Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Future Hopes

Vote for StorytellERdoc for Best Literary Blog at the Medgadget Medical Blog Awards! Thanks for your support...

After another recent shift with a predominance of patients suffering from lingering flu symptoms, I decided to swing by our local Walmart to stock up on our home supply of pediatric medications, just in case. Some acetaminophen, ibuprofen, decongestant, and cough suppressant would hopefully get us through the rest of this winter season. And, of course, what a great variety of favorite flavors--orange, bubble gum, berry, and grape. Heck, some of them taste so good that faking the flu for the little cups of "candy" might be to my kids' benefit.

Unfortunately, on the way to the pharmacy area, one of the first aisles I always encounter is the candy and gum aisle. Not a good thing for me, since I have quite a recent fascination and taste for Gobstoppers, a Wonka jawbreaker product (don't tell my dentist). The yellow psychodelic boxes scream at me from their shelf, "Jim, come and put a couple of us in your cart," and regardless how much I fight it, the pull is too strong.

Needless to say, my kids love going to Walmart with me.

On this particular day, then, I walked to the mid-aisle to grab a few boxes of the candy. I wasn't alone in the aisle, though. To the right of the Gobstoppers, two parents stood looking at the shelf of big Hershey chocolate bars, immersed in a conversation (yes, I listened) of milk chocolate versus dark chocolate. To my left, a grocery cart with a makeshift, rigged-up kiddy car, driver seats and steering wheels included, on its handle-end. Two kids sat in those seats--an approximate four-year old girl and a three-year old boy. The Gobstoppers sat waiting for me between the parents and kids.

As I approached the family, I was caught off-guard with the screaming and fighting going on with the young kids. In fact, at one point, as I was kneeling down to grab the boxes of candy, I was appalled to find the little boy trying to punch his sister in the face, her hands rapidly moving to block each of his thrown punches, protecting herself. Still on my knees, I looked toward the parents, who must have completely tuned-out their kids. I was just about to say something when the little boy stopped, but not before his sister screamed out, "Get the hell off me, God damn it!" Still no reaction from the parents.

After this, I stayed kneeling, observing these peculiar parenting skills (or lack of) while looking at a box of Junior mints. While I was debating getting the mints, the little girl and boy started to talk to one another. About me! I actually wrote the conversation down in the pharmacy because it had shocked me much. It went like this.

Little girl: "Who the hell is that guy?" I looked at them looking at me.

Little boy: "I don't know, but if he gets close enough, I'm going to kick the shit out of him."

Little girl: "That will be fun. Try to knock him out." For good measure, she added, "God damn it." Again.

I was disheartened. I was shocked. I was annoyed with the parents for not addressing such obnoxiousness from their young kids. I looked from the kids to the parents, who had quickly glanced our way before figuring their conversation about chocolate was more important. I looked back to the kids again, before standing up and walking away with my Gobstoppers. I was upset and figured this was the best option for me, at that time. I knew it wasn't the kids' faults, but rather their parents. Their role models. But I wondered to myself, "What kind of adults are these kids going to become?"

This happening got me to thinking about our society. For the most part, we all know great kids in our lives, from our own to our friends' and families'. To raise respectful, kind, compassionate and loving kids and guide them appropriately into adulthood, when we choose this road of parenthood, should be the primary goal in each of our lives. We may not always succeed, darn it, but we have to try our best and throw our energy into the effort. Because that effort translates into the brilliance of the future generation coming up to govern our world.

These parents demonstrated no effort. And, unfortunately, they are not alone.

How many of us see the changing pattern with our society's kids. Talking back to well-meaning adults. Not respecting our elders (at least hold the door open for them and smile!). Tolerating vulgar language and meaningless violence via computer games and TV. Not respecting one another's uniqueness. Forgetting manners. Immersing oneself into texting instead of holding actual conversation. Avoiding volunteerism and chores. Placing more importance on material possessions rather than relationships.

Although I see both ends of the spectrum every day in the ER, I can only imagine the stories a teacher can tell.

I carried this Walmart story with me for a few weeks, bummed at the behavior of those children, constantly on vigil to find a hopeful story to balance out this disappointment. And then, the other day during an ER shift, I found it.

I walked into Room 17 to see my next patient, a nine-year old girl who had sustained minor anterior chest burns after bumping into her mother, who had been holding a pot of boiled water. Because the room was quiet and calm, I was quite surprised to find five people in total in the room, four kids and their mother. The mother was standing to the patient's right, beside the cot, while the oldest and youngest children, girls, shared a corner seat and their brother sat to their left on a stool.

Despite a TV in the room, it was not on, and the children all sat with an opened book before them, reading. Mom was whispering to her daughter with the burns, consoling her with her words and touch, gently stroking the back of her hand and her ribboned braids.

I walked up to Mom and the patient and introduced myself. "Hello, Doctor," the patient said, bravely trying to smile over her discomfort. She melted my heart, trying to be respectful while a three inch patch of skin lay peeled from her body between her clavicles. The mother turned to the other children. "Say 'hello' to Sissy's doctor," she said, and I was greeted with three more genuine smiles and greetings. They spoke with a bashful confidence that I fully appreciated.

We talked, the mother and patient and I, for quite a bit about what happened that brought them to our ER. After a stable exam, the nurse came in to clean the burn and show Mom how to care for it the next few days at home.

While finishing with this patient, I felt compelled to share with Mom how impressed I was by her kids. Not once did they talk without calling me 'sir' or the nurse 'maam'." They took turns, one at a time, to step up to their sister's cot to be supportive of her. No arguing or fighting, only kind words were uttered. No scowls, only warm smiles were worn. They were unabashed with their hugs and physical contact, sharing their seats and coats with one another. The mood and energy of the room was lighthearted and fantastic.

"Your kids," I shared with Mom before discharge, "are absolutely wonderful. It has been such a pleasure to see how well-behaved and loving they are with one another and with you. Even most of our staff has commented on their excellent behavior. Well done, Mom."

Mom was somewhat embarrassed by my compliment. "Trust me," I assured her, "I mean my words. What a wonderful job you are doing raising such fine young kids." As I spoke, the kids all grinned, bumping into one another with their elbows and bodies. I looked at all of them and smiled.

Mom thanked me, shyly, before explaining that she was a single parent. "Although I get tired by the end of the day, things seem to be going quite well with the kids." How could they not? This was an amazing woman, a role model for all, well aware of the importance of raising good children. And she was accomplishing, on her own, what two parents with less children weren't.

A hero.

After complimenting the children on their behavior and their impeccable church clothing, I ran to the freezer and grabbed four Italian ices. Grape. And lots of stickers from the nursing station. Just some small gestures to acknowledge their good behavior.

My hopes for our future have been restored. It took a few weeks, but I'm back to focusing on the good of our children. Thanks to the brilliant unselfishness of a great mother...

As always, big thanks for reading. Well done job to the mother of these four children! Also, thanks for your support in the recent Medgadget Medical Blog Awards voting. It continues until Sunday at midnight. If you enjoy my blog and posts, I would greatly appreciate your support and vote.


Melanie said...

Your stories always touch my heart. Thank you Dr. Jim for sharing.

Tanya said...

Whenever I see "those kids"-the disrespectful, foul mouthed ones I encounter more often than I wish to, I force myself to think of the kids I know who are a delight to be around. It helps balance the picture-another great post, Dr Jim!

Katie Axelson said...


I want to be that second mom (well, maybe we can skip that single part).

And good for you for continuing to look instead of remaining discouraged by your Wal-mart experience.

<>< Katie

rlbates said...

Wish all moms were like the second one! Bless her.

Empress Bee (of the high sea) said...

first, you're winning!

next, I just heard a story on tv about a mom that shot her two kids for being mouthy! huh? shot them? yup. she did. what the heck?

great post doc...

smiles, bee

Lynda Halliger Otvos (Lynda M O) said...

What a lovely restorative experience. I moved to SF Bay Area a decade ago after a lifetime in relatively small towns. I am shocked and appalled at the children I am exposed to on a daily basis. They talk like grown bikers and act like seasoned hoodlums. What are we letting ourselves in for, I wonder....

Mary Sue said...

How did you just stood there and take that rude language from those kids. You have a responsibility to model good behavior, also, you know, even if they aren't your kids. I would have said, "That is inappropriate language, and I do not appreciate being spoken to like that" and walked away. Or do you not believe you have the right to be respected by yourself and by others?

Unknown said...

@Mary Sue: I think the reason why he didn't say anything to these kids, is that the parents would be offended. I had to confront someone in my building about their child's incessant screaming, and the mom gave me the speech about being a kid-hater, cursed at me, and made it seem like it was all my fault.
Now, whenever I encounter that kind of behaviour, I just cover my ears and walk away. No use arguing with people like that.

StorytellERdoc said...

Mary Sue
Rarely do I respond to comments, but your last line of your comment was irksome. I had worked a twelve hour shift and was tired, plus upset, at this behavior. A recipe for a conflicting encounter to escalate if I had pursued it. Sure, if I could have said your short and sweet line and walked away, great. Can you guarantee that no more words would have been exchanged? That the situation would not have escalated after you made your point to the kids and parents? I don't think so. I took the high road (a form of teaching responsibility to these kids), based on my mental and physical capacity at that time. Plus, I was there. You weren't. For you to suggest that I don't respect myself and others by your last, sarcastic line is simply wrong. And in poor character. You had a point to make and it could have been made in a much more tolerant tone, don't you think?

I would have responded privately but you gave no return to address this with you.

kate sweeten said...

I work at the front desk of a busy outpatient clinic and never cease to be amazed at just how little some parents care about what their children do or say. We have a few small cubicles set up in our lobby that provide some semblance of privacy for patients who need to make phone calls - I have literally had to get up from my desk and pry children off of the cublicles that were mere inches from flinging themselves over the top. Their parents? Sitting across the lobby with their head burried in a 4-month old People magazine, completely oblivious of the fact that their kids are treating a waiting room like a playground. It drives me insane! My parents would've KILLED me if I had ever had the nerve to act like such a douschebag in public.

On the other hand, I'm involved in Big Brothers/Big Sisters and will never get over how much I love that my "little" ALWAYS uses "sir" and "ma'am" - even with me! She is so smart and polite...and, again, raised by a single mother. Every kid should have the manners that she does!

Brit said...

I've often wondered how you are still so cheerful and enjoy your work. Many emergency doctors I have met seem so bitter and burn out. I think I have found my answer. You look for hope and happiness in others, even in the sad situations in which they are coming to you. Thank you for the reminder to look for the sunshine, and I will find it.

Karen said...

We all know what kind of adults those two kids are going to turn out to be, don't we? And it's so sad. I'm glad you got the balance with the respectful kids.

Holly said...

"But I wondered to myself, "What kind of adults are these kids going to become?"

the same ones their parents are. Unfortunately, I see this trend as well and I see no end to it anytime soon.

Bravo to you for being able to walk away. No good would have come from confronting those kids. I'm sure had you done so, their parents would have wrenched their attention from the chocolate long enough to pounce on you for berating their darlings.

Mary Sue, why do you think it would have made ANY impression on them to tell them their behavior was inappropriate? Kids like these do not respect anyone, so I'm sure a complete stranger would have had no import to them on any level.

Anonymous said...

I can tell you what happens when those kids turn up at our college: They are spoiled, entitled, and abusive to college staff.

Here in the registrar's office, we get hell from these kids. Tell someone that he can't take a class without the prerequisites, or that he needs an advisor's signature, and watch the temper tantrums begin.

And of course, they also expect to pass their courses without actually doing the work or even attending classes in some cases.

Then we get to deal with angry, abusive, and entitled mom or dad when their poor darling child (whom we've abused terribly) flunks out...

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for sharing your stories! I'm in school and it's tough, but every time a new post from you pops up on Google Reader, I wait until I've read the rest of my posts, so I can savor it. Thanks, Dr. Jim.

Anonymous said...

Your stories are the best of any doctor I've read- I just love your writing style and the emotion you put into them. Thanks for writing them, Dr. Jim!

Loki said...

People have been saying "Kids these days // I worry for the future" since the time of Socrates and Plato, and yet we've come out alright so far.

Its a common trope but an incorrect one.

Vachel said...

I'm a paramedic in your town; your hospital system (Proof? Char is usually the one greeting us lowly ambulance drivers as we come in.), and I'm consistently amazed and/or appalled at what I see. At least once per shift, I find myself saying, "How the hell do people live like this? How do these people manage to keep custody of their kids?"

Red Stethoscope said...

What a great end to this story! I'm still a little disturbed about the Walmart kids, though. I can't say I've ever met a three year old who knows how to use profanity in context (yet).

A Fairy Godmother said...

There are many lovely people in this world and I know you are one of them Dr Jim - in fact, I do believe there's definitely a touch of the fairy godparent about you.

Jessica said...

Unbelieveable that some parents are so oblivious to how their children are behaving. I cannot even imagine children saying those things! Unfortunaltey I see & hear it alot at work too.

Peter said...

Hi! Just voted! You are doing very well. Will winning get you a raise? LOL

You may like Gobstoppers, but I'm Gobsmacked by the attitude of some parents these days. Like parents like children they say. Heaven help them when they turn into their parents.

I guess if you had said something to these parents, you would have been in danger of being flogged. The saying, "Discretion is the better part of valour" now comes to mind and recommended in cases such as these.

As for the type of lolly I like, I'll give you a line so that you may guess what I like.

"Who Loves Ya, Baby?"

Take Care,

Anonymous said...

It is so very hard to see this sort of behavior in children barely out of diapers. The simple fact that those vulgar and offensive words are what these little ones hear every day is sickening. When did we decide that language suited for a sailor on shore leave is appropriate around tender young ears? But even worse that the words is the agressive and ugly world view that these kids are getting along with their Cheerios on a daily basis. I find myslef feeling guilty when I call the dog "stupid".....when it is just she and I in the house! I can't imagine the life these children face. "Better to tie a millstone around one's neck and be thrown into the sea than to hurt one of these little ones"....to paraphrase a man who knew how to treat innocent children.

Pattie, RN

tracy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shana said...

While I agree that your depiction of the first family leads me to judge them as parents and as people as well, I want to remind myself that I don't know them. I don't know what's going on in their lives or their day that leads them to respond differently to their kids than I would.

There are several reasonable reasons why they they had not addressed their kids' behavior at that moment.

If I may, I'd love to link to this blog that said that a little more eloquently than I did.


Stacey said...

I'm going to start with Pattie's comment and go a little further to kind of address Mary Sue's comment.

Obviously the kids have heard those words many many times in the correct context. Most times adult say those words while beating someone up or at the very least those are very mentally abusive words. They have had to hear them somewhere (home, daycare, friends etc).

What if you had of stepped in and those kids have heard those statements from home. What will then happen when that family gets home? Will Dad beat Mom? Mom beat Dad? Either of them beat the children? Remember, most physically abusive adults know easily how to beat someone without any obvious signs being shown (bruises under clothing for one).

With the language they used I would just prefer to not step in just in case those kids (or one parent) would have to face reprecutions (sorry bad spelling!) when they got home.

(Feel free to check out my blog, it details mostly how I deal with living with a rare genetic disorder)

tracy said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

I'm that teacher that gets these kids when they are in junior high. I taught 7th, 8th and 9th graders for 20 years. I had the kids that couldn't read above a 3rd or 4th grade level.

While most of the kids were polite, there were enough of the others that I was drained at the end of everyday. There is very little support for teachers who have to deal with these kids. Any effort to discuss this issue with the parents results in an understanding of why the kids are they way they are.

I finally had to quit teaching. Among other things I was tired of working in an environment where all I heard were four letter words and hateful comments - all from the students and their parents.

SeaSpray said...

Hi Jim - I was taken aback when I read what the kids were saying. I think if I were there I'd wonder if there was a camera somewhere except no respecting adult would put kids up to it.


I don't know what I would've done in that situation, but for sure ...I would've been as pained as you were.

I never heard kids talking like that, but working in ED registration ...have certainly heard parents talking like that in front of or to their children that way ..and worse.

Things seem so different from when we were kids. Oh sure ..there has always been violence and back then ..people lived in quiet desperation behind closed doors ..things weren't aired publicly. But ..the societal tone was much more respectful and safer. bad things did happen. but for the most part ...people were respectful and could be trusted and people mattered to each other.

You can't eat an elephant all at one ..but you can eat it one bite at a time. I guess ...we all just need to make a difference in our corner of the world ..even in the little things ..be out best ..do our best and treat others with the same respect we want to receive and hopefully the good will outweigh ...overcome the negative trend we've been witnessing.

Thank God for the people who do live like the family of the little girl you treated. that mom is doing a splendid job. :)

gradydoctor said...

Hi! Just wanted to tell you how much I enjoy your beautiful, heartfelt writing. My blog was nominated with yours for Best Literary Medical Blog, and I have been reading since I first ran across the initial nomination.

You write from the heart, and it shows. I especially love the things you've written about your son. I have some more archive reading to do!

Warmest congratulations on getting the top votes. :) I gracefully curtsy and high five you as your "first runner up." Keep writing!

Kimberly aka gradydoctor

P.S. My mom said she enjoys your writing, too.

Winking Doll said...

Hi StorytellERdoc,

Thanks for the wonderful story.

While good parenting has a big impact on the future generation, sometimes the future generation provides inspiration on their own.

I have the following story to share about a 2+ years-old boy who showed empathy when his mother verbally abused their maid.

I believe that children are not always the "blank slate" is widely claimed. The above example illustrates that it may be a good thing too!

Anonymous said...

Congrats on winning the literary category. I always enjoy your observations. You are a talented writer. I'm glad that writing is your hobby and that you share it with us.

wellillbe said...

The children being abusive verbally and physically to each other are obviously mistreated at home. Is there not some way to report them for child neglect? Also although your experience with the "good mom" sounds wonderful how are you able to conclusively determine the child bumped into the mom and not that the kids were terrified of her becuase she poured the water on the kid? Just curious as I doubt a lot of parental excuses for childhood injuries

Peter said...

Congratulations. A well deserved win!

Take Care,

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on winning the award; as I was reading the top part of this post, all I could think about was where the young kids learned those ways of treating each other, those ways of talking to and about people. I'd bet my bottom dollar they learned them at home. The problem is probably much bigger than parents who are more interested in picking candy than paying attention to obnoxious kids.

I still worry about what kind of adults they'll become.

beachbody coaches said...

Hey, congratulations you've won! I have a Doc friend who is just starting to blog and I will def. recommend this to her. Wow, I really must read about that mum who shot her kids. I can;t believe a mum can do that???

Unknown said...

I'm a new reader. I came here by way of a link by Shadowfax.

I want to thank you for your praise of single parents who do their best to raise well-behaved kids. I'm one of those parents, and though it's not often an easy job, the rewards are reaped in having kids who are genuinely a pleasure to be around.

I look forward to reading lots more. :)