The boys and I got back tonight from our trip to Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky. We had appointments to enter the earth's crust on Tuesday and Wednesday for some cave tours along with our friends that accompanied us, Robyn and her boys. We left Monday and stayed at a cabin in Cave City, right outside the park.
I felt ambitious and had signed us up for what was described as the difficult, three hour tour by lantern light for our first day. I figured that we could negotiate any steep hills the cave would present us, and if it really was difficult, that it would be good for us to push ourselves a little bit. It turned out to be fine, there were some steep hills at the end that had us huffing and puffing, but it was totally worth it. It was fascinating to see the remnants of saltpeter mining from the War of 1812, ancient moccasins left behind, and even a pile of 2,000 year old poop that we got to gawk at by flashlight.
Our cave guide was informative and funny, and we were lucky to be in a small group, about 15 of us. It was kind of freaky thinking about all the things that could go wrong so far from help. We were nearly without incident until Luka decided his shoe was gouging his foot so he had to bandaged up so he could keep walking. Actually, I let him go barefoot until we were busted by the second ranger but then he was fine after he got the national park band aid on his foot. I also found it comforting to have this big guy with a Kentucky accent drawling, "you'll be okay, son".
The second tour we took was the New Entrance tour, which was shorter, easier, lit up with electricity, and led by a ranger that was just as affable as the first. The fun part of this one was going down, down, down through the twisting, narrow stairs through the dripping formations to the bottom. It had a gothic, eerie feeling about it. At the end of the tour was the part of the cave that's called the Frozen Niagara because the stalagmites and stalactites look like a frozen waterfall.
The other adventure we went on occurred on Tuesday, our first full day in Kentucky and after our first tour. We ate lunch at the Mammoth Cave Hotel and then piled into the van to go to the Kentucky Action Park. As soon as I sat down to leave, Luka let out a piercing scream from the back and the kids were all saying his eye was bloody. I feared the absolute worst as he took his hands off his face, but his eye was intact, only a bloody gouge scraping directly under his eye. I was stunned to see him with blood running down his face and onto his sweatshirt. A metal sign holder had apparently been jiggled as he was buckling in, and the pointy end twanged right into his face.
Every step I'd taken for the previous three hours had been guided by a competent park ranger, where was my guide now? I had been let loose in the parking lot with nobody to give me helpful instruction or warn me about the next hazard around the corner. I was just staring at my bloody kid and trying to turn back time with mind but that didn't work.
I took him back into the visitor center. Nice people in khaki uniforms cleaned him up and recommended that I get him checked out at the hospital because it was so close to his eye. They gave me directions to the nearest hospital in Glasgow, and we all went.
We checked in, did the triage thing, did the registration thing. Then we waited, and waited and waited. People who had been waiting before us left without ever going in to be seen. I asked how much longer, the check-in lady said one more before us. Okay, we can handle that. Pretty soon I had Evan howling at me like I was personally responsible for making us wait that long. We were all antsy. So the check-in lady comes over and says, I'm sorry, there's actually four people ahead of you. And those with life-threatening conditions have priority. There was only one physician. She told me that people left every day because the wait was so long. I began feeling resentful towards the people that were inconveniencing me with their life threatening conditions.
I really wanted to leave but it kind of freaked me out, too. I wanted to get a really good look at the wound so I went into the bathroom and started wetting down toilet paper to try to wash it out. I began telephone discussions with my Medical Professional Friend who advised me to stay... then called to say that he'd seen the picture Evan had sent and thought he might be okay to leave under certain conditions.
We were there for four hours before we finally left without seeing a doctor, bought some topical antibiotic and went to do some Alpine Sliding with Luka still wearing his bloody shirt.
A four hour wait is not so unusual i suppose, for an ER waiting room. But, the more I think about it, the more I am fired up to file a grievance when they send me a bill for the nurse services. There was a warning posted at registration saying that if you leave before seeing the doctor that you will still be billed for the nursing services. But taking his blood pressure didn't help him. And if they already knew that the wait could be really long, which they did, the nurse should have given Luka some basic first aid, like clean his injury and give him and ice pack along with taking his blood pressure. How ridiculous that I was cleaning it in the bathroom with toilet paper.
I found out the next day back at the park that the Glasgow hospital had a pretty bad reputation. A park ranger I was talking to had heard about Luka's injury, and when I told her about our hospital experience she said that she was from California and that she had been in Kentucky for 12 years and still saw things that surprised her.
So there you go. Be careful in Kentucky! With such poor health care, perhaps it's good that we were in a dry county. I really could have used a drink after that day, though, y'all.