Last Wednesday, the kids were finally better.  They’d taken turns over the past week being sick with “Hand, foot and mouth disease” — high fevers, low energy, general malaise.  Liam woke up at 1:00 a.m. on Friday with a fever of 102 which went up and stayed up for almost 24 hours.  He gradually got better and was finally fever free on Sunday.  B woke up at 11:00 Sunday night with his own high fever (though his didn’t last as long).  Liam went back to school on Tuesday, and B joined him Wednesday.  It was my first morning on my own in a few days, and Dan offered to take the boys in to school so I could have a little extra time to run and then start to reclaim order in the household after several days of prioritizing other things.

I made it through breakfast.  I had just finished eating and had gone to change my clothes for a run when my phone rang.  It was the school.  I immediately sighed, assuming one of the kids (probably B) had gotten his fever back and needed to be picked up.  So much for reclaiming order in the house.

Instead, it was Liam’s teacher.  Liam had had an “accident” and was going to the hospital.  She spoke in English, but it took me a moment to process what she’d said . I could hear Liam screaming in the background.  I started to panic and shake a little as she explained that he’d been pushed by another child and had hit his face on the bathroom sink, splitting his lip.  She said it wasn’t “serious”, but I figured it was serious ENOUGH if they were headed to the hospital.  I tried to parse her heavily accented English well enough to write down the hospital’s name and her cell number so we could stay in touch.

Up until that day, I’d only been familiar with two hospitals in Vienna, and this wasn’t either of those.  I called Dan (who, at work, was much closer to where we were headed) and tried to figure out where we were going.  I threw on some clothes and left to get a cab.  Never have I so wished we had our own car.

After a brief debate with the cabbie (in German) over where I was going (the teacher had given me mildly conflicting information), I was off.  In morning rush hour traffic, it took me an agonizingly long time to get there.  Dan arrived first … but couldn’t find them.  (He was initially sent to the children’s department.  We eventually ended up at the accident department … which is not the same as the emergency department.  We’re still struggling to sort out which kinds of things belong in which.)

045We found Liam and his teacher.  He had split his lip inside and out pretty badly and was wearing a fair bit of his own blood.  His teacher, who later admitted she couldn’t stand the sight of blood, had taken good care of him.

Liam’s teacher had given him a teddy bear to hold before they left the school for the ER. It was for him to cuddle on the way.  He wanted nothing to do with it.  (He has since softened his position.)  When I asked him about it, he said, “I asked for my mom and dad, and she gave me the bear.  I didn’t want the bear.  I wanted you.”  My poor guy.

We went back to be seen very shortly.  But unlike our other hospital experiences in Vienna, at the more centrally located hospitals, the nurses here spoke no English.  Not a bit.  We did fine at the beginning, because Liam’s teacher helped with translating, but eventually they said she and Dan had to step out and I was left to manage on my own.  They took a pretty quick look at it (reopening the wound in the process) . . . and decided that it didn’t need any treatment.  I was so prepared for him to get stitches (or at least that glue that Benjamin got when he hurt his chin a few years ago) that I was absolutely sure I’d misheard them.  But no, no treatment.

It took a while for me to understand what the nurse was explaining in terms of home care.  “Nothing hot, nothing spicy, nothing salty.”  I manged all of that.  But she kept saying something else that I just could not understand.  She finally tried “Like Wiener Schnitzel!” and I realized she’d been saying “nothing with crumbs”.  “It will be fine”, she told me.  “It won’t be his only accident!”  So, in a little bit of disbelief and with a still-bleeding Liam, I went home.  (We took the train.  We should have taken another cab.  I certainly felt odd . . . and very conspicuous . . . carrying an obviously injured and still bleeding child on the subway.)

055I wasn’t convinced, though, that everything was ok.  Although the doctors and nurses at the hospital seemed very kind and quite certain about their advice, I wasn’t so sure.  Things are just so different here, and I really longed for American medical practitioners.  In general, I’ve really enjoyed the difference in Austrian beauty standards.  I like that there is much less emphasis on physical perfection here.  There is less plastic surgery, less makeup, and less of a fight against the aging process.  But, on the other hand, you do see more people with obvious scars and physical impairments.  Which is fine . . . until I was contemplating the consequences for MY child.  Medical care here is excellent.  The standards of care and medical education are very high.  I just didn’t trust the Austrian aesthetic opinion of “It’s going to be fine.”  By what standard?  I was really, really, wishing I could be back in good, old, superficial, perfection-minded America, where if an ER pediatrician said, “It’ll be fine”, I’d know, more or less, what that meant.  Here, I didn’t feel like I knew, and I didn’t know if their “fine” would really be good enough.

So, we consulted our pediatrician.  She’s an American/Austrian with two small kids of her own.  She looked at the pictures we sent her by text, and agreed that it didn’t need treatment.  When she said that if it were her kids, she wouldn’t stitch it, I felt sufficiently convinced.

And, I have to say that we’ve been pleasantly surprised, bordering on shocked, actually, at how well and how quickly he has healed.  The ER gave him clearance to go back to school the next day, but I kept him home the rest of last week (out of an abundance of caution, and because I was worried he’d reopen or reinjure himself playing with the other kids again).  It’s a week later, and looking at him now, it is so much better.  The interior part of his mouth is completely healed (that actually only took about 48 hours, which was amazing, given the original injury).  The outside is still healing, but it’s no longer an impressive wound.  Our pediatrician said she expected it to heal without a scar, and I think it’s going to turn out that she’s completely right.  He looks great.

So, all’s well that ends well.  But this stuff is hard.  THIS is the really, truly hard stuff about living abroad.  Not just not knowing where to go when your kid gets hurt.  Not just not being able to communicate well enough to find him right away at the hospital.  Not just having to resort to creative explanations to understand how best to take care of him.  But fundamentally, basically being outside of what you know and expect and take for granted.  Not being able to trust the answers you get because the people you’re talking to are speaking from a completely different frame of reference.  Any urgent trip to the ER with a child is stressful and scary, no question.  But this is a whole different ballgame.  These are the moments I most wish I could teleport back home.

A trip to the Spital

This was not what I had planned for my Monday.  I’d had a nagging pain in my back for a few days — nothing unusual for an over-tired, semi-out of shape mom with two very active little guys.  As Monday went on, the pain got worse.  I finally decided to take a moment to grab two Aleve, and just when it I was about to take them, I got a crushing pain across my chest and back.  It took my breath away.  I felt like I was being squeezed with a giant rubber band across the left side of my chest and back.  I’ve never felt anything like it.

Of course, it freaked me out.  It could not have seemed more like a heart attack.  But, I’m 37, and other than being overweight, I have no other risk factors related to my heart.  I exercise regularly, eat reasonably well, have good blood pressure and no family history of heart problems.  So, seriously?  But, I also worry about EVERYTHING, and though the pain subsided a little, as the afternoon went on I found myself having a hard time taking a full breath from time to time.

I finally texted Dan and asked him to come home early — less because I was actually worried and more because I could not shake the horrible image of me passing out while home with both kids.

Since I have a lot of anxiety, and I suspected I was getting myself worked up over nothing, I honestly expected my symptoms to disappear as soon as Dan came home.  They didn’t.  And as I played Wii with Benjamin, I struggled to focus through intermittent waves of pain and short breath.  I finally decided I needed to get checked out.

So, off we all trekked to the Emergency Room.  We pretty much all HAD to go because Dan didn’t want to risk me passing out on the strassenbahn or anything, and we didn’t have a sitter.

Long story short, I’m fine.  After getting checked in with lots of expected eye-rolling (this is Austria after all), I had an EKG, had some blood screenings done, and ultimately had a CT scan to rule out a pulmonary embolism (which apparently matched my symptoms better than a heart problem).  I was completely fine.  The doctor suspects I have a pulled muscle in my back that was basically seizing up every time I tried to take a breath.  Frankly, that’s what I thought it probably was, too, but I just couldn’t shake the worry that it might be something worse.  Ultimately, I was sent home with a prescription for some pain medicine in case the muscle pain comes back, and a suggestion that if it does, I should probably see an orthopedist.

Since Monday, I’ve been completely fine.  The pain in my back was gone by mid-day on Tuesday, and I’m back to feeling good.  I also feel a little silly for dragging us all to the hospital, but it is comforting to know that I’m ok.  And we had a much more adventurous Monday than anyone had planned.

Benjamin visits the ER

First, let me say that everything turns out ok in this story.

Yesterday evening, just before story time, I was feeding Liam and I heard the sounds of “hide & seek” coming from the bathroom (where toothbrushing was supposed to be happening . . . and I imagine it did actually happen at some point).  Benjamin isn’t 100% clear on hide & seek yet — he seems to manage to both hide and seek each time, but he really likes it.  I heard both Dan and Benjamin count to 10, and then lots of giggling and “I found you!” followed by a serious “thud” and a cry.  Not the I-need-to-think-about-how-bad-this-hurts cry, but the instantaneous, frightened, pained scream.


I heard Dan bustling about, lots of “It’s ok” and “Let me see” (neither of which made me feel any better) and a moment later, Dan and Benjamin showed up in the living room, with Benjamin crying and covering his face.  Dan wasn’t getting much of anywhere trying to get a look at the injury, so I took a look while Dan went to get some ice.  I was worried about his teeth and his lips, but once I got a look, he was already getting a bruise on the bridge of his nose, which he said hurt.  Apparently, upon “finding” Dan, he turned around to run and celebrate, and didn’t quite negotiate the transition from the tile of the bathroom floor to the wood of the hallway.   His feet went right out from under him and he landed flat on his face.  Dan thought he’d managed to get his hands under himself in time, but apparently not — within a few minutes, the bruising was worse, his nose was swollen, and he was starting to get a black eye on the left side.  He did let us put some ice on it (but not for long).

Dan called the doctor and left a message, and while we waited for an answer, B wiped his nose and came away with a very small amount of blood.  So small that I almost didn’t believe it, but it was there.  Time for the ER.

At this point, Liam was in bed asleep, so I stayed with him, and we bundled Benjamin up to head to the hospital with Dan.  According to our pediatrician, the children’s hospital is great during the day, but not well equipped at night, so they went to the regular hospital (which, as it turns out, is the largest hospital in Europe — pretty cool to have that a 17 minute strassenbahn ride away).  Once they found out exactly where to be (another one of those challenges of living in a foreign country) they only had to wait 5 minutes to be seen, and they were taken back almost immediately for an x-ray.  Benjamin was a champ.  He was cooperative, quiet and happy (extra impressive because they didn’t even leave the house until almost 11:00).

As it turns out, his nose is just fine — only a bruise.  They got home just barely 2 hours after they left, and over half an hour of that was travel time.  It’s always best to avoid the ER at the hospital, but our family’s first experience with the emergency department (actually, I think they ended up at the “accident” department, which is different) was definitely as positive as possible.

We were all exhausted today — B stayed home from school, I tried not to obsess about my poor baby who had to have an x-ray and I wasn’t even there, Dan went to work and tried to pass his final in his German class, Liam was unaffected, but happy to have B home.  Everyone is ok, and other than Benjamin being wary of me washing his nose today, life is pretty much back to normal.  Just how I like it.

Mommy takes a break

This weekend was a long weekend for us — Dan had today off of work. So, naturally, by about 10:00 this morning, we still had a ton of things on our “to do” list, and I was already exhausted.  When we have long weekends, I have a bad habit of trying to cram too much stuff in — that extra day seems to stretch on eternally in my mind’s eye when I’m planning, but I find it usually just leaves me more exhausted than I am in a regular weekend, and frustrated, too, because I had this fanciful idea of what would be accomplished that didn’t come to pass.

First thing this morning, we had a doctor’s appointment for a heart screening for Liam . . . which was a bit of a fiasco because the hospital had lost our appointment, which no one actually told us, so we had to wait in the emergency room for 45 minutes while they figured things out, only to be sent to the cardiology department to be lectured on the fact that we needed an appointment (which is when we figured out what must have happened).  This is one of those things that is infinitely more challenging about living in a country where you don’t speak the language:  these missed connections happen much more often, and when they do, they’re less likely to be resolved easily.  Chances our, the incorrect appointment might well have been our misunderstanding in the first place, but we find that rather than explain the problem to us (that they have no record of our appointment) everyone passes the problem of explaining along to the next person, leaving us irritated (why are we waiting in the ER for 45 minutes when we had an appointment?) and confused (why is everyone being so weird?).  We did finally get to see the cardiologist, and Liam’s heart is just fine (good to know) but after starting and our day, bright and early, with a heaping dose of confusion and frustration, I just did not have it in me to go forward with our plans for the day.

So, I gave up.  We were supposed to take the kids to the zoo to meet a friend, but I just could not get excited about it.  I was feeling really tired, and already daunted by the big week we have ahead of us.  All I wanted to do was sit, read and have a cup of tea.  So, that’s what I did. Benjamin was already excited about going to the zoo, so Dan took the boys.  It seemed like a crazy idea when we first thought of it, and I felt preemptively guilty (could I *really* bring myself to skip a fun day at the zoo with my kids?) but it was GREAT.  I got to relax and take a little time for myself, and the boys had a great time at the zoo with Dan.  They don’t seem scarred by it, and, surprisingly, neither am I.

We still didn’t get a lot of stuff on our list done this weekend, and I’m still pretty worn out.  But tomorrow, when I’m exhausted and trying to get my week back on track, I’ll feel a little better knowing I at least took a stab at being rested for the week.  And the flamingos will be there next time.