief that it was over.

I miss the old days of medicine. When you didn't have to call some unknown person at a office in the midwest to get approval for a necessary medical procedure. When doctors came to your home when you were sick, and seemed a part of the family.

After an inhalation therapy, a chest x ray, a dose of prednisone, and another inhalation treatment, the ER finally released Mary with three prescriptions, and orders to see our pediatrician the next day.

"You were a brave girl today," I said, later as we sat on the kitchen bench talking.

"But Mom, I cried," she responded, not quite believing me.

"Being brave doesn't mean not being scared." I said. "It means doing what you know you have to do, especially when you're scared, and when you don't really want to do it."

It sounds like a definition of parenting, too.


Susan M. Lang is an ordained pastor, a mother of two daughters, and a pastor's spouse. She is author of Our Community: Dealing with Conflict in Our Congregation [Augsburg Fortress, 2002] and edits The RevWriter Resource newsletter for busy congregational leaders. See her websites: and

As section editor of Christian Parenting at BPO, she can be contacted at

copyright 2003 Susan M. Lang

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