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.)
We 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.)
I 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.