When I first discovered that my local ER is a surrogate day spa for mothers, I had one kid on the ground and one on the way. A migraine socked me while I was scrubbing the breakfast dishes, and had it not been for my recently having graduated from IV therapy to treat excessive prenatal vomiting, or that the headache intermittently produced, in my range of vision, a cartoonish halo of winking stars, I would have popped an OB/GYN-approved pain killer, drawn the blinds and laid my bones on a bed. But the headache plus my first child, a toddler who had not stopped caterwauling since my husband wheeled us out of the maternity ward a year and half before, warranted a trip, and after dropping my son at a friend’s place, I made the short trek to the hospital.
Apart from a 20-something sleeveless flannel junkie, arm-in-sling, trying to work a cell phone, and a ceiling-mounted TV tuned to Everybody Loves Raymond, the waiting room, like a spa’s, was relatively quiet. All I had to do was sit – a rare luxury. Then the doctor called me in. An unassuming middle-aged man in wire-frame bifocals, the kind my father wore in 1980, he introduced himself by shaking my hand and addressing me as “Ms.” He repeatedly laid a reassuring, warm hand on my forearm, helped me to the examination stretcher – not unlike an esthetician’s treatment chair – and gently asked me what was the matter, listening as intently as a seasoned massage therapist. “You need a bag,” he soothed: he meant an IV bag of electrolyte solution. Then a young, athletic nurse came in and hooked me up. As the fluid flowed in, I lay beneath pre-warmed blankets, sipping from the apple-juice box an orderly had brought. When the nurse dimmed lights and exited the room, I half expected to hear melancholic strains of Windham Hill waft in. She’d laid a few women’s magazines on my lap, which boasted such articles as how to cultivate a complete herb garden in a kitchen window, how to “bake” raw sesame flatbread in a dehydrator and how to fire up your man’s sex drive homeopathically. The pages were badly dog-eared, and I wondered if any of the previous readers had, like me, gotten a bag, and if the doctor had called them “Ms.” As the IV dripped, I resolved to sprout rosemary on all our south-facing windowsills, to purchase a dehydrator on eBay for raw “cooking,” and maybe, to indulge my hubby’s libido. Pretty soon, I dozed off and the headache waned. I’d never felt so refreshed in my life.
For several weeks after that, my thoughts constantly looped back to the ER. Toddler whining? The bag. Anxieties peaking? The bag. The vexing sense I’d relinquished everything for – laundry? The bag. Soon I began to wonder: what mommy wouldn’t want a bag – and at the ER, which, all told, is as relaxing as a day at the spa? Take, The technicians’ silent rubber-soled shoes, unlike a child’s frenetic footsteps, fall noiselessly along the corridors.for instance, the team of pleasantly uniformed, professional specialists anticipating your every desire, and using only their best inside voices. The impeccable attention to detail, from adjusting the bed just-so to taking repeated temperatures to writing generous prescriptions for your post-visit care. The technicians’ silent rubber-soled shoes, which, unlike a child’s frenetic footsteps, fall noiselessly along the corridors. The careful diagnoses; the appropriate custom remedies. Even the soft hospital gowns, which, though a far cry from Euro terry spa robes, simply appear.
And for some of the same reasons mothers book spa getaways, they may as well seek urgent care at the ER. Sleep deprivation. Multiple injuries sustained by repeated “chick pecking,” or being trampled, jostled, and jabbed by miniature knees, shoes and elbows (baby fat – what’s that?). Noise torture, or an infant’s incessant screaming (tapes of which, I recently read, are used on prisoners at Guantánamo Bay), I’m-going-to-get-Medea-on-you freak outs, generally spurred by the above plus too much coffee, plus potent anti-depressant cocktail prescribed for the “baby blues,” plus husband who often and offhandedly claims to be “totally freakin’ ecstatic,” presumably because of the birth of his progeny, and, who, turned on by this, is ever primed to bone. Then, of course, there are the children themselves, ever hollering “Wipe me!” and developing suspicious rashes and tubercular coughs, often at “bedtime,” that is, anytime between dinner and breakfast – the very Sisyphean quality of which could, as my friend Sarah often jokes, send one running for any nearby mental rehabilitation center. So why not the ER?