Our son-in-law was practicing his super powers last weekend and wound up in the emergency room. He's fine now, with a great new story to tell and six stitches in his scalp; but the entire episode brought to mind how much time a parent spends waiting in various medical offices.
It starts with the New Baby Checkup and continues until – well, Joy is 24 and I still put in a little waiting-room time with her, so it continues for quite a while. If you have a kid who's prone to ear infections or strep throat or breaking bones, your annual waiting-room time can easily double.
If you have six kids . . . well, never mind. I don't want to depress you.
Anyway, I found out early on that I needed to be prepared to entertain the little darling while we waited; first to get called into the Inner Sanctum, then for The Great and Powerful Dr. Oz. Waiting rooms themselves are not always too bad if you can overlook the fact that every other sick kid in the place is drooling on the toys. There's almost always a copy of Highlights for Children, so you can while away an interesting quarter-hour looking for the hidden pictures if some brat hasn't already circled them; then there are those fascinating waiting-room toys, like the bead-on-a-wire sculptures and the elaborate train tables. Once we get called back into the exam room it's a different story, however.
I don't know whether you've noticed, but there's just not much to DO back there except try and keep your kid from playing with every piece of medical equipment in the room. If it's a scheduled appointment and you're a plan-ahead sort of person, you can bring a hand-held video game, a coloring book or a couple of favorite stories. However, my kids are usually not considerate enough to schedule their E/R visits in advance, so I have learned that as long as I have a pen in my purse we'll be fine. Here are some of our favorite devices for whiling away the time.
Tic-Tac-Toe, Hangman and Dots and Boxes
I think all six of my kids learned to play these games in one doctor's office or another. What makes it work is that you play them on the paper that covers the exam table. Your child will think you're being quite daring for marking up this paper, but the medical staff doesn't care; they're just going to rip it off and throw it away after the exam so you might as well use it!
If you are really desperate (like the time they forgot we were waiting, closed the office and went to lunch), you might do a little exam-room raiding yourself. You can make a very entertaining “puppet” by drawing a funny face on a tongue depressor; if you have gum in your purse you can even stick a cotton-ball wig on it.
The doctor has several boxes of balloons hanging right on the wall there, disguised as rubber exam gloves. Blow one up, tie it off and the wrist and bat it around a bit (careful for the breakables, though). You can also draw a face on this and wrap it up in the kid's discarded shirt to make a balloon baby.
These games are good anywhere you have to sit and wait, and require no equipment at all. Simply choose something in plain sight, select a defining characteristic and say, “I'm thinking of something blue” (or tall or fluffy or whatever) and let your kid guess what it is. When they get a little older this game can evolve into “Hot and Cold,” where you select an item and they ask questions about its location. If the guess is way off you say “cold,” if it's closer or further you say “warmer” or “cooler” and if they're right on top of it they're “hot.” This game sets the stage for the classic 20 Questions. Warning: if you've been training your child on a steady diet of logic games, they are liable to kick your butt at 20 Questions.
If your child is nervous or in pain, they may not have the attention span necessary to play anything as organized as a game. If they're in pain you're in the right place and there's not much to do but hold them close and wait it out—and by the way, a really little one might become instantly calmer if YOU climb up on that table and pull them onto your lap. If your exam room contains paper cups, get them myriad little sips of water – that's always diverting, especially if the paper cups are the conical type (which, by the way, make excellent puppets as well). If the child in question tends to the hysterical or drama-queenish (not that I know any of those, ahem), that's a different matter altogether. I can tell you how I manage it, but since sarcasm is one of my super powers I don't necessarily recommend this approach for everyone.
What I do is to assume my most serious, scholarly face and begin describing in lurid detail the probably courses of treatment and how the doctor will use each obscure piece of equipment in the exam room. The secret to successful gaslighting is to start small. Well, yes, you say, you might get a shot this time; if you're lucky it won't be with that needle over there (pointing to the coat hook on the door). Mom! That's not a needle! your child may indignantly retort; to which you reply, oh yes, it is; a doctor's office is so small that everything in it must be usable for two or even three things, and that coat hook is the handle for pulling the Big Needle out of the door. Of course they hardly ever use the Big Needle because the doctor has to stand out in the hall to get it into the patient . . . well, you get the idea. Start off small and draw them in, until by the end of it you're telling such blatant whoppers that even the whiniest child will start to laugh. Only try this approach if you can keep an absolutely straight face.
This worked on all of my children except for one – and he turned out to be so gullible that he believed an Army recruiter.
Come to think of it, the other five are a little twisted, as well . . .