There are a few standard US experiences I hoped we wouldn’t tick off while here. Like getting shot at or mugged. I was happy to skip those. I also didn’t want to have to go to a hospital. And now I have. Though it wasn’t for me. It was for Chaos. And I’m sure we will pay for it.
It all kicked off on Friday gone when I was in the kitchen making the little people breakfast (BB was still unconscious from the now routine late night studying). Chaos toddled up to me grabbing at her mouth, making a gagging sound. The choke alarm went off and I started whacking her on the back. Nothing came out, but she was breathing normally again. I asked her what was going on.
“I swallowed a ball, Daddy.”
Great. She swallowed a ball. One of the little marble types that Hurricane plays with on his track. At this point I figured since she got it down it was probably small enough to pass through – the esophagus is the narrowest part of the process. Chaos was fine. It was Hurricane who was most on edge. He said he heard her “voice go” and wanted to be sure she could breathe properly. She could, so we carried on.
Then Chaos threw up her breakfast. Vomiting is one sign of a potential blockage – possibly where the esophagus meets the stomach. But we didn’t know if it was that or just her body trying to get rid of the marble. Anyway, we decided to just keep an eye out for other symptoms like chest or stomach pain. They didn’t materialise, and Chaos ate and drank more during the day. Until 3.30pm, when she vomited everything up again.
At this point I didn’t really have much choice but to call BB back from the study room to look after Hurricane and head to the hospital. You don’t take risks with toddlers.
To cut a long story short, we had x-rays taken but because the ball was plastic it didn’t show up. We got transferred to the children’s hospital to get a dye study done – where Chaos drank some contrast fluid while getting more x-rays so they could see if there was a blockage. They didn’t find one.
Then Chaos vomited up the contrast liquid. Twice. The doctors got worried and put her on an IV and gave her anti-vomiting meds. Then we got sent for an ultrasound to check out her intestines. All clear. I thought that would be that.
But no. They admitted us as they wanted to do an endoscopy in the morning to be certain. Chaos was put under general anesthetic and the scope found nothing. Eventually, they discharged us. All of this took place over about 28 hours.
I have no complaints about the service we got. When a toddler has ingested something and starts vomiting, you need to be certain there’s no problem. The doctors took all the precautions they had to. All the staff we encountered were friendly and competent. I never felt worried – though having Chaos’ doe eyes pleading with me when they inserted the IV and again when they had to draw blood was pretty hard.
Here’s the thing about the US system. When you get to hospital, you sign a bunch of forms and they give the patient a bracelet with a barcode on it. Whenever the patient receives treatment, they scan the barcode and it goes on the tab. As you can see, we ran up a tab.
We have insurance for the kids. But most providers don’t offer comprehensive options, so there is an element of co-pay. A trip to the emergency room is a simple $125 payment. But after that it gets a bit messier. Our policy, I now know, seemingly requires us to pay 15% toward a hospital stay and any x-rays.
Hospitals here are like shopping in those fancy boutique fashion stores where nothing has a price on it. Except you don’t get to choose the products you buy. You walk in, they ring them up and eventually you get a bill. I have no idea how much our share will be, but I would be surprised if it’s less than two grand.
It does make you appreciate the New Zealand system so much more. Obviously no system is perfect, but the fact we don’t even have to think about what a trip to the hospital could do to us financially is a pretty huge bonus. If our bill comes in around the $2k mark then yeah, it will hurt, but we can take the hit. I had built in a buffer in our finances to make sure we could.
But here’s the kicker. While we were in hospital, Hurricane went down with a vom bug. And I’m now four feral nappies and five days down in my search for the supposed marble.
She didn’t even swallow it. I think. Probably. BB is still holding out on that front.
So what happened then? My best guess is Chaos had been playing with the ball in her mouth shortly before she had an urge to vomit, and it was probably that vomit that she swallowed back down. But she conflated the two separate incidents and triggered a very expensive chain of events.
Kids eh. Might as well just buy a shredder and feed it the Benjimans.
PS. If the marble does turn up I will immortalise it in a pic for your viewing pleasure.