Welcome to DC

One of the nice things about my college friends being spread out all over the country is the chance to visit new cities. Whenever I can scrape up airfare, my daughter and I go to see a friend and get to know a new place while we are at it.


A trip to DC almost didn’t happen, because she had a cold and I was worried about ear pressure. But the morning of the trip she sprang out of bed and pronounced herself well. Our flight was uneventful except for a little pain in her right ear.


When we landed, though, she said she was in real pain. We were able to get lunch without much difficulty but I seem to have misguessed ; her ear hurt MORE after getting off the plane.


Well, this is DC, there’s a teaching hospital nearby, they always have low cost health clinics. The very nice person at the reception area of the hospital said, no, we’d have to go to the emergency room, but she assured me they’d get my daughter right in.


When I heard “ER” a cash register in my brain started to jingle, and I was apprehensive—my insurance has a huge co pay for ER visits if you are not admitted. But I didn’t want to put a dollar sign on my child’s health, and we were a long way from home, and if she had an ear infection (which she has had before) it was better to catch it early, so off to the ER we trudged.


A big city ER can be scary, because it is often the only health care for the homeless, who are disproportionately mentally ill. My child began to cry, partly from the pain and partly, “Mommy, I am sorry. I am ruining our vacation. Can we just leave? I can take it.”


We stayed.


The triage nurse, Janice, was gentle and kind and asked questions about depression as well as physical health, which confused my 10 year old. (I’m still glad she screened for depression, though.) Janice then walked us to another room, where the doctor was so young I was not confident of her abilities.

I know. As you get older, doctors get younger, but she looked like Tootie on Facts of Life.

Dr. T. examined my daughter carefully and determined there was no infection, just the congestion from the cold combined with the pressure from the plane. She recommended an over the counter decongestant and asked if we had questions.


I like that she spoke to both of us, and asked if WE had questions–not just the doctor talking to the grown up, but taking my daughter seriously, too.  My child had no questions, but then I heard myself blurt, “HOW MUCH is an ER visit in DC?”

Dr. T. said, “I don’t know. That is not what I do. But, when the paperwork people come by, DON’T give them any money. Don’t take out your credit card. That’s my advice, and you didn’t hear it from me.” And she left.


THAT was weird.


A few minutes later, a tall man came in. He had the voice and physique of that guy from Inside Out who reaches out to the frustrated wife and says, “Come. FLY with me.”   But he didn’t want a date. He said, “I am Pietro. I will take care of you. What brings you to the ER today?”


Confused, I said, “Ear pain,” but my child said, “We’ve already been seen by a doctor.” Without a word, blinking as if he just woke up, Pietro left.


That was weirder.


Then Dr. T. came back with a handful of papers. “Here, she said,” I have your things. “There’s a Walgreen’s next door where you can get that decongestant. I’ll show you where it is.”


We followed. And I thought, This is the weirdest darned ER ever. The doctor doesn’t give you your paperwork. That’s a flunky job. And she SURE doesn’t show you where the pharmacy is.


On the way out the door, Dr. T. said, “I’m taking you out the back so that the paperwork people can’t find you. Enjoy your vacation!”



I realized later that she send Pietro as a time-waster so she could get her hands on the paperwork.

When we saw my college friend the next day, he said that nothing like that had ever happened to him.

Sometimes I wonder whether weird things happen to me, or do I just notice them more?


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