When I was a kid, I used to love saltine crackers. Love them! Give me a handful of candy or a handful of saltines, and I want those crackers. Every time. In fact, I was that little kid knocking on the neighbors' doors, asking for hand-outs, especially when Mom was making something that I didn't like for dinner. Which was rare, since Mom thrived in her kitchen, but it did happen. Have you ever had salmon parmigiana? Yep, I know. It even sounds gross. That lone entree was responsible for making me a saltine beggar, all by the age of eight.
My kids find my stories of begging for saltines fascinating. Especially since times have changed. I think I would tickle-torture my kids if I ever found out they were knocking on our neighbors' doors, asking for something to eat. They can't even begin to fathom that I, their father, knocked on Miss Lindy's or Miss Margie's front door and asked for a hand-out. After finally accepting that part, however, they just simply shake their heads at my stupidity for asking for saltines and not candy.
"Wait, wait," my oldest asked, incredulous, "so you mean you just stood there, knocked on the door until they answered it, and then just asked them to give you some crackers? Like, you begged for them?"
"Yeah, that's about it in a nutshell," I said. I swear I saw the two younger kids taking notes in their notebooks. "Dad," my youngest asked, "how do you spell 'begging?'" Yes, they were definitely taking notes.
"So, Dad," my oldest continued, "did they ever say 'no?' I mean, come on, they didn't really give you crackers every time, did they? "
"Well," I answered, ready to have some fun, "maybe once in a great while they would say 'no.' But you have to understand, I was a cute kid. I mean, really cute. It was hard to say 'no' to me."
All three of my kids rolled their eyes. I thought their synchronization was excellent until I looked over at my wife, leading the pack. She should be ashamed of herself!
"Well, I was!" I exclaimed, defensively.
"Maybe that's why they only gave Daddy the saltines," my wife chimed in, "they saved the candy for the really cute kids. Oh, and by the way, kids, did you know I used to get tons of candy from our neighbors when I was little?" Yeah, right, I thought, shaking my head. My wife can be one funny lady sometimes.
So, with much fondness and love for the basic saltine, I couldn't wait to treat a patient who arrived by ambulance at the end of my shift a few weeks back.
The chief complaint listed on the patient's chart was "Patient choked on a cracker." Hmmm, it sounded kind of serious. However, when I walked into the patient's room, all I found was a middle-aged, poorly-kept, obese gentleman sitting in the hospital cot flicking TV channels with the remote.
"Sir," I asked, after introducing myself and clicking off the TV, "what brings you to our ER tonight."
"Well, I was eating a saltine and it was kind of dry, and it made me gag." Well, yeah, I thought to myself, saltines are dry and they can make you gag, I guess, if you eat enough of them or eat them fast. But, can you still whistle?
"Okay," I said, trying to understand a little better, "so what made you come to our ER?" This guy was speaking full, clear sentences and had no obvious breathing or swallowing difficulties. I needed to figure out what was the emergency.
"Well," the guy said, "after I gagged on the dry cracker, my throat was a little scratchy. I feel better now, though."
Wait a second here. So this guy ate a saltine, gagged on it because it was dry, and then called an ambulance to transport him to our ER at 2 a.m.? Seriously? Because his throat was a little scratchy? Without any other symptoms? Nothing else? At least throw me a bone, buddy, and tell me it's hard to talk, hard to breathe, or hard to swallow. Or that you vomited all over your Lazy-Boy. Something? Anything?
"Nope," he said, "I feel great. In fact, I felt good even before the ambulance got there."
I gave him a glass of water and he chugged it in one gulp. No problem. I listened to his heart and lungs. Unremarkably clear. I felt his throat. No abnormalities. I examined his mouth and throat to the nth degree. Stable.
I'm not sure if I was just wiped-out at the end of my shift or subconsciously, somewhere deep inside, I disliked this patient for using my beloved saltine as an excuse to waste our time and resources. Unfortunately, he continued to build on my shaky foundation of frustrations.
"Hey, Doc," he said, "do you have anything to eat?"
Are you kidding me? "Yeah, buddy," I imagined myself saying, "we have some saltine crackers. Give me a second and I'll run to get you some."
Of course, I didn't really get him crackers. Or food. What I did get for him, though, were his discharge papers.
"Wait a second," he said, after I explained the obvious to him, that he was stable and really should have thought twice about using an ambulance for his transport in, "how am I going to get back home?"
"Pardon me?" I asked.
"A ride home," he answered, sarcastically, "or don't you guys do that anymore?"
"Listen, buddy," I said, getting my vocal wheels rolling, "you'll need to find your own ride. If you can't, you're welcome to wait it out in our waiting room. I'm not going to approve a transport ride, though, for you. You ate a saltine cracker and your throat got a little scratchy. End of story."
Then he made the ultimate statement. "Obviously, you have never eaten a saltine cracker. If you had, you'd know how much damage it can do back there in your throat."
Oh yeah? Is that right? I was just about to launch into my whole childhood obsession with saltines, how I knocked on all our neighbors' doors, when I realized what a waste of his time and mine that would be.
"You're right, sir," I answered instead, crossing my fingers, "I've never had a saltine cracker. Probably never will, either. I like candy."
As always, big thanks for reading. Next post will be Wednesday, February 17. See you then.