Parental love is a form of madness. If you have a kid, you know what I mean. If you don’t have a kid, imagine taking the most powerful love and joy you’ve ever felt, then adding the most powerful fear, than mixing in the most powerful sense of duty and responsibility, then chugging up the entire emotional mish-mash with the most powerful sense of drive and, when necessary, the most powerful, raging thrum of righteous indignation.
Most of the time, parents do a pretty good job of maintaining our day-to-day equilibrium without crumbling to pieces with worry over our children’s well-being. But when something happens to threaten that well-being, the madness kicks in: all the love, all the fear, all the duty, all the drive. And there is not a damn thing anyone can do about it.
Two Fridays ago, my son knocked his head on the ice while skiing. Thank God he was wearing a helmet. (Message to those of you who don’t: start the #$%!@ now.) The first aid peeps checked him over: a headache, but no other sign of concussion. That night: a headache, but no other sign of concussion. The next day: a headache, but no other sign of concussion. The next morning: a headache, but no other sign of concussion.
Then, during a pickup basketball game with his buddies, he took further knocks to the head. And the headache got worse. On Monday I took him to the doctor, and again: a headache, but no other sign of concussion. On Wednesday, when he complained of dizziness, I again took him to the doctor: this time, concussion. A mild one. And over the next few days, the headache abated — a little, but enough — until Saturday, when he slipped on the ice, landed on his arm and once again jarred his poor, bruised, aching, swollen noodle.
His headache flared up once more. On Monday it worsened. On Monday night, I noticed his eyes were red. On Tuesday I took him back to the doctor, who was concerned enough to order a CT scan. The radiation makes it a big deal for a kid; pediatricians don’t order them lightly. But before anything happened, the scan had to be “pre-authorized” by my insurance. This should happen quickly, I was told; the request went out with an “urgent” attached to it, I was told; the folks at imaging should contact me soon, probably within a few hours, I was told.
They didn’t. No one did. So I started phoning people directly, lots of people, people at the pediatrician’s office, the imaging department, the insurance company. Multiple people each place. No one anywhere had received any word of any such request. Thanks to protocol, it had to be routed through a specific person specifically designated in some specific pre-authorization office, but nobody I spoke to seemed to have any of these specifics. Kafka would have less trouble getting a CT scan.
To everyone I said essentially the same thing: My son has a head injury. He took successive blows. His symptoms have worsened. His doctor ordered a scan. It’s been deemed urgent. Urgent. It needs pre-authorization. This needs to happen now. Urgent. My son. We need to know if there’s bleeding on his brain. My son. Urgent. Now. Now. Did I say urgent? Did I say now? URGENT. NOW.
The words tumbled. The ire spiked. The tears flowed. None of it was acting. It all just overcame me, this ferocious maternal surge against the system. Hell hath no fury like a mother on hold.
Finally, I found someone in radiology, a kind and patient someone with a high tolerance for weeping mamas, who laid it all out for me: call the pediatrician’s office; get someone there to call insurance for pre-authorization; then have that same person call imaging with the required number.
Which I did. And they did. And to their credit, they were helpful and apologetic. And within an hour, my son’s head was being zapped by a CT scan, which I wasn’t happy about, because nothing involving a CT scan is ever really happy. But when they sent him home, I said a prayer of thanks and almost toppled from relief and spent adrenaline. Amen amen, my son’s throbbing little bean wasn’t leaking blood inside his skull.
On the drive home, I regarded this fine, brave boy of mine with wonder. He still hurt. Sunlight and sound still caused him pain. But I felt grateful: for him; for this good outcome; for a job that gave me flexibility to make all those phone calls, and for the bosses who understood; for my education and ability to speak my mind persuasively; and for my confidence, which gave me the gumption to advocate for my child.
But then I wondered about parents out there who don’t have those things — but still have a child who needs some treatment urgently. What if their son’s brain is bleeding? What if they can’t advocate for him? What if the red tape takes too long? What if they wait too long? What if he dies?