Ten Things Every Host Family Should Know About Medical Emergencies

Because it had been three weeks since our last trip to the emergency (morbid humor) we spent Friday at Mott Children’s Hospital with Danielle. If your student is under 18 go to a pediatric hospital – they are so much better for kids and families. She is fine now and has a diagnosis that is far less scary than what it appeared to be, so everyone is settling back into a routine. Here are ten things you should know if faced with a medical crisis:

1. Contact the natural parents when your exchange student will be able to speak to them. The reason for this is that medical terms are often the toughest to understand and the student can do a much better job. We send a Facebook message first to let them know hey will hear from us and our organization and that everything is okay first – it helps ease the anxiety when they see who is calling.

2. Make sure you have access to your student’s insurance card, immunization record and passport/identification card. You should never keep possession of these things but know where they are. You will need them. Most hospitals will allow you to call the information in after the fact.

3. Make copies of the paperwork giving you custodial or any other guardianship rights and keep it in each car. Some hospitals will not speak to you without this. That can be scary for everyone involved.

4. Brace yourself for the visit from the social worker. Your exchange student is going to have to do an interview. You will be kicked out of the room at a larger, more established hospital. Smaller hospitals will do it with you in the room. You will feel judged and angry. Understand that this interview (which, for your student’s safety and to protect his rights you should NOT be present for) is a necessary, important one. It gives a child a chance to disclose things that the hospital needs to know ranging from fear to drug use to abuse. Get over yourself and add it to all the reasons you need to have a drink later tonight.

5. Prepare your student that as a minor the doctors will mostly talk to you about decisions. We included Danielle in all decisions but at the end of the day, the students have to understand that you are going to make the call. When she asked for morphine we were scouring the hall for someone who could give it to her – your student knows best her pain level. Honor her need for pain meds.

6. Be mindful of your student’s spiritual needs when in the ER. The child’s beliefs are first and foremost, not yours. If they are atheist, Buddhist, Catholic, Muslim, or any other religion you need to say that and not your own religion when asked by the registration specialist. It can be hard because you probably need spiritual relief as much as your student. Speaking of which…

7. Your student comes first. Shut off your phone except for the one you’re using to talk to home. Keep quiet and allow for rest. Don’t complain about the temperature or light level or anything else. Do not show your anxiety and fear in front of your student, it will make him feel even worse. Take cues from your student about what he needs. Don’t pace.

8. Be the hand to squeeze. Pokes and prods and other painful things happen at the ER; offer your hand for squeezing when things hurt.

9. Ask permission. Some kids want to be touched and doted on and others are like the me’s of this world. I don’t want to worry about you and what you’re doing to annoy me when I’m in the hospital in pain. If your student wants you to shut the hell up and leave her alone, shut the hell up and leave her alone!

10. Remember your team. If you have a spouse or partner you should deal with this together. Both of you should be at the ER if at all possible – you need each other’s support.

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