Confessions of a Bad Dad: My Sick Kid

Of all the roles being a dad has forced me into, the one I’ve been least prepared for is “doctor”.

It took three nights of Bennett throwing up before I took him to see a medical professional.  She checked him out, diagnosed it as the flu and sent us home.

It was half an hour later when I remembered that big head injury the boy had suffered the day the vomiting started.  I called the doctor back.  Hmm… could that be a factor?

She told me to rush him to the ER.

The ER doctor wasn’t as concerned about the head injury as she was about how dehydrated my kid was.  She could tell just by looking at him that he was dangerously low on fluids, and sure enough, the blood tests backed her up.  She put him on an IV and told us we’d be staying there overnight.  She couldn’t believe the first doctor hadn’t recognized the symptoms as easily as she did.

I couldn’t believe I let my kid get so dehydrated that he had to spend the night in a hospital.

On the bright side, being in the hospital meant he got unlimited use of two things we usually minimize his exposure to – his pacifier and the iPad.  That kept him happy for an hour or so.

The doctor said Bennett could eat whatever he wanted, and he shouted out, “Peanut butter sandwich!”  I may not have given my kid enough to drink over the last couple of days, but I was going to make sure he got that peanut butter sandwich, pronto.

We were lucky to be in a very well-equipped children’s ward.  They had a big playroom full of toys and books, a life-size firetruck kids could climb in, and outside, there was a full train car sitting on the lawn.  We spent about two minutes in the firetruck before Bennett was put on “contact restrictions”.  That meant he couldn’t leave his room, and everyone who came in had to wear a rubber gown and gloves so they didn’t catch whatever he had.  It was kind of like the third act of E.T., where they terrifyingly tent and sterilize the house, only without a magical alien to calm the crying kid.

I hate hospitals.

Just to rule out a serious head injury, Bennett had a CT scan, which thankfully scared me more than it did him.  That came back negative.  Whew.  Next was an EEG.  By then, he was insisting, “I feel better!”  In other words, “Get me out of this place!”

The EEG technician wanted to get a reading of Bennett’s brain waves while he was asleep.  “Do you have a way to get him to sleep?” she asked.

It’s one of those completely asinine questions a parent secretly craves getting.  “Um, you might try unhooking him from all these terrifying machines, for starters.”  “Yeah, I know the secret to getting two-year-olds to fall asleep, and did I mention I’m the world’s richest billionaire?”  The possibilities for snark were endless.

He did eventually fall asleep.  It turned out the tech only needed about five minutes of sleep readings, after which she stood over him and announced, “He can wake up now.”

Then, before I knew what was going on, she stuck her hands in Bennett’s face and started clapping loudly to wake him up.  To be honest, I think what woke Bennett up was the sound of me screaming at this lady for being such an idiot.

The next morning, Bennett’s fluids were back in the acceptable range, and the doctors told us we could go home.  Bennett couldn’t wait to see his sister – and, more importantly, the train car outside which he’d been able to stare at through his window but not visit.

Just as we were packing up, the doctor returned.  There was something questionable on the EEG, so she decided to keep us another night and do a 24-hour video EEG on the kid.  Forget waterboarding.  Try telling a two-year-old that the tiny box he’s confined to will be his home one more day, during which time a rotating group of strangers will continue poking painful holes in him.

“Remember that hat you wore with the wires on it?” I explained.  “Well, you’re getting another one.”

“Go home!” he cried, in the saddest little voice a daddy’s ever heard.  “I’m done!  Go home!”

I assumed the second EEG would be much like the first, but when they need the electrodes to stay on for 24 hours, they use glue.  In order to make the glue dry fast, they blast it with pressurized air from a deafening, rumbling machine.  Over and over, for 45 minutes.

(You’ll notice fewer pictures from this point on.  I took some, but I can’t bear to look at them again.)

Until this point, Bennett had been a super sport about the whole experience.  A few seconds of tears with every blood draw, and that’s it.  But this procedure led to 45 minutes of solid screaming – and who can blame him?  To me, it sounded as if he were saying, “Why, Daddy, why?” on an endless loop.  All I could do was shout over the sound of the air machine to tell him how well he was doing.

When the procedure was done, he was tethered to a machine and couldn’t move more than three feet away from his bed at any time.  It was the least free space he’d had since he was in the surrogate’s womb 2 1/2 years ago.

Drew slept in the hospital the second night, and I went home to stay with Sutton.  As difficult as it was being in the hospital with Bennett, it was much harder being away from him.  That’s when I really began to worry.

Sutton had been in bed for two hours when I heard her screaming over the baby monitor.  I ran in and was overcome by the smell of regurgitated mac & cheese.

“What happened?” she cried.

I checked her crib.  It was everywhere.  On her blanket, her dolls, the mattress.  “You threw up,” I told her.

She stopped crying.  “I threw up.  Like Bennett did?”  A smile broke out on her face.  “I threw up like Bennett did!”  I had never seen her prouder of herself.

I smiled a little bit, too, because if she caught Bennett’s illness, that meant it was unlikely he had a concussion.

“How would you like to drink a big glass of water?” I asked.

The next day, I returned to the hospital so I could be there when Bennett got his electrodes removed.  The EEG specialist looked at me and Drew standing over our son, and her eyes widened.  “Are you two dads?”

It was hard not to wonder where she might be headed with this question.  When people make the case for gay marriage, they always mention how crappily gay couples are treated in hospitals.  “Uh… yeah.”

“Oh my God!” she shouted.  “I can’t believe it!  I need to give y’all a hug!”  She tore off her rubber gown and gloves and did just that.

“You’re the first two dads I’ve ever met!  I’ve only seen them on TV!”

Another nurse told her to get over it, but Drew and I made it clear we enjoyed the attention.  We’re shameless, I tell you.

“I hear people saying bad things about two dads, and it makes me so angry.  Just let everybody do their thing, that’s what I say!  I think it’s terrific!”

Bennett was laughing.  We talk a lot about how cool we are for having two dads in our family, and finally, we had a complete stranger to corroborate it.

Thankfully, the electrodes came off much easier than they went on.  A few minutes later, Bennett’s special hat was gone.

We still had no idea when we were going home.  We had to wait for someone to do a reading of 24 hours of squiggly lines and make sure there was no bad news inside.  Drew went home to see Sutton (whose uncles were taking good care of her – another reminder why we moved back East), and Bennett and I decided to take a nap on the pull-out couch.  I curled up with him under a blanket, and we both fell asleep.

An hour or so later, we were awakened by a knock on the door.  “How would you like to go home?”  The doctor said the EEG looked OK, so we were being discharged.

“Like, we can leave right now?”


I packed up our stuff in record time.  I wasn’t going to sit around and let the doctors change their minds again.

“Bennett, see that train out the window?  What do you say we go check it out?”

Trains are probably Bennett’s second favorite thing in the world.  His favorite is balloons, but the one balloon he had no interest in was his get well balloon.  He decided he didn’t want to bring it home with him, so we left it behind with all our half-eaten cafeteria food.

Soon, we were outside.  Bennett ran up to the train, only to find the gate was locked.  After all that waiting, the train was just for show.  You weren’t actually allowed to go inside it.

Like I said, I hate hospitals.

60 comments on “Confessions of a Bad Dad: My Sick Kid

  1. Ah Jerry, this had me laugh and cry in turns and simultaneously. I am very sorry you, and especially Bennett, had to go through this.

    I am always flabbergasted by how unsympathetic, cold and matter-of-fact doctors are. I guess on a level they have to be, but shouldn’t a different set of rules apply when dealing with small (or any) children? They don’t understand the necessity of a lot of procedures the way we grown-ups (often) do, so when they are brave and well-behaved they usually do it to please us parents. What a horrible feeling to have to let them down like that!

    There are so many wrongs in this story, from the first doctor not diagnosing his dehydration to the ‘whoops, he can’t go just yet’ (someone probably just wanted to protect their bum from being sued). I hope this will be the last time you have to experience something like that, and thanks for making it into a – on one level – enjoyable blog post. I’m sure people can learn a thing or two from your ordeal.

    PS: I *still* don’t think you are a bad dad, after all, you are not a doctor, and you were willing to kill for your son. That counts for something, I’m sure.

    • Thanks, Sandra. My sister-in-law is a Child Life Specialist. She works at a children’s hospital helping to make the kids comfortable and explain procedures to them. Thanks to her, I knew to contact the CLS at this hospital and ask her to come talk to Bennett. But sadly, she was of no help. She came in the room, never addressed Bennett directly and just shrugged and said, “He seems like he knows what’s going on.” They definitely should’ve been better at communicating to the kid. I think it’s always better to know, “This is going to hurt for a minute” or “You’re going to be hooked up to this machine for X hours”, especially at that age where a kid doesn’t know when any of this is going to end.

  2. What an ordeal! As the father of two young children, I can certainly appreciate not being prepared to play the doctor roll.

    I’m glad to read that everything worked out well in the end. I could feel your pain and your worry, and I think I’m going to go give both of my children a big hug.

    • Yeah, being doctor is a big responsibility – and it didn’t help that I never got sick as a kid. I don’t want to be one of those paranoid parents who drags their kid to the ER every time they bump their head, but then again, I don’t want to downplay things that might be serious, because what do I know? It ain’t easy. 🙂

  3. I have an age (not too old) secret for you: Keep frozen Pedia-pops in the freezer. When kids are dehydrated and vomiting they will not drink, but they will suck on a frozen icey, and pedia pops taste good ( well maybe the blue ones do), and they carry the electrolytes they need to keep hydrated. You can also make Gatorade Popsicle’s.

    You’re a good dad….it’s called trial & error sometimes. I have “yanked” my kids right out from under a stethoscope if I didn’t like the Medical staff…and I was a

  4. Ah..I feel your pain…when my boys were 2 and 4 they both got a stomach virus that landed them both in the hospital overnight for IV fluids exactly one week apart…hospitals can be a nightmare…and I work in one! You are a great dad…glad your ordeal is over…or is it? How is Sutton doing?

  5. So glad that he’s okay. Hospitals are so difficult for our little ones (and probably just as hard on us parents). Glad that he got a healthy report and that he’s hopefully feeling much better.

  6. How terrifying for you all!!! Poor little baby! To avoid dehydration, I keep frozen pedialite sticks in the freezer and give them to the children whenever they throw up – they love them! Hope you are all feeling better! Xxx

  7. When my son was 22 months(he is 26( years) now), he ate my iron tablets(how I left them out for him to get- I don’t know but I was 5 months pregnant with his sister- brain was not working). Luckily he showed the bottle to his dad and said “yum,yum”. Dad gave him ipecac and then took him to the hospital where they gave him more ipecac and some charcoal stuff through a tube into his nose down to his stomach. After he was finished there, he wanted ice cream- which we got him and then he pooped what looked like little charcoal briquettes.with iron tablets in them. So I am the worst parent because I was left that bottle of tablets on the table or the counter. I think about it to this day(not every day but when a story like this reminds me)

    • What an awful story – I can see how that would haunt you. But it was a mistake anyone could make, and you clearly learned from it as evidenced by the next 25 years of him NOT eating iron tablets. Also, as I tweeted you, your story reminded me to buy ipecac, so thanks for that!

  8. Oh Jerry the one of the joys of being a parent is there is always something you will feel guilty about!
    Just think of it this way what will our kids whinge about when they are older if we don’t make mistakes.
    Hope all is well now at homel

  9. Well, my number of parental screwups would take more than one post to cover. And what a brave little guy (and his dad) – my son was 21 before he ever had blood taken….and I found that a challenge!

    Thank you for sharing, being so honest and making us all feel okay about how we have felt with our own children.

    Hope the flu passes by quickly.

      • to me it shows two things … all the education in the world will not make you “smarter” when it comes to real life and no one will treat your child they way you would.
        I have a love/hate relationship with hospitals anyhow. I disagree with a lot of the treatment my father has received in hospitals – it’s all about a “job” they have to do and they tend to lose focus on the fact that there is a real live person on the other end of that treatment.

      • It’s funny, because you really think of medicine being this noble profession that people are called into for all the right reasons. And maybe they are at first, but the system makes them all jaded eventually. But don’t get me started on health care… 🙂

    • Thanks. I kept worrying that he thought this was the new normal, like he lived in the hospital now. Thankfully, I think he was old enough to know he’d get to go home eventually. (And I kept reminding him, of course.)

      • Yeah, I realized fast that hospitals are like airplanes – all rules are off, and whatever keeps them happy is fair game. Bennett was on the iPad pretty much 24/7 in the hospital.

    • Don’t worry – that wasn’t our regular pediatrician. I had to go to an after-hours place because it was a holiday. Since then, we’ve found a much better regular doctor for the kids. We saw him last week and he was fantastic.

  10. Ugh! I hate children’s hospitals! I swear they torture kids just to get money out of the insurance companies, they know us parents are all too afraid to say no! Glad your son is out of the hospital and back home with his family!

  11. I understand the whole sentiment of “better safe than sorry,” so I understand all the tests, but doctors do a lot more tests than necessary. In my experience with kids, especially infants, they’re tougher than they look.

  12. My oldest girl-child was 5 days old when she had her first epileptic seizure (she’s 27 now). My boy-child was 18 months when he had his first surgery (he’s 24 now). Needless to say, hospitals and medical procedures were common and a part of our life in the early days. One of my favourite pictures is a photo of girl-child laughing with her “special hat” on while she’s jumping off a hospital bed. It symbolizes who she is and her personality shining through. You might be glad you took those pictures later on. Glad everyone turned out okay.

    • Yes, I think I will be glad for those pictures. I took them so I could show the kids someday if they ever have to go in the hospital again. “See? You did this when you were 2, and you were so brave!” I love that the “special hat” pic became a source of pride for your daughter!

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  16. Well I know this was a post form over a year ago, but i just read it through your other more recent post. But I have to day I am suffering a sever case of wobbly lip. I feel like I rode that with you. This winter both of my kids had a horrid flu and both called for some hospital visits and fluids/tamiflu. Worst week of my life. I am glad your kiddos are better give them a hug for me and I am going to go give mine a hug too, bad memories exhaust a person.

    • Thanks. I went through all those emotions again just linking back to this post and getting another glimpse of that picture. I couldn’t even bear to read it. It breaks my heart to remember what my kid went through. Glad your kids are better, too!

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