PJ CHOKES ON A QUARTER -- 4.29.2004
I got the call from Lydia, our babysitter, at 3:07PM on Wednesday. “Hello, Pete? This is Lydia. Umm, Kathleen just left like 5 minutes ago, and PJ has been throwing up and he seems really sick. I can’t reach Kathleen on her cell phone.”
“Did he eat something?”
“I don’t know. He seems really sick though.”
“OK, let me try Kathleen on her cell phone and I’ll call you back.”
I had this sense of powerlessness and frustration. I work in downtown DC, about 44 miles from Leesburg. It’s about an hour’s drive without traffic, maybe ninety minutes during rush hour. But I take the commuter bus, so I was even farther away. The first bus didn’t leave for another 40 minutes. I tried to call Kathleen but her cell phone wasn’t even ringing. The battery must be dead. Damn.
I call Lydia back. This time she says that PJ has eaten a dime. I talk to Anna, ask her if PJ has eaten anything. Anna doesn’t know. I tell Lydia to call 911, and hang up the phone. I stare at my desk and try to think of something I can do. I call Kathleen’s mom, wondering if she happened to be in Northern Virginia. No luck. She is in Staunton.
I call Lydia back, expecting the phone to be busy, assuming she is on the phone with 911. She picks up the phone. “Did you call 911?” I ask.
“No, did you want me to?” Lydia asked. She was scared, you could tell on her voice. I found out later she had thought I had said that I would call 911.
“Call 911 now! Call them right now!” I am yelling at her. This also gets the attention of everyone working on my floor. I hang up the phone.
I don’t have the phone numbers of any of my neighbors in my palm pilot. Shit. I’m trying to think of someone to call. I look up a neighbor by last name on the web browser at my computer, and call their house. Sharon answers the phone. She tells me that she can see an ambulance in front of my house. She says she will go over.
When I first moved to Leesburg the hospital, Loudoun County, was right in town. A few months later they moved to Lansdowne, about five miles east of town. Three years later they reopened the Leesburg hospital as an emergency center. Its less than a mile from our house. One of the nice things about our neighborhood is that an ambulance can get there fast.
I find out later the police showed up first, and then the EMTs shortly after. They were both very nice, and evidently, the EMT, a woman named Christine I think, was super nice and managed to get PJ relaxed. PJ had swallowed a coin and it had lodged in his throat about half an inch below the windpipe. If it had been a little higher it would have kept him from breathing. As it was, he was hiccuping and sort of trying to throw up and choking on this coin. But by the point where the paramedics got him in the ambulance, it was just stuck in his throat.
I catch the first bus home, try not to think about it, try not to worry. The worst if over, he’s at the emergency room now. I get to the ER around 5:15PM. Kathleen is still running errands, her cell phone dead, the shock of everything that happened sort of hanging over her waiting until she gets home. PJ is on the X-ray table. Sharon is with him and PJ is crying and upset. Sharon leaves and they take some more X-rays.
The radiologist shows me the X-ray as we leave. It is almost comical. It is a normal X-ray of a three-year-old boy, except it looks like there is a giant quarter shaped blank spot just below the throat. On the side view the blank spot is shaped like a sliver. It was a quarter he swallowed and not a dime. The doctor tells me that we need to transport PJ somewhere where a doctor can remove the quarter. But not just any doctor. He called a gastroenterologist and they said to call a pediatric gastroenterologist. The pediatric gastroenterologist told him to call an ENT (ear, nose, and throat) specialist. The ENT told him to call a pediatric ENT.
Each time the ER doc tells me that he needs to call a different doctor I think to myself (and I know how bad this is but by now PJ is better so I have time to be crass) holy crap!—this is gonna cost me a shit load of money! Good thing I have really crappy health insurance! I’m gonna take this quarter and have a hole punched in it and make a necklace out of it. Tell everyone that it’s a piece of expensive, if not exotic jewelry. Maybe I'll have it framed and hang it over the mantle.
They eventually find a doctor who will remove the quarter and arrange an ambulance to take him to Lansdown, where he is on call. I could drive him, but the quarter could come lose at any moment and that could stop him from breathing. No problem I say, feeling a bit drunk with all the medical spending, send him by ambulance. Wait, do you have some super nice expensive ambulance made for children with things lodged in there throat? What the hell, lets send him by limo! I never actually say any of this. Instead I am stoic and quiet. PJ keeps telling me that he wants to eat, that he wants to go home.
They put PJ on the ambulance to transport him to Loudoun county medical center. I run home and tag Kathleen, who goes and spends the rest of the night with PJ. Sam is asleep when I get home. Anna goes to bed with no trouble. She’s getting to be such a good kid.
Kathleen walks into the emergency room to find PJ sitting on the nurses desk, swinging his feet and chatting. He’s a social one. They wait around until the anesthesiologist shows up. At that point they are wheeling PJ into the operating room to remove the coin from his throat. Kathleen asks if they should take another x-ray before operating. Maybe the coin has dislodged itself. The nurse didn’t think that was very likely, but the doctor agrees and they take PJ in for another x-ray. Surprise! The quarter is no longer in PJ’s throat, but had come loose and is no in his stomach. And according to the doctors, an object that can fit through the throat can usually squeeze itself out of the other end, although there may be some pain involved. Which is fitting I suppose. That quarter’s been a pain in everyone else’s ass so far today.
PJ and Kathleen got home around nine or so, and the rest of the evening was uneventful. So this story has a happy ending. I’ll keep you posted if I find the quarter, or maybe I’ll post a picture of it (ewwwww…).