We went up to Pennsylvania this past weekend to attend a friends' baby blessing. About four hours after we got there, Dormouse came down with a fever. Not terribly unusual - she's been sick a lot this season - but a drag nonetheless. She desperately wanted to play with the other hundred kids who were there (OK, maybe it was only 8; it just seemed like 100) but was feeling too crappy to do anything about it. We poured Children's Tylenol into her like coffee into Keith Richards before a concert until Sunday, when we decided to go home early and let her sleep in her own bed. Mostly she seemed fine - the fever stayed down as long as she was full of drugs so I kept her home Monday, we watched TV and lounged in my bed all day and figured it would just pass eventually. I did decide to call the doctor Monday afternoon and basically got the brush off - "Call back tomorrow and we'll try to get her in", but her fever wasn't that bad and she didn't really seem to be uncomfortable.

About five minutes after the doctor's office closed (why does it always happen five minutes after the doctor's office closes?) all hell broke loose. He cough got unreasonably bad and suddenly her fever spiked and when I took her temperature with my thermometer that always reads two degrees low, I was amazed to see 104.8 pop up on the screen.

I quickly dumped her in the tub, filled it with cool water, and listened to her scream - which twisted my heart into a tiny little squished up ball of coal. Then we dressed her and headed off to the closest emergency room.

The ER was pretty full when we came in and almost immediately a nurse came out and announced to the crowd "We know you've been waiting a long time; there are several critical cases and no open beds right now so please just be patient." This should have been the tip-off to cut our losses and head downtown for Children's Hospital, but I was convinced that there was some fast track to the antibiotics that she probably needed and all we had to do was wait for a bit.

I don't know what I was thinking. There was obviously no fast track to anything, but I just kept thinking that if we drove to a... ahem... better... hospital, we'd just be doing the wait-thing there and it'd be a longer trip home when we were done. At one point, they actually got it together to have me fill out the paperwork and give her a wristband, so we sat at the registration desk to take care of that, then afterward the clerk said, "OK - just go back and sit down until they call you." I turned around to see that another dozen people had wandered in and not a single chair was available. I ended up sitting on the floor with Dormouse on my lap near the television, just so I could focus on that instead of how incredibly pissed I was becoming.

There's nothing quite like the helplessness you feel as a parent when your child is sick and there's nothing you can do to make it better for them. You're used to being the One Who Makes Everything Better, the One With All The Answers, Knower Of What To Do in any case. Then your child gets sick and no amount of medicine can make her feel better and she looks at you with those eyes that don't quite get why you just don't give her the right medicine to stop this ever loving cough already.

I totally get that the critical cases need to be attended to first, but I just could not believe that they couldn't at least send out a PA or a nurse to take care of who could be taken care of and get. them. out. of. the. waiting. room. We didn't need a bed, we just needed a decent course of antibiotics and some sound medical advice. After almost three hours, when they made another announcement that it would probably be three more hours, we decided we'd put Dormouse through enough... her fever was now down to something manageable and what she needed most was rest, which she would not be getting here. We tried to tell the triage nurse that we were going to leave and ask if there was any advice she could give us; she said, "Please wait just a minute" and then disappeared completely for at least another 15 minutes. One of the people waiting told us he was a physician and gave us some advice - mainly never to come to this hospital with a child - the nurse never returned. Finally, we just walked out. KingofHearts asked the clerk on the way out if there was anything we needed to sign... she just looked relieved and told us they didn't do anything until the doctor sees us anyway. By the time we got home to grab the thermometer and maybe head off to another hospital, enough of the Motrin had kicked in to bring her temperature down and we decided to just put her to bed and live out the night.

And this, boys and girls, is the kind of stellar medical care that makes this country great. I can only imagine what people with no health insurance have to go through. If my insurance company tries to bill me for this, you'll hear the screams miles away.