“Gulp!” Wade dramatically clasped his face in his hands, and in a small voice trembling with fear said, “I swallowed a penny.”
“What? Well, are you OK? Did it go down?”
I wasn’t worried. Over the last eight years his older brother David ingested the contents of a young boy’s jeans pocket: A penny, a quarter and a marble. David wasn’t any worse off for it, and all the objects — er — passed without complication.
You might think four of these types of incidents in our household speak to our poor parenting skills, and you might be right.
A few minutes after slamming down the penny, Wade started complaining that his chest hurt. I thought probably the penny was taking its own sweet time sliding down his throat, so I gave him some milk. What else do you wash a penny down with?
My husband suggested we take him to the ER. I said let’s wait. I did not want to be THAT crazy mom who overreacts and takes her kid to the hospital for every little thing, only to be told, “There’s nothing we can do. He’s fine.”
A Google search reassured me swallowing a penny is an everyday occurrence everyone survives just fine. Which is odd, because normally if you Google some sort of health related issue the answer you get is that death is imminent.
Wade continued to complain it hurt despite all the milk we poured down him. He started to cry, pointed at his chest and pitifully whimpered “I’m dying. I swallowed a penny. I’m going to die!” At which point, despite our concern, all of us burst out laughing.
If I didn’t know better, I would have believed Wade Googled his own condition.
Finally, convinced that there was something seriously wrong, we packed off to the ER. After about two and a half hours of waiting, X-rays reveled that indeed a penny was stuck in Wade’s esophagus. The ER doc didn’t think it would pass into Wade’s stomach on its own. So they transferred us to a larger hospital with a pediatrics floor. They needed to sedate Wade to remove the penny with a scope.
By the time we arrived at the other hospital we were all starving, because it was hours past dinner time. My husband took my older son to eat dinner, while I stayed with Wade.
I explained the story all over again to two different resident doctors and the nurse. The doctors didn’t say much, but when they left the nurse explained how the procedure would go. Apparently this wasn’t her first penny-in-the-esophagus rodeo.
We were back to waiting again when the Child Life Specialist, which is really just a fancy name for a social worker whose job it is to calm down the parents, came in. Based on her sort of shell-shocked behavior, overly empathetic approach and obvious pandering, I concluded that most parents who bring their children to the hospital are either:
Or quite possibly all the above.
Someone listening in on us would have thought Wade was minutes from a white-light experienced that way she spoke to me.
“Is it all right if I ask why you’re here? I mean, if you don’t mind telling me.”
“Oh, he swallowed a penny. Ha! Yeah, it’s stuck in his esophagus. This is just a normal day at our house. Ha!” (On second thought that last bit maybe wasn’t an appropriate thing to tell a social worker.)
Even though I was laughing, she was extremely serious. “I’m so, so sorry. This must be very difficult for you.”
I wanted to say, “No, not really,” but I decided to play along, and just nodded. I considered mustering up some tears to really give her something to work with, but I was too hungry for such an effort.
“Now they’re going to give him an IV. That will be hard for you to watch, but you’ll have to help.”
“Oh, his brother’s had IVs. I know what it’s like. He cried and we held him down, but it was fine. We’re used to that.” Probably another wrong thing to say to a social worker.
Thankfully, Dave returned with a tray of food before I said anything else incriminating and she called CPS.
I took my food down the hall to eat. Wade couldn’t have anything, so I thought it would be rude to eat in front of him. By the time I returned they were bringing in the portable X-ray machine.
Dave explained, “While you were eating I realized Wade hadn’t complained about any pain since we got here. He says he feels fine now. So, the doctor ordered a new X-ray to see if it’s still stuck before they put him out.”
Eight hours after the ordeal began, the new X-ray reveled that at some point in the evening the penny dislodged on its own, and landed in Wade’s stomach.
They sent us home.
He was fine.
I’ve spent the last five days checking for that penny. You haven’t lived until you’ve had to poke through you offspring’s bodily waste looking for money.
The penny has yet to reappear.
If I don’t strike copper by Thursday the doctor says we’ll have to revisit the hospital for X-rays.
I’m praying we cash out before then.