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8 Lessons I Learned About Parenting in the ER

By: Dr. Darria Long, Courtesy of Sharecare

The emergency room is not a place you go to learn about parenting. Yet, after years of working as an ER doctor, during moments ranging from tragic to the happily poignant, I’ve picked up a few lessons. Now, as a new parent, I’m trying to implement them in my own life and wanted to share them with you. Read on. And leave the Cheetos at home (see #4)! 

  1. Monkey see, monkey do. Your child will mirror your actions, not your words.  When  children need stitches, they look to their parents. If you’re calm (ok, you can be entirely freaking out on the inside, but it’s what your child sees that counts), your child has a much greater likelihood of being less terrified. Brave parent  = brave munchkin!
  1. The best laid plans ... (you know the rest). Remember that lovely little arts and crafts area you set up at home? Your 4-year-old felt it was the perfect location for placing beads up his nose. So, your afternoon of domesticity is spent with … me. In the ER. Positive? We got the beads out. Negative? You’ll never be able to look at beads again without nausea. Second takeaway? (This one’s a freebie.) Watch your kids whenever they’re playing with anything smaller than their nostril.
  1. Life moves quickly. Babies and toddlers move even more quickly. Your vigilance has to be nonstop. Anyone who has a child knows that they move the fastest when they seem to be getting into trouble, whether it’s entertaining themselves by chewing on an electrical cord or tasting your hairspray. You. Just. Turned. Around. For. One. Freaking. Second! My infant can’t even crawl — she moves in a combination of spinning and rolling over — yet she gets around quickly when in the direction of danger. How anyone who essentially moves in a series of “five-point turns” gets anywhere that fast is beyond me. But so it goes.
  1. Cheetos equals good prognosis -- and a potentially longer ER stay. One ER where I worked had a vending machine with Cheetos. I knew two things when I walked into the room and saw a happy child with an orange mouth: 1. Their condition wasn’t life-threatening (eating Cheetos is apparently just not something you do when your life is on the line) and 2. They were going to have a long ER stay while we waited for the Cheetos to digest before we could sedate them to stitch their cut, fix their fracture, etc. Lesson? If you’re  taking your child to the ER for any reason, don’t let them eat Cheetos or anything else while you’re on your way or waiting in the ER!  
  1. It’s all (or at least some) in your head. Who are some of the toughest people on the planet? Kids. I’ve seen many a child leave with a cast and a popsicle while an adult with the same injury requires a prescription for Percocet and a note of absence for work. Seeing this really speaks to the power of mindset — how we view setbacks and how we respond to them. 
  1. If it crosses your mind that something in your home might be dangerous, fix it. I have seen too many parents who said “I just knew that was a hazard.” You’ll probably never know what injury you averted, and that’s ok.
  1. No one. No one. Is more crazy protective than a mom. Don’t. Cross. Mama. Bear. I appreciate that you would rather have me cut off your own arm than place an IV in your child or perform some other painful treatment, no matter how mild. I really do. You can be an excellent advocate for your child by remaining calm and asking questions. (See item #1.)  
  1. Delete “that will never happen to me” from your mindset. When we hear of something tragic, we tend to think that it can happen to “other” people — leaving a child unobserved by a swimming pool even for a minute, driving while looking at your phone. This thinking makes us feel safe. Falsely safe. I’ve taken care of enough patients to know that these things can happen to people just like me, just like you. I don’t say this to frighten you, but to take away a false sense of security and leave in its place an awareness that will keep you and your family safe.  

Life is short. This doesn’t require explanation. But I’m reminded of this in ways that don’t necessarily include the tragic. When I see a parent step up after a child’s health scare, or even a little munchkin bounce back after an injury, I’m reminded that it’s never too soon to make changes, no matter how scary or hard they may be. 

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