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Sick Child at College? A Parent’s Action Plan

The evening text message was jarring. “Yesterday I started feeling feverish. I’ve been in bed for two days.” Damn! Our kid’s 4000 kilometers away and sick in bed. Here’s a scenario we didn’t plan for! If you’ve got a sick child at college, far from home, what’s your plan of action? Have you got one? We didn’t.

So for the past few days I’ve been scouring the interwebs looking for information and resources to help fill in our gaps. And Zach’s own university has shown that this isn’t an uncommon occurrence for families of a sick child at college.

It’s been a week of dealing with children and their medical issues. We had a call from the high school the other day, informing us that Beth-Rose fainted in class. Yep. Keeled over from a standing position, freaking out her teacher and fellow students. And her parents! So it’s not just about having a sick child at college. Dealing with sick kids at home is always a concern. But when the other one is so far from home…

So, with that in mind, below you’ll find my suggestions and tips from all I’ve learned from my own “frazzled” research. Live and learn. Even if it’s after the fact…

The First 48 Hours: Immediate Steps for Parents

The initial 48 hours after discovering you have a sick child at college can be stressful and unnerving. But having a strategic approach can make all the difference. At the core of this strategy lies the power of communication. But for this to work, it takes two to tango. So make sure your child is doing their part.

Check Ins

Setting up a check-in schedule becomes paramount. This doesn’t mean bombarding your kid with hourly messages. See my previous post regarding helicopter parenting. Instead, establish specific times throughout the day to touch base. Maybe a morning and evening check, just to ensure they’re okay, and to make them feel your reassuring presence, even from three time zones away. And it could be as simple as “How was your day?”

Friends And Roommates

Now, while you’re the primary pillar of support, don’t forget the community right at their doorstep. Coordinating with roommates or friends can be a godsend. These individuals, living alongside your child, can offer immediate assistance, whether it’s fetching a necessary medicine from the pharmacy or just providing a comforting presence. Their proximity to your child means they can act swiftly in times of need.

This was something Heather and I realized we fell short with. We didn’t have contact info for Zach’s roomie. It’s a bit awkward sending texts to his parents so they can text their son to check in on Zach. Because when you have a sick child at college, you really want a simple way of getting information. Again, live and learn!

Residence Support

Furthermore, don’t underestimate the power of residence support. Universities often have a range of services tailored for student well-being. By leveraging these, your child can access medical advice, counseling, or even logistical help, like calling a taxi or Uber. In Zachary’s case, they were able to call him the taxi and show him how he could pay for it with his student account. So why did he need a taxi? To get to the hospital emergency! Try to keep up…

So by following these steps, you ensure that your child is not just medically cared for, but emotionally supported too. After all, sometimes, a familiar voice or a friendly face can be the best medicine.

Telehealth: A Modern Solution for Distant Care

In an age where technology permeates almost every aspect of our lives, it’s no surprise that healthcare is catching up with the digital revolution. Enter Telehealth, the modern-day savior for parents with kids studying miles away. When you’ve got a sick child at college, the distance can feel even more pronounced. However, with telehealth services, it feels like the future is here, and it’s accessible!

One of the stellar features of telehealth is the nurse’s hotline. It’s like having a nurse on speed dial, ready to provide preliminary advice, discuss symptoms, or even guide you on immediate steps. Just imagine the peace of mind knowing that professional medical advice is merely a phone call away for your child, any time of day or night.

However, a service like this will almost always default to the worst case scenario. For Zach, the hotline told him to go to emergency as soon as possible. And that’s a surefire way to create more stress! So be prepared for that.

Delivering Care Packages that Matter

And considering that Zach is so far from home without access to his favourite foods, I’m putting together a bit of a care package for him. I think this helps create parental peace of mind, knowing that you can provide comfort to your child, even from a distance. This is where a thoughtfully curated care package becomes a symbol of your affection to your sick child at college.

When thinking of aiding their recovery, it’s pivotal to pack some nutritional snacks. But we’re not just talking about any off-the-shelf items. Think along the lines of vitamin-rich dried fruits, protein bars, or even antioxidant-rich teas.

I know Zach won’t go for the teas, so, in our case it might just be some packets of hot chocolate mix. Maybe even some homemade cookies or other baking. These little inclusions don’t just fill their tummy, but also fuel their recovery, propelling them back to health.

sick child at college-Zach opens his care package
What Zach looks like when he opens his care package

However, as vital as nutrition is, sometimes the heart truly seeks those comfort items that speak of home. Maybe it’s a favorite book, or even a cherished family photo. I know that, for our own sick child at college, that could include some peanut butter pretzels! I can’t send him my homemade mac and cheese, but the pretzels might help.

Of course, we shouldn’t overlook the practical side. Including first aid essentials and some basic medical supplies is always smart. A thermometer, pain relievers, or even some soothing ointments can be lifesavers during those nighttime hours of discomfort.

In essence, a care package is more than just a box of homemade cookies. It’s a tangible manifestation of your love, care, and the unspoken promise that no matter the distance, you’re always there for them.

Maintaining Emotional Well-being from Afar

In today’s ever more complex digital age, staying connected with our loved ones has evolved beyond mere phone calls. When Heather and I were in university, we stayed connected with our family by writing letters. (notice I didn’t say “back in my day”)

Needless to say, I didn’t stay well connected. I did not like writing letters! Right up there with writing the obligatory “thank you” letters to my relatives for their Christmas presents…

The advent of virtual hangouts is revolutionizing the way families bond, especially when living miles apart. For a sick child at college, this could be the medicine their body and spirit needs.

Kickstarting a virtual hangout isn’t just about clicking a button. It’s the preparation, the anticipation, and the joy of seeing familiar faces on screen. This virtual realm facilitates an enduring family connection that surpasses the boundaries set by physical distances. The laughter, the stories, the shared moments, albeit via a screen, become memories etched in time. This makes me realize we need to do more virtual dinners together.

However, it’s vital to strike a balance. While we yearn for that connection, it’s equally crucial to ensure our child gets the rest they need. Encouraging them to spend some quality time with family, or their close friends, and yet ensuring they get enough sleep or downtime is essential. After all, the goal is to get them back to health.

Your Sick Child At College: When to Take Additional Action

As parents, there’s an inherent instinct to shield our offspring from the tumultuous waves of life. This protective urge intensifies when it’s a sick child at college, so far from home. Especially when we sense our child’s health is beginning to veer off track. While every ailment has its healing curve, understanding the nuances of a prolonged illness becomes paramount.

It’s not just about the physical symptoms lingering beyond their expected span. Often, the telltale signs are subtler. Perhaps it’s a continuous fatigue that chains them to their bed or a persistent cough that disrupts their once lively chatter. These indicators, while seemingly mundane, might be harbingers of a deeper concern.

Now, this brings us to a sensitive crossroads. The thought of a temporary return home can be laden with a range of emotions. For some, it’s a sanctuary, a haven where recuperation accelerates. For others, it might feel like a step back, an unwelcome break from their independent journey.

Navigating this decision requires both tact and compassion. Engage in a candid conversation with your child. Weigh the benefits of home’s familiar comfort against the disruption in their academic rhythm. After all, sometimes, a brief respite at home, enveloped in familial warmth, can catalyze a faster return to health and vitality.

Building Resilience and Independence

Navigating through the crazy-busy days of university life, students are thrust into a myriad of new experiences and challenges. In this transformative phase, one crucial aspect often slips through the cracks: the importance of learning to advocate for themselves when it comes to health.

This advocacy isn’t just about being proactive during illness. It’s a shift in mindset, a realization that they are the primary custodians of their own health. It means confidently seeking assistance at the campus health center, or being persistent in asking questions when treatments or diagnoses don’t align with their instincts.

Alongside this empowering journey is the beauty of recognizing recovery milestones. I think it’s essential to take a moment to acknowledge and celebrate the small victories. Perhaps it’s managing a complete day of classes without fatigue or going for a morning walk after weeks of recovery. These seemingly modest achievements are monumental markers on their road to full health.

In essence, it’s not just about fostering self-sufficiency and resilience, but also about cherishing every step forward. By instilling these values, we pave the way for students to champion their well-being while relishing every triumph, no matter its size.

Dealing With That Long Distance Feeling

It has definitely been an eye-opening, eventful week. Granted, I think I would have preferred it to be at a tropical resort or a nice spa retreat. But it could have been worse. Even though Zach called us late at night feeling sick and overwhelmed, he had the gumption to reach out. And, as it turned out, he had already done a bunch of stuff we suggested. He really just needed a bit of guidance, and some reassurance.

The drama isn’t over yet. He still feels like crap, he’s worried about missing too much work, and he’s a long way from home. But Zach has proved to be a pretty resilient guy. I worry about him, but not as much as I thought I would.

Christmas is just around the corner, less than 9 weeks away. Zach will be home in less than 8 weeks, and we can all have a good laugh about this. Until the next 2 AM text…

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Deborah Thompson
Deborah Thompson
5 months ago

When Kelsey was at SFU, she phoned in panic at 5:00 am to say she was having trouble breathing and what she should do. I told her to call 911 and her floor monitor. A little later, we called campus security to find out what was happening since we didn’t know who else to call. An ambulance had come and took her to a hospital. Found out hours later she’d had an allergic reaction and was given epinephrine and released hours later. I’ve never felt so helpless with my child so far away.
How is Beth-Rose?

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