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Desert Companion

Discomfort Zone: Nickel and Dimed


Courtesy Mercedes M. Yardly

Yes, my daughter swallowed a coin

It’s a parent’s nightmare to receive a phone call from their child’s school. It usually means something is wrong.

“Hello, Mercedes? This is the elementary school secretary …”

Her words were drowned out by my sweet, timid, playful 7-year-old screaming bloody murder in the background.

Did you know that I can make a 15-minute drive in less than five minutes? Not all heroes wear capes. Sometimes we just dress like moms.

Itty Bit was grabbing her chest and hyperventilating. She was in so much pain that she was doubled over and couldn’t walk.

“Deep breaths,” I said. This is our anxiety mantra. “Slow, deep breaths.”

“Can’t breathe,” she managed. “Ate a coin.”

They say your body goes cold and time stops. This is true.

“Is it stuck?” I asked. I somehow managed to keep my voice calm.

“It hurts so bad,” she whimpered.

We were just minutes from the hospital. Have you ever picked up your child and fled to the emergency room? I have, more times than I can count. It never gets easier. It’s always filled with terror.

“She swallowed a coin and is having difficulty breathing,” I gasped. The nurses took blood pressure, temperature, and an X-ray.

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“Well, there’s no doubt,” the doctor said, pointing at her X-ray. “The coin is lodged right below her clavicle.”

I could see it. It looked huge. Were we sure it was a coin? Could it be a frisbee or a dinner plate? It was standing on its side, so air could pass through. My fear was that it would close like a manhole cover and cut off her air supply. The doctor feared Itty Bit would breathe it into her lungs and cut up the soft tissue.

Her spasming esophagus caused her great pain. “It’s trying to push the coin down into her stomach where it will hopefully pass,” the doctor said. Two hours later, the coin hadn’t budged.

We were transported by ambulance to a hospital that had a surgical team better equipped for children. Itty Bit was strapped down and loaded up. I hopped in beside her. She nervously asked about stranger danger, and I assured her ambulances, and especially ambulances with her mom inside, didn’t intend to kidnap her.

After two more hours, a second X-ray showed the coin hadn’t moved. It was time to call the surgical team. I thought this meant cutting, but the surgeon explained they would put Itty Bit under general anesthesia, intubate her, and then go down her throat with a scope. The scope had a camera and a little grabby claw to get the coin.

The nurses gave her a stuffed kangaroo to cuddle, and the medicine kicked in. She fell asleep, and they rolled her into surgery.

I was a wreck. I paced in the waiting room while calling my parents. Today had been a game of Telephone. I’d give somebody a piece of information and then say, “Pass it on.” The end result was distorted. Somebody had told my mother Itty Bit had been life-flighted to the hospital.

“Don’t worry, Mom. That’s not the case.”

“Are you sure?” she asked.

“Pretty sure that if the ambulance flew, I would have noticed.”

The surgery took about half an hour. The surgeon came striding out with a plastic cup.

“Here you go. It was a dime. Make sure she doesn’t swallow any more coins.”

A dime. The smallest American currency. I looked at the surgeon, and she shrugged. I was slightly offended that the coin didn’t even have the nerve to be a quarter. Turns out she was chewing on the dime while thinking, and then it went down.

My husband joined me at Itty Bit’s bedside while she woke up. I shook the most expensive dime I had ever seen at her.

“You are not a vending machine. No more nickel-and-diming us to death.”

“You don’t want to be shortchanged,” my husband said. We high-fived over the hospital bed. Itty Bit turned away from us primly.

“You aren’t funny. I don’t want to disgust it anymore,” she said.

Yeah, that makes cents.

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