The other night, I had an ill child in my car who probably needed surgery — and a moral dilemma on my hands.
It was Thursday night and I was doing some rideshare driving. I’d driven a party of four down to Riggs road, way the hell south of my normal area of operation, but whatever, I figured I’d see what other fares were in the vicinity.
About 10 p.m. I got a ride request and the navigation led me to a hospital. God, I hate hospitals having spent more hours than I care to count sitting in that sterile environment over the years. I was hoping it wouldn’t be someone distraught after visiting a critically ill loved one.
My car pulled up to the front doors and an attractive young woman with her hair pulled into a ponytail walked up. And then I noticed the short figure next to her bundled up in a blanket. Uh, oh, a kid. Maybe four or five years old.
I don’t have kids so I’m kind of fuzzy on a lot of kid-related requirements, but I’m pretty sure there’s some kind of booster seat law regarding height. And this kid wasn’t big. Definitely, not a giant four- or five-year-old future NBA prospect who could skirt the law regarding child seats. No, he was a tiny, little guy.
Rideshare training doesn’t actually cover how to handle kids because, well, there isn’t any official rideshare training. Basically, Uber and Lyft check out your car to verify it’s not a rattletrap, make sure you’re not a felon with a penchant for auto-related kidnappings or have an Evel Knievel complex and then they set you loose to start hauling passengers around (I know, kind of scary when you think about it). I’m sure the info is buried on a website somewhere or in some arcane service agreement, but it wasn’t readily accessible at that moment for quick reference.
So, I was deciding the best way to tackle this situation when mom, who looked worn out, told me her son had appendicitis and they were on their way to a children’s hospital.
“They aren’t sending him in an ambulance?” I asked, surprised.
Mom was already starting to buckle the kid in.
“We don’t have insurance. I can’t afford an ambulance to take him there and my husband’s at home with our other two kids who are asleep. I just can’t have him drag the baby out.”
Fuck. Booting them out just got way more difficult. I know firsthand that ambulances are not cheap. About ten years ago, I had to take an ambulance ride after I jumped out of bed during a night terror and injured myself (*Don’t worry. I’ll blog about that dumbass experience someday). As the crow flies, the house was about a mile away from the hospital, so maybe 1.5 miles navigating by street, and do you know how much they charged me? Not one hundred, not five hundred, but nine hundred dollars. American! So a reasonable 11 cents a foot. I could have booked a goddamned round-trip ticket to Europe for what that mile-and-half ride cost. Luckily I had insurance at the time, which mitigated the cost to something more manageable but still pretty fucking pricey for a mile-and-a-half. And did I mention the assholes carrying the gurney dropped it — while I was on it? Yeah, no discount for that either.
Anyway, I didn’t know what kind of liability problems I was creating for myself, but I don’t have health insurance either, and she was about to be wrecked with a huge medical bill, so her plight resonated with me. As I looked at that young mom and the sick son she obviously loved, I had to make a decision and so I did.
Maybe I should have canceled the trip and explained why. I couldn’t even offer to take her home to retrieve the booster seat without violating the law. But I could tell that the bottle that held all her stress was brimming full and I didn’t want to be the one that made it overflow. So in the end, I took a deep breath, made sure everyone was buckled in, and then drove like a grandma to the children’s hospital (no offense intended to actual grandmas who tear up the roads like a speed demon, but that’s how my brother always referred to my driving). There was hardly any traffic on the 202 San Tan freeway, so I drove at a reasonable speed and kept my head on a swivel until we arrived safely at Cardon Children’s Medical Center in Mesa.
As we drove along, she told me they were new to Arizona. Her son’s abdomen had started hurting three days before and he’d just started running a fever. The poor little guy had been in the hospital all day and put through a battery of tests, including a CT scan, and while the doctor wasn’t one-hundred percent sure it was appendicitis, everything indicated the boy’s appendix was slowly building up to go supernova, but luckily they had caught it early enough that it wasn’t yet critical. They didn’t have a pediatric surgeon at the first hospital, hence the necessity for our journey. The second hospital was ready for his arrival.
I told her everything would be fine and then distracted her with my “appendicitis” story where I had ended up in the hospital with severe abdominal pains when I was eight. We were actually heading there for something unrelated when the pain suddenly hit me in the parking lot like repeated sledgehammer blows to the gut, doubling me over, crying. I remember my dad in his Air Force fatigues, snatching me up in his arms and hustling into the emergency room where they admitted me. They thought I had appendicitis, but turns out it was just my shitty eating habits and bad intestinal genes.
Finally, we pulled into the hospital parking lot, and I dropped them off in front of the children’s emergency room.
“Hope you feel better soon, buddy,” I told the kid as he scooted across the seat to climb out his mom’s door.
“Thank you so much for driving us here,” said the young mother.
“No problem,” I replied. She shut the door and I ended the trip on my app. Did I do the right thing? No. Not according to the law, anyway. But as I watched them disappear through the sliding doors holding hands, I felt okay about it.
I just hoped I didn’t have to break any more laws that night.
*Update: Recently, a mother was convicted of negligent homicide for the death of her infant in a car accident. She’d strapped the baby in but didn’t secure the seat and instead wedged it between the driver and front passenger seats. Unfortunately for her, an off-duty cop speeding at 90+ miles an hour slammed into her car and killed the baby. Even though she wasn’t responsible for the accident, the jury decided she knowingly endangered her child, found her guilty, and sent her to prison.
I think in Arizona, I think I would have been okay since I was transporting a sick child and I think there is a waiver. But in Uber driver groups, you’d be surprised how many drivers admit to giving kids rides with no car seat because they feel sorry for the parents or they simply want the money. They’re playing with fire.