Gender Roles in the ER

On Sunday Laylee was in agony-induced meltdown mode over a sore neck which got more and more stiff as the day wore on. By noon she was unable to turn her head at all and sobbing every time we moved her an inch. Worried that the stiff neck might be indicative of the big scary M-word and unsure whether or not she had a fever as she’d been wearing a huge parka all day, we decided to take her in to Urgent Care on the way home from church. We called ahead and they said that we should take her straight to the ER.

I guess the urgent care doesn’t mess around with sudden onset neck pain in young children.

So we settled in for a nice long wait in an ER exam room full of sharps containers and other biohazards. Magoo was in heaven. Laylee laid perfectly still in the hospital bed while Dan spun Magoo on the wheely chair and sang hundreds of verses of Down By the Bay. I offered moral support, relieved Dan’s strained singing voice with my MP3-playing phone and occasionally threw peanuts at the children.

After an hour of waiting, we had a short visit from a female nurse who told us the doctor would be in shortly. The ER was fairly quiet besides the muffled conversations of the staff who seemed to be in no kind of hurry at all.

After our second hour of waiting, I commented on the lack of carnage I’d seen and told Dan that this hospital was nothing like the ones on ER or Grey’s Anatomy. Magoo commented on GOOOO HOOOME NOW AAAAHHHHH!!!!!!!

Dan said that for all we knew it was exactly like the TV drama hospitals and the reason we were waiting so long to see a doctor was because they were all in supply closets somewhere making out. He had a good point.

Eventually a man wearing a lab coat came in and briefly examined Laylee without introducing himself. He diagnosed her with Wry Neck or a sudden unexplained neck pain. Nice. I probably could have called that one. He prescribed an ice pack and children’s Motrin, which was then administered by a nurse. I wonder how much it costs to have your Motrin administered by a nurse in the ER as a cure for Wry Neck. Hopefully I’ll never find out.

There were a couple of strange things about our visit that the feminist in me cannot let go. First, the hospital staff went out of their way to ignore Dan’s presence in the room and only make eye contact with and speak directly to me. Never mind that he’s her father, that he was the one who’d been taking care of her all day, the one who had checked her in at the front desk while I was parking the car or that my hands were full when they brought in her release papers to be signed. They stepped right past Dan and handed me the clipboard, turning their back to him and explaining everything to the mother. I’m not normally sensitive to this kind of thing but it was really obvious.

Obviously as the mother and nurturer, I am the only one who can understand how to squeeze a dropper of Ibuprofen into her mouth. I mean if fathers could do that, then we might expect them to start periodically changing diapers and eventually women might begin to feel superior and demand the right to vote or something.

Secondly, when we looked over her release papers, we saw that the “doctor” they’d sent in was really a male nurse. So it seems that the female nurse had looked at Laylee, determined that calling a doctor was unnecessary, but hoped we wouldn’t ask questions when she called in a man in uniform, told us a doctor was on his way and sent in a male nurse wearing a lab coat.

Now it’s possible that all the doctors and interns were “busy” “getting” “supplies” and since she was fairly sure that nothing was wrong, she called in the senior grand poobah nurse (who happened to be male) and asked him to come have a look. It just looked fishy, especially in an ER where caring for children is considered solely women’s work.

This entry was posted in around town, kid stuff, near-death, women. Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to Gender Roles in the ER

  1. jodijean says:

    that’s madness! i would have told them to send in a real doctor (and to pull them off someone’s face if they had to) sheesh, absolutely ridiculous, and to ignore dan completely. how rude! i’m outraged for you, seriously.

  2. Jia says:

    That’s crap. I hate hospitals for this reason. It’s either a nurse, or a medical student in their first year as an intern or something like that.

    I think it’s weird that they talked to you instead of your husband. When my hubby and I went into the ER one time, I was completely ignored and they only spoke to him.

  3. Awesome Mom says:

    When we are in the hospital my husband is looked over because it really is me that knows the most about Evan’s issues. After all I am the one that goes to all the various appointments. I try and make sure that my husband comes for the ones that I expect to be important but sometimes things sneak up on me. I would not be too harsh on them. I just hate it when they call me mom and don’t bother to learn my actual name.

  4. KYouell says:

    My goodness. After all our trips and stays in the hospital with c-sections and Biscuit’s surgeries we only had bad experiences with 2 of my nurses. (Just because I’m a first-time mom doesn’t mean you can do *that* to that part of my body just because you think I can’t get the baby to latch on properly. Look at my chart and you’ll see we did that before the night nurse went off-shift! Bah!)


    We had nothing like that happen, but I had a female OB/Gyn doing my c-sections and for his last surgery The Biscuit had a female doctor assisting his surgeon. Maybe that skewed what we experienced? I dunno.

    It’s weird you should write about this. What with our moving I’ve been composing a “Thank you, we’re leaving so won’t see you for the next procedure or reunion” letter to the pediatric cardiac nurses. I’m thanking my lucky stars that we didn’t have bad experiences. And I hope Laylee feels better and so glad that there was no M-word causing her neck pain. I’m glad that your instinct agreed with their diagnosis so that you didn’t have to go all Mama Bear on them and demand they find a doctor.

  5. Rebekah says:

    I am going to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he was a RN FNP or something? that is a nurse practitioner, meaning he has the right to diagnose and treat illnesses. I think it’s terrible that they wouldn’t give Dan the papers, and wrong that they assumed. you should mention this if you get any kind of survey after a week or two. here’s a link about Nurse PRactitioners,
    If that is NOT what he is I’d be calling JCAHO for sure. I am a nurse. I am not qualified to diagnose or treat illness without physician supervision. Please follow up on this, I’d really like to know.

  6. Goslyn says:

    That’s weird. I can say from several experiences at our ER that ER medicine seems to be of it’s own breed. Our hospital is excellent and the care we have received there has been personal and efficient. However, our ER is an entirely different story.

    I hope Laylee is feeling better these days.

  7. Lorri says:

    You know I really miss the good old days when doctors and nurses wore uniforms and name tags and you could tell just by looking what position they held.

    And I know just what you mean about some mysterious medical person coming in and doing something with no introductions etc. For all you know it could be the cafeteria worker (they sometimes wear uniforms). When I had my babies and was in labor and needing to be “checked” numerous times – someone would come in with nary an intro and proceed to check. I’m hoping it was a doctor!

    ok you’ve probably heard you share of horror room experiences – I’ll throw mine in in case someone is reading and hasn’t yet had their fill.

    My ds aged 3 days from turning 3 – falls off his sister’s back into a pottery pitcher – slicing open his lip all the way through and into his gums. Ouch. Bloody. We go to ER. They look at us pretty quick and send us over to the children’s part of the ER into an unmonitored waiting room where we sat for HOURS! My son was so brave and had long since crying. I think someone, a nurse? came in once – other than that we just sat and waited and waited and waited.

    At one point I see someone walking by – an orderly?? He couldn’t help but said he’d find a nurse (all I wanted was to let them know “hey we’re still here – you can get rid of us by ignoring us for hours” – I was worried we were forgotten). Then finally I wandered further away from the waiting room and found someone – they were waiting for the doc to see us. More waiting. Finally we are taken into a room and someone – a male nurse?? – cleans the wound. Then in comes a doc.

    But alas – all he did was take a peek and said we were waiting for the plastic surgeon. OH well at least we knew what was going on. and now we were actually in a room with a bed, tv, bathroom – luxury!

    Surgeon eventually comes after surely we’d been there for 3 or 4 hours – does his thing…then remarks. Oh if I’d known he would have dealt with this so well (ie. not needing 4 grown men to hold him down and screaming and thrashing about) – he was so brave and did not even barely whimper as they sewed him up – he would have had us just come to his office instead of us having to wait around for him (til closing hours perhaps??).


  8. Rebecca says:

    My kids go to see a (male) nurse practioner – he can prescribe certain medications, refer us to a doctor when needed and diagnosis things. I REALLY hope that the male nurse who came in to see you guys was a nurse practioner and that the other nurses weren’t just blowing you off…

  9. Heidi Hyde says:

    I think that’s crap. The whole lot of it really. The same thing happens to us at Ivan’s daycare, doctor office, etc. I’d like to say something but my husband doesn’t want to “rock the boat”. Gah. I say rock it!


  10. Heth says:

    Making out in the supply closet…that’s hilarious.

  11. The Wiz says:

    Well, it is cheaper to have a nurse practitioner than a doc. Usually, anyway. I wonder what was up with the neck pain? That’s really weird. I hope she’s feeling better today.

  12. Melissa says:

    So, will they bill you for seeing a doctor? We had to take our little girl in for staples in the back of her head… went to the ER where they weighed her then sent us to urgent care. Waited 3 hours for help. They came in, didn’t numb it, jammed staples in her head then charged us just over $1,000 for it. I will still take Laylee to your family doctor… just to be safe…

  13. Melissa says:

    Blah… that should say I WOULD still take Laylee to your family doctor… I’m in Southern Cali… I can’t drive that far to take her for you 😉 I really shouldn’t comment after 5 hours of sleep…

  14. WhyMommy says:

    Are you KIDDING? Jeepers, that’s just pitiful. Sorry you had such a bad experience. . . but honestly, I’ve yet to have a GOOD experience in an E.R. Something about the hours and hours you have to wait just doesn’t set things up well.

  15. Vee says:

    Ohhhh, that would really annoy the heck out of me, too.

    Got quite a chuckle out of the Grey’s Anatomy quip.

    Hope your little girl is feeling much better even if a male nurse in a lab coat made the diagnosis.

  16. Julie Q. says:

    Yah. The feminist in you is dead on with this one. I have the same experience every time we go to parent teacher conference. The teachers always talk directly to me, even though my husband is sitting right there. Of course, I’m actually the one that deals with 99% of the schoolwork issues at home, but they don’t know that!

  17. Kimberly says:

    That is disturbing on sooooo many levels!

  18. Surcie says:

    I sure hope Laylee’s okay. And, of course, my heart goes out to you for having to go through the whole rigmarole.

    I think your observations are right on. Whenever we have to take the boy to the pediatrician, my husband goes too. I insist. I guess that’s because my dad left all that “stuff” to my mom to deal with, and it always bothered me. Anyway, I’ve noticed that the doctor always does the friendly chit-chat thing with my husband and pretty much talks to me about symptoms and treatment. I find it irritating, but in our case, I really am the one who knows every detail. And I’m the one who writes everything he says down. But sometimes I wish I didn’t have to feel like I’m the ULTIMATE responsibility bearer, KWIM?

  19. Ker says:

    Hi – I just wanted to delurk here and say how much I’ve been enjoying your blog! Keep up the great work.

    Also, my two cents on your ER experience, since my husband is a male nurse who has worked in the ER: Legally you cannot go to an ER and not be seen by a provider. The person who came in with a lab coat was almost assuredly a nurse practitioner, which is a provider with prescriptive authority who has the ability to diagnose and treat patients.

    As for the ER being a place where taking care of children “is considered solely women’s work”, I really have to disagree. Nurses are generally assigned to a set of rooms, and they take care of whoever goes to those rooms, regardless of gender on either side. If the hospital only assigned females to take care of children’s cases, there would be lawsuits filed pretty quickly.

    That said, I do agree that the staff should introduce themselves and make sure to include both parents when explaining what is going on.

  20. Ker says:

    …And I hope Laylee is feeling better!

  21. ellen says:

    You know, my DH is in his last year of residency and I still don’t understand what they do all day or why it takes so long for anything to happen!

  22. HeatherJ says:

    You know, the sad thing is that you will get a bill no smaller even though you never laid eyes on a doctor. Our pediatrician office years ago used to ask, “Would you like to see the nurse practitioner instead? You will get in faster!” A few times I said yes ~ and then they charged me the same co-pay and my ins. co. the same amount. Nope! After two mis-diagnoses from the NP, we stick to the ones who went to school nearly three times as long. I’m sure NP’s are great most of the time, but that sheepskin can make all the difference sometimes.

    Yeah, and once my hubby went to the ER with sudden Bog-Man hives and inability to breathe… after hours the “Genius” doctor came in and said… “He has hives”. I said, “Eureka! How’d you figure that one out!?” When I asked why he had hives, I got a blank stare as he said, “I dunno. Maybe he ate something.” Yeah, at 4am he awoke, ate some cat hair and a few poison dart frogs just to see what would happen. Upon further inspection at home, we found two spider bites on his back, and a lovely looking pink spider in our warm waterbed… our neighbor was Chinese and often got packages from the Motherland. Bug company said it was Chinese in origin and that is what had happened. I almost said, “Thank you, doctor.” when I hung up with the Terminix guy.

    I hope Laylee is feeling much better!

  23. Kari says:

    We had a situation slightly opposite, but still in the same vein (ha!): During the ER visit, I filled out the admission paperwork, gave the history, etc. Husband came along later, at which point they would only address him, even though most questions (“how did the accident occur?”) only I could answer. But when they sent the bill, and later phoned to give a survey about the hospital’s performance, everything was addressed to Husband. So I guess the man is the only one who can pay or give opinions on a “satisfaction survey!”

  24. I guess I just think that’s normal because if anyone does ask my husband a question about the kids I’m thinking, “What are you asking him for? He doesn’t know anything.” And by the way, he would never miss an appointment or anything for the kids if he were in town. He may be all caring but he is definitely not all knowing in the kid department! Am I rude or what??

  25. Oh, yuck, that experience just stinks.

    Love your husband’s comment about making out in closets, though. 😉

  26. Eve says:

    yes that was very witty of Dan. Buster complained about his neck hurting for a whole week.
    Freaked me out. But since we don’t have insurance I have to almost play nurse and diagnos if it’s really a problem.
    I’m sure you’ve read Mr.Good’s horror stories. Every time he takes a kid to the doctor or dentist it’s a horrible experience for him. They talk down to him and treat him weird.

Comments are closed.