Imagine you are struggling to breathe.
You feel panicked.
You arrive, in the dark, at a building with bright lights, lots of ambulances and police cars outside. You walk into the building holding your mom’s hand.
You are 5 years old.
You go through sliding doors to a waiting room packed full of all types of people – through your 5-year-old eyes, they are old, some are scary looking, some in (physical) pain and others in (mental) agony. Triage admitting for children and adult emergency is a shared desk where we live.
You find crowds, noises, and lights overwhelming.
This room you’ve walked into causes you to feel more panicked.
You squeeze your mom’s hand tighter as she slides your health card through the window opening, but the nurse sees the panicked look on your face and watches you struggle for air. She rushes you in to the children’s emergency room, bypassing everyone else there waiting, and brings you directly to the emergency room beds. She enters ahead of you and your mom, rushing to tell the nurses and doctors that you are struggling to breathe.
They all put on surgical face masks and swarm you.
You collapse on the floor, completely inundated by emotions, fear and panic. You are still struggling to breathe, and are now also overwhelmed by everyone surrounding you.
Now imagine they aren’t speaking your first language.
Your mom scoops you up, puts you on the nearest bed, climbing up to sit behind you. She holds you in a hug as questions are asked of both of you; overlapping voices in your 2nd language flying at you from every direction.
Then a doctor sits beside your bed. She starts talking to you. Kindly. She’s young. She asks questions like : what’s your favorite colour? Did you go to school today? And you understand her. She’s speaking French! Slowly everything becomes much less scary.
The epi mist the RT holds in your face, the one helping to open your airways, the one you’ve been trying to push away, is suddenly easy to ignore. You begin to feel safe in your mom’s arms, safe in this hospital bed.
The doctor patiently speaks with you. You calm down. Breathing is still difficult, but easier without your panic attack. You feel yourself relax.
Recently, I had to take Robert to the ER. He was suffering from an episode of croup. We are so fortunate and had never had to witness anything like this. Rober has never had croup before, and it was not any experience I’d like to repeat.
As parents raising our boys in a French/bilingual home, it can be a struggle to go to appointments and, in this case, to obtain emergency care, when our sons’s first language is French. Some might say, why do we choose to raise our children in French when we live in a predominately anglophone community? There are several reasons. We do it because languages are important. We do it because learning several languages is a wonderful thing, and a gift we can give our children. We do it because it’s part of their heritage.
Our experience at the ER allowed us to engage a little closer with someone with whom we might not have had much interaction. It allowed some conversations to happen.
And because it was happening to Robert, our sweet boy with Down Syndrome, it allowed us to raise awareness of the importance of obtaining services in French and obtaining them with care and compassion, and to find comfort in an unlikely place.