Thursday, February 24, 2011

Once more from the top

I might end up giving slightly short shrift to this, but I have told this story (in various forms of various lengths) many times since last Friday and I’m getting a bit over-familiar with it. Still, I do think it’s unfair to make passing reference to something hereabouts, promising to get back to it later, and then not get back to it. So here we are.


My wife got a phone call at work on Friday because the little guy had smacked his head hard. These things happen, especially with a child as high-spirited and generally rough-and-tumble as our son. The little guy’s pretty resilient, though, but better-safe-than-sorry is one of the fundamental principles of our parenting technique, so my wife called it a day and headed for the daycare center.

When she arrived the staff informed her that the head-smacking accident was the result of a breath-holding tantrum, which we all (his parents and his daycare providers) know the little guy is prone to from time to time. We also know that while these fits are distressing and ugly to bear witness to, they are not terribly dangerous in and of themselves: either he’ll get woozy and then finally inhale so he can scream some more, or he’ll pass out but then immediately start breathing normally since he’s no longer consciously freaking out. The main hazard, then, is that he might get woozy or pass out and then fall down, and hit his head on something on the way down, and that incidental injury could be a problem. So on the one hand accidents happen and neither my wife nor I expect anyone to keep our child 100% bump- and scrape-free no matter how much we’re paying them. But on the other hand, if something sets the little guy off on a tantrum, there’s at least half a minute before he’s so worked up and has held his breath for so long that he might whack into something, so why wasn’t someone able to intervene and make sure that didn’t happen? Plus the staff’s version of events included the phrase “he was holding his breath and ran into a wall”, which … no. I’ve thought about it a hundred times since Friday and that just does not freaking fly. I’ve seen enough of the breath-holding spells to know that they primarily consist of him going rigid with rage, and there’s no running anywhere, let along running into things. Again, falling down is a real concern. But not blind stumbling into obstacles.

Also upon my wife’s arrival she was informed that, in the time since she had initially been called, the little guy had thrown up. Which of course sent up a HUGE red flag to her but didn’t seem to be creating major concern for the staff, such as perhaps an immediate follow-on statement along the lines of “so we already called the ambulance!” or anything. My wife asked if she could use the office phone to call our pediatrician and see what they would recommend. The pediatrician said it would be a good idea to bring the little guy in to get checked out. The phone call took place one desk away from the director of the daycare center, who was on her own phone conducting what sounded to my wife like some non-urgent business like contacting a reference for a job applicant. At no point did the director get off the phone to speak directly to my wife, make sure everything was all right, address her concerns, or anything. And that was profoundly disappointing.

(Like I said, I’ve told this story quite a few times now and more than one person has pointed out that if the director had made a big deal out of it and gone through a whole “I’m so sorry, is everything all right?” spiel that simply acknowledging a possible problem would have opened a crack of admission-of-guilt which could be exploited if my wife and I decided to sue the center. Which I’m willing to concede as a possibility – that maybe that was what the director was thinking, not that my wife and I would sue – but which I would also point out is not terribly mollifying, to say the least.)

My wife went to the pediatrician, who pronounced the little guy healthy but advised my wife to keep an eye on him at home. Apparently one upchuck does not a concussion make, but repeated incidents would merit a trip to the ER. Of course that’s exactly what ended up happening. The little guy threw up at home a couple of hours later, my wife immediately took him to the ER, and he threw up one more time at the hospital. The nurses gave the little guy some Tylenol and anti-nausea medicine, and there was no more hurlage, he stopped complaining of head pain, and basically went from listless back to his normal ebullient self. They also did a CT scan on the little guy, for which he was astonishingly calm and brave and cooperative, and they assured us there was no visible brain damage or other signs of trauma. So just a concussion, then, which seems like an odd way of looking at it but, again, our son is a total kook of a daredevil who stands a good chance of pioneering new extreme sports like race-car-wrestling of some type, and it may not be unfair to say that a concussion was for him something of an inevitability. It could have been worse, but it wasn’t, and we were grateful for that.

We took the doctors at their word that he wouldn’t slip into a coma if we let him sleep through the night, and sure enough he didn’t. The ER pediatrician had told us to keep an eye on him for “weird behavior” but, again, see above; what qualifies as “weird” from a child who likes to pretend he’s a train engine while he bodyslams people? Not that such an assessment stopped me from watching the little guy all weekend like he was my own teeny Flowers For Algernon incarnate, but I had to admit that all of his previous mental functions seemed totally intact.

I cried when I read this when I was 13; pretty sure today it would send me into a fortnight of inconsolable weeping, at least.
What wasn’t intact was our trust in our daycare providers, and of course the incident would have to happen on a Friday afternoon, which gave us all weekend and then some to stew over it – again, not the accident in and of itself but the downplayed and underwhelming response to it. Which frankly came on the heels of (for my wife especially) not being terribly impressed by the new director of the center ever since she took over for the previous director (who had been a real selling point in selecting that center in the first place) and a growing feeling that what had once been a tight ship was getting a little too loose and chaotic. I’m a pretty laid back consumer and I am unlikely to freak out about, for example, poor service at a restaurant or buying a lemon of an electronic entertainment device or something. But if there’s one place I’m going to insist on some fairly exactingly high standards, it’s going to be wherever I entrust the care of my children. (Yes, again, the travails of the toddler dominate the conversation but let us not forget there is an infant incoming!) At any rate, my wife was determined to meet with the director on Monday morning to discuss her concerns, both stemming from Friday’s incident and in general trends.

First thing Monday morning, she called and set up a 10 a.m. appointment. 10 a.m., my wife shows up, only to be told the director had run out to the store, she must have forgotten she had an appointment. I know, I know: WHAT THE FRIGGING WHAT. My wife waited for about 20 minutes but ultimately it was just one flake-out too many, and she cleared out the little guy’s cubby (he was at home with grandma, since we wanted to keep him out of daycare a few days if only to decrease the risk of visiting injury upon injury which is of course a majorly scary concussion no-no) and bailed.

At this point of course the scramble was on, with my wife making arrangements to take an unscheduled day off Tuesday while I did the same for Wednesday and we realized we needed to find totally new daycare arrangements for the little guy (and his little sister) because he was never going back to that center. My wife started visiting some places almost immediately, and also contacted the regional director of the daycare chain (one of the upsides to going with a large corporate provider, I suppose, is that there is that kind of hierarchy up which to escalate matters) and made an appointment for Tuesday morning to discuss what went wrong.

Happily, Tuesday morning ended up being the turning point because the regional director was everything the center director was not: engaged, concerned, empathetic, apologetic, etc. Neither my wife nor I wanted to get any of the staff at the center in trouble or grind out a grudge or anything, and the regional director (to her credit, I think) did not throw her subordinates under the bus but rather expressed sincere (or at least sincere-seeming, which really is close enough) regret that there had been a serious breakdown of communication at multiple points in the process. The even better news was that the regional director’s office was contained within another location of the daycare company, which is brand new and super-sparkly nice, and which is nowhere near as crowded and chaotic as the one we had been using, and the RD offered to let us transfer the little guy there immediately with no additional costs or any hassles at all. My wife still checked out a few other places and had me do the same, as well as asking me to double-check the sparkly-new place, but long story short (ha) that ended up being the solution. So on Monday the little guy will begin attending that alternate location, which conveniently enough is just as much right along the route from our house to my wife’s work as the old location was, just a little closer to the work end. Cue gigantic sighs of relief.

So yeah, right around Saturday when there were dark, low-hanging clouds of doubt concerning whether or not the little guy was really-really going to be all right, and when we had no clue as to how far a Monday morning meeting with the daycare center director might go toward allowing us to maybe not feel like we had no choice but to pull our son out of there, things were pretty dire. But now that the whole daycare conundrum has been fortuitously resolved (not just regarding the little guy but also looking ahead to a much better infant-room set-up for the baby come July) and there’s been nary a disquieting sign of lingering intracranial trauma, things are better. And now you know!

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