THE BLOG

When Your Kid Gets Sick On a (Not-So-Relaxing) Vacation

06/12/2012 12:38 EDT | Updated 08/12/2012 05:12 EDT

I wish I wasn't writing this from experience, but my toddler came down with croup in Cuba last week and I learned some things that I wanted to share to spare any of you the same distress. (He's fine now, by the way.)

Before You Leave:

1- Take two or three minutes to check online where the nearest clinic to your hotel is. Before the experience of traveling in a hot ambulance to who-knows-where, my son struggling to breathe, I would have thought this was an overly paranoid thing to do. Now, I wish we'd taken the time to find out where we were going and to find out where was the best place to locate a pediatrician. Turns out for us the closest proper hospital was two hours away and we'd have started the journey a lot sooner if we'd known.

2- Get medical insurance. Really, don't forget this step. You'll be so grateful for the help they can provide at the end of the phone line, and for the reimbursement later on.

3- Make sure all your child's current medications are up to date and in the suitcase. Our Ventolin inhaler ran out and the spare was at my son's school, where we keep it for emergencies. It was impossible to find a replacement at the first clinic we went to in Cuba -- they simply didn't have one -- and we'll never make the same mistake again.

When You're There:

1- Make sure you understand what's happening. Ask doctors and nurses to repeat themselves or find a translator if you can't work out the language barrier. Also, make sure you are clearly understood. Croup can be relatively minor, but in our case, it wasn't. We should have made it clearer earlier just how bad things were. We assumed the doctor understood how sick our son was, the doctor assumed they had all the information at hand. Assumptions can be dangerous.

2- If you have to go to the hospital and you're in a country where you can't take these things for granted, take bottled water and food. We even had to take toilet paper.

3- Think about leaving your child's toys with the kids who remain at the hospital if you're visiting somewhere where toys are not easy to come by. When my son recovered, the other children at the hospital in Santa Clara got to enjoy his books and crayons -- easy to replace in Canada.

4- Contact your insurer. They need to know what's happening.

5- If you are on a holiday with a tour rep, contact them too. They will be able to help.

6- The Canadian Consulate might be able to help if you need it -- we certainly appreciated their assistance.

7- Get the doctor to write a letter for the airline letting them know your child is able to travel. Most airlines won't let you on if your child is presenting symptoms.

8- Get receipts for everything. You'll need them.

When You Get Back:

1- If it was serious, follow up with a doctor at home. Do what you can to avoid it happening again.

2- Contact your insurer. They'll want receipts and details of everything that happened.

3- Take a long hot bath. So much for holidays! The most relaxed I've been all week is right back in my house!

In the end, my son loved the beach, loved the ocean, loved the hospital, even. If I'd been a little more prepared, the experience of him being so sick would have been much less harrowing. I hope these tips help you to have a safe, happy, fun vacation!