Triage Me

From doctor’s visits to trips to the ER, Lian Dolan’s family has been through it all, making lasting memories along the way.

BY: Lian Dolan





My 18 year-old son Colin counts the two most memorable days of his childhood as these: the day he watched Stars Wars episodes 4, 5 and 6 back-to-back for the first time and the day I let him have Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Cheetos for dinner. The Star Wars marathon is self-explanatory. How could that not be perfect for a first grader? It was an August day well over 100 degrees in Pasadena, we had no air conditioning at the time, my husband had been out of town for weeks on business leaving me in charge of both kids and I couldn’t take one more weekend petting zoo and the complete Star Wars set of video tapes had just come out. One day, two boys, three movies: it was magic.

The day of the Reese’s and Cheetos sounds blissful, too, until you find out we had the meal at 9 p.m. in the Huntington Memorial ER, after waiting for hours to see a doctor for a full-body rash my son had developed, accompanied by high fever (If you ever need a seat in a full waiting room, try arriving with a child covered head to toe in bright red blotches, limp with fever. People run! Entire areas of the ER open up! You get the place to yourself because nobody likes an infectious disease.). By the time we saw a doctor, the mystery virus had burned through his 8-year-old body and he was lively, chatty and starving, though still covered in red spots. That junk food dinner from the hospital vending machine was the best thing he had ever eaten and he talked about it for years, even doing an oral report on it in school for Grandparents Day.

And that’s how family memories are made, waiting in the ER. Or at the pharmacy. Or at urgent care. Or at that lab on Congress where it appears all the blood work in Pasadena is done because it is never NOT a one hour wait, even if you arrive as the doors are opening.

This September, my youngest son heads off to college in another state and I’ll be an empty nester. There will be a lot of things I won’t miss about being in the daily trenches of parenting, like buying and cooking vast amounts of meat to feed two growing boys or bending down constantly throughout the day to pick up socks randomly strewn about the house for no apparent reason. But I am sentimental—and scared—that I will no longer be a triage nurse for my children, the first line of medical intervention for every ache, pain and weird looking pimple. Though there were years when I felt like I spent more time at the doctor’s office than asleep in my own bed, I thought I was pretty good at straddling the line between panic and neglect when it came to assessing my sons’ medical issues. I know in the future there will be long-distance phone consults and Facetime assessments, but it won’t be the same as feeling their forehead, asking if they can swallow and handing them a popsicle, a time-tested cure-all.

Since my older son’s birth at St. Luke’s Hospital in 1995, we’ve enjoyed many fine diagnosis from the docs of Pasadena: jaundice, thrush, broken bones, staph infections, possible concussions, strep throat, chicken pox, slightly elevated levels of lead in the blood (just once, during a remodel), four fabulous cases of pink eye for Christmas, and a terrifying incident of anaphylactic shock thanks to multiple sesame seed bagels eaten in rapid succession combined with a previously unknown sesame allergy. Fortunately, nothing required more than a night in the hospital and nothing, except the Sesame Seed Incident, was life-threatening.

To mark this medical milestone, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all the Pasadena health care professionals who have kept my sons healthy enough to leave home. I’m grateful that we have good doctors, nurses and facilities here. I’m grateful that my husband’s company provides a decent portion of the health insurance costs for a family of four so we can get both routine and emergency care. I’m grateful that my pediatrician will see patients up to 26 years old because at this point on the parenting spectrum, I don’t feel like doctor shopping for my two sons whose medical records I can no longer access. Sure, my boys look ridiculous in those tiny chairs in waiting room, seated next to toddlers on Elmo rocking horses, but that’s not my problem anymore, it’s their baby doctor’s problem.

And you know what I’m going to do with all that Me Time in September? You guessed it. Finally get that colonoscopy I’ve been putting off. Woo-hoo!

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