Monday, 25 April 2011

In which the Infant Phenomenon is in for a penny

I mean the title of my latest instalment quite literally: she swallowed a penny and ended up in hospital. The next stop after the awful event (Mr B was on duty with her and I fear was sadly shaken by her somewhat melodramatic screaming) was the Accident & Emergency department of our local infirmary (again! As if a broken leg  last year wasn't enough for her, let alone the other alarums and excursions of recent years involving the Royal Sussex County Hospital). 


I will be the first to admit that the 'ingestion of a metallic foreign body: non-hazardous' (that is the technical terminology, I saw it on the form) is considerably less vexatious than a broken leg, but I did experience considerable misgiving, as well as some not unreasonable annoyance, when we were advised to take her to the hospital.

With all the admiration I have for our marvellous health system, my experience of the Accident & Emergency Department indicates that a visit there is usually a matter of hours rather than minutes. Please, before you start to hurl offensive missiles in my general direction, remember that I am not saying that this is anyone's fault. Sometimes, one has to be monitored in a given situation, which is simply a medical way of loitering aimlessly, not doing very much and wondering how severely afflicted one/one's loved one actually is. At other times, it is a question for waiting for a particular member of staff who is fully occupied at that moment with someone much more in need of their care. When the Infant Phenomenon suddenly developed an alarmingly high temperature and a rash, we had to spend several hours simply loitering aimlessly - to ensure she wasn't developing meningitis, which might have killed her. When she broke her leg, we had to wait some while for the orthopaedic specialist who had been dealing with an injury far more serious than hers. I simply felt that we were in for a very long evening of waiting. Particularly in view of the fact that she seemed perfectly well and after the initial shock, perfectly composed. It was not an emergency.

I was annoyed with her, I will admit, on the one hand for doing something which at the age of four and a half she knows full well is ill advised; and on the other hand for doing it at bedtime. This meant I had a supperless, comfortless evening as a prospect. Our hospital is many wonderful things, but I don't think I could honestly tell you that the Accident & Emergency area is comfortable.

Imagine then my amazement when I found that we were in and out in just under half an hour. I was frankly amused when told that the first necessity was for the radiographer to examine the Infant Phenomenon with a metal detector. Yes, really. Similar to those with which one is examined at airports. And she bleeped in the right places, if I may be allowed to so express myself. The penny was safely lodged in her tummy, and thus was no immediate cause for alarm. This, though welcome news, was hardly unexpected: had it been lodged in her trachea she would probably have gone black in the face some considerable time before.

The radiographer was charming. The Infant Phenomenon had brought with her a favourite toy, her surest resort in all times of stress. The lovely radiographer tested the toy first with the metal detector and did her utmost to reassure my bewildered child that there was nothing to fear. Her previous experience of radiographers left her with an expectation that their function was to cause pain, so she was exceedingly suspicious. But all passed off smoothly.

We were then sent back to the nurse who had interviewed us on our arrival. It was at this point that I noticed the form 'Ingestion of metallic foreign bodies'. It turned out to be a kind of 'flow chart' of which the top two options were 'hazardous eg batteries or sharps' and 'non-hazardous eg coins'. This immediately made me feel better as I really couldn't contemplate the ingestion of metallic sharps with any equanimity. But to me, the most impressive thing about this particular part of the incident is that there actually is a special form for this exceedingly common, but for a parent still unnerving, incident.

I know many say that there is too much bureaucracy in the National Health Service, but I can honestly say that knowing that our particular accident was so common that it warranted its own particular form, was indescribably reassuring.

Perhaps my favourite moment of the whole trip was the puzzlement on the Infant Phenomenon's face when the nurse rather solemnly suggested that he hold her upside down by the ankles and shake her until the coin came out. She really couldn't tell whether he meant it or not.

The Infant Phenomenon is now perfectly recovered from this little mishap. I will not go into the revolting details, but suffice to say the penny has dropped. And I am so grateful to the kind and professional people who made this whole incident so much less alarming than it could have been - as well as faster.

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