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White Knuckle Parenting: Travel, Tech & Doctors

It's no fun to have to find medical care for your child while on vacation. Fortunately, technology makes it a little easier.

The day before my family left for vacation, my 9-year-old son, Jack, mentioned that his ear hurt. Looks were passed between my husband and I, curse words were thought, and we decided to wait a while to see if it still hurt later. It did not, so we assumed it was an anomaly and happily .

Silly us. Of course the pain came back a few days later and we had to deal with finding him medical care for the ear, but, because we had waited, now we had to do it in the San Francisco Bay Area, where we had no idea where to find good, easy pediatric care.

Finding a pediatrician while traveling is one of the worst things to have to do. First, it cuts into valuable hotel pool time; second, it's hard to find a walk-in doctor where you won't have to wait for hours; and, third, it means something bad happened to one of your kids.

This earache had me most worried about the second thing. I was more than happy to take my kid to the doctor; I just didn't want to spend multiple hours in a waiting room. Happily, technology has made it easier than ever to find good medical care when you're away from home.

We had hoped that Jack's ear would just magically get better—a parent can dream—but on the way to visit the Golden Gate Bridge, he started screaming about his ear pain and we acknowledged that we had to actually parent up and take action.

We started with texting. We sent a series of texts to local friends, none of whom had ever had to take a child to urgent care or a walk-in clinic. Picture me making the sour grapes face here.

We were on our own. I opened up my iPad as we drove toward the bridge and started Google searching things along the lines of "Bay Area walk-in clinic that won't be a complete and utter nightmare."

I found a few links to clinics in San Francisco and decided we'd hit one after our bridge visit. Just to be sure, I used my cell phone to call the first one on the list. I'm glad I did, because it turns out that they only treat people 15 years of age and older. It would have been a drag to discover that after driving there.

That clinic had a recommendation for a pediatric practice that could see us. This next part has nothing to do with technology, but I found it completely astonishing, so I am sharing it with you. That practice was able to give us an appointment, but told me that they don't take insurance and their rate started at $140 an appointment. But, as we were "non-members," there would be an additional $100 on top of that. Doesn't that seem pretty steep for an earache?

I told the receptionist that I would call back if I couldn't find anything cheaper. By the way, if you want to feel like a terrible parent, acknowledge that you are bargain shopping for medical care for your child.

The next stop on my iPad list was a UCSF children's hospital that had an online appointment system. I entered the time that I thought we would be done with our sightseeing, along with my contact information, and clicked send. By the time we parked at the Golden Gate observation area, I had an email confirmation of our appointment time.

One trip to the bridge lookout and a quick jaunt a mile or two up the coastline and we were headed across the bridge to our appointment, guided by the map app on our iPhones

I waved my phone with my email confirmation displayed on it to three different people before I finally found the right lady, who scanned my driver's license and immediately sent us into triage. It was there that Jack told the nurse that his ear had been hurting him for "weeks and weeks" and also that his dad had caused it by "smacking him in the ear," which is Jack-speak for my husband accidentally brushing up against him a smidge too hard, and is hospital speak for "call child services."

We went back out to the waiting room and Jack barely had time to use obscene amounts of hand sanitizer from the wall dispenser before we were called to a room. We had a nurse and the guy to handle our insurance forms both show up within minutes and then they put a movie on the television in the room for Jack before he had time to get bored.

Minutes later, the doctor came in and diagnosed swimmer's ear and infection, which seemed appropriate. She sent a prescription for ear drops to the pharmacy across the street via the computer in the room, which she also used to print out Jack's medical information from the visit, as well as some general information about swimmer's ear. 

Meanwhile, my husband was keeping my other two kids happy in the waiting room with a Phineas and Ferb episode via Netflix on his smartphone.

Our prescription was filled ten minutes later and we were on our way. The whole thing took less than an hour. It was amazing. (It also didn't cost $240.)

Depending on your view of "modern" and "technology," we're pretty happy about the antibiotics that are making Jack's ear better as well.

It is amazing to live in this era of mobile technology as well as electronic records and communication. Twenty years ago, we would have had to look up the nearest hospital in a phone book, buy a map, and hope for the best. At least that's how I assume it went. I didn't seek a lot of medical care in my twenties. All I know is that it is a lot easier to parent in the technology era.

Viva la smartphone!

Jean, a.k.a. Stimey, writes a personal blog at Stimeyland; an autism-events website for Montgomery County, Maryland, at AutMont; and a column called Autism Unexpected in the Washington Times Communities. You can find her on Twitter as @Stimey.

Alicia August 22, 2012 at 11:36 AM
We always get TravMed insurance, which also provides access to medical advice and assistance finding care. However, I also have to thank the US Embassy staff and other Americans in the Republic of Georgia who helped me when my daughter became ill back in the States while I traveled there.
Jean Winegardner August 22, 2012 at 01:54 PM
Ooooh, that is a GREAT tip. Thanks for sharing it. So far we haven't had illness on international travel (mostly because my kids haven't traveled internationally), but I can only imagine the extra problems and stress that would create.

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