When Charlie was just a few months old, he came down with a nasty virus. He was in daycare at the time and our child care center seemed to always be ground zero for the really awful illnesses that my kids caught with such ease. I took time off from work to care for our sweet little Charlie at home and I can remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I knew we had to take him to the emergency room. I had been hanging clean laundry up in my closet and when I finished and reached down to pick Charlie up from the bed, he was stiff. His whole body. He was so little at the time and so new-baby malleable that to pick him up and feel his muscles so rigid was alarming. I knew he was really ill.
Bob and I ended up spending the majority of that afternoon and evening in our local hospital’s ER. Charlie was officially diagnosed with a “virus of unknown origin” meaning, the hospital didn’t know what he had, admitted there was really no good way to figure it out, but acknowledged that it was absolutely making him miserable. It was just something that we had to wait out. They wanted us to remain in the ER so they could hydrate Charlie and monitor him closely for a few hours before discharging him. With a compassionate shrug, the doctors and nurses left us on our own to sit and wait and watch. Our fears placated, Bob and I settled in to spend a few hours staring intently at Charlie.
Now, it should be noted that our local hospital at the time was more urban, less spacious and a bit more bare bones than the hospital we utilize now. The ER in the town closest to where we currently live has private rooms, individual television sets, a staff eager to accommodate and valet parking. The ER we took Charlie to that night had a long wait time, a maxed-out staff, absolutely no snacks, and the only thing separating us from the next patient on a stretcher was a thin curtain and about four feet. I’m certainly not complaining because I didn’t even know ERs came in fancier versions until we moved from the city but still, if we were able to even snag an extra blanket from a nurse that night, it certainly didn’t come all toasty warm from one of those giant blanket ovens our current hospital uses.
Sitting with a sleeping four-month-old and a lack of sufficient snacks left us with nothing to do but eavesdrop on the medical emergencies of those around us. It was fascinating. Directly next to us, on the other side of the curtain, was an intoxicated man who was handcuffed to his gurney and guarded by a sheriff’s deputy. He talked loudly for probably a solid hour about assorted topics before falling asleep and, thus, falling quiet. We heard other random snippets hear and there of bumps and bruises and broken bones but eventually, as evening settled in and the bustling quieted down, both Bob and I started listening intently to a husband and wife that were seeking treatment across the aisle from us.
It turned out, the wife was in the emergency room because she had been experiencing chest pains. It actually seemed quite serious from the tone of the doctor’s voice. The doctor was still unsure of what type of cardiac event she had experienced but he began reviewing with the couple the results of some preliminary testing and explaining to them some additional tests he would like to run before admitting the wife overnight for observation. It was at this point that the couple began to protest. They were concerned about how long all of this was going to take and seemed distressed about the necessity of spending an entire night in the hospital. Bob and I, unabashedly, leaned in for a closer listen.
“You see,” the husband began to explain to the doctor, “we have dinner reservations.”
It was at this point that Bob and I looked at each other with saucer-like eyes and tried not to laugh. Dismissing a possible heart attack in favor of keeping hard-to-get dinner reservations was just the MOST Northern Virginia thing one could do. I mean, I can appreciate a great meal, too, but I wouldn’t risk betting the sommelier knows how to use a defibulator. The ER doctor said about the same.
The conversation quickly escalated between the ER doctor and the husband and wife. Eventually, as the doctor was explaining the “against medical advice” discharge paperwork that would need to be completed before they could leave, the husband looked at the doctor and asked, “So, tell me, what’s worst case scenario here?”
Without missing a beat, the doctor looked at the husband wearily and said, “SIR, your wife could DIE.”
A few minutes later, the husband and his possibly-having-a-heart-attack wife were on their way to dinner to, presumably, eat mussels or foie gras or something like that. Shortly afterwards, Bob and Charlie and I headed home to rest up, recuperate and probably eat some Goldfish crackers.
Ever since that fateful emergency room visit, Bob and I have used the Worst Case Scenario query to address some of our toughest life decisions.
Should we move the entire family to Richmond? What’s the worst case scenario?
Are you up for having a third baby? What’s worst case scenario?
Is it possible to still buy a waterbed? What would be the worst case scenario?
Maybe we should get that odd rash on the middle kid looked at? What’s the worst case scenario?
Does this egg salad smell weird to you? Worst case scenario?
It’s actually a highly effective tool in distilling a problem or issue down to it’s possible outcomes. If the answer is anything other than one of us dying, we typically proceed.
All this to explain that Bob and I are thinking of renovating our kitchen ourselves. I mean, what’s the worst case scenario here?