• Melanie Wilson

When your Child is away from Home and gets Sick or Injured

My son studied aboard in Barcelona during the Fall 2019 semester. When he got stung by a jellyfish, I realized I had committed a cardinal sin: I had sent him abroad without all the necessary paperwork in place. I wrote about it in this essay, first published for my Melodrama column on TAPinto in September 2019.

There were plenty of peeing jokes. You know, like when Joey and Chandler have to urinate on Monica after she gets stung by a jellyfish.

My son, who is studying this semester in Barcelona, sent a photo of his swollen arm right after he got stung by one last week while swimming in the Mediterranean. He and his newfound friends were exploring Italy over the weekend, and while the medical supplies they brought with them were limited, I’m fairly certain that they wouldn’t have known what to do even if they had a full medicine cabinet with them.

The visited the lifeguard stand--the lifeguard on duty was well versed in the protocol, and my son’s arm was quickly doused in vinegar. Someone gave him an antihistamine, and the swelling began to subside fairly quickly.

But it got me thinking. Specifically, what would I do if he had had a horrible reaction to the sting. Would the doctor’s have discussed the situation with me? How do you know if it’s necessary to jump on a plane and head to where your sick or injured child is?

So many of us have children away at school, but really haven’t given much thought to what would happen if they needed medical care. We know that they are covered by insurance. We learned all about the campus infirmary when we toured the school...but what if we needed to know what was happening with them medically and they were unable to communicate with us directly. Would we have the legal means to learn about their case?

I remember a good friend telling me the story about holing up with her daughter in a hotel room in Tennessee one semester when the daughter got a bad case of the flu. Mom showed up with all the necessary medical and comfort supplies. Although the mom worked full time, she was able to drop everything to tend to her daughter’s needs.

Toward the end of one of my daughter’s college years, she, too, became quite ill. It was finals week and she was too sick to take a few of them. A few teachers understood, but a few others accepted no excuses and made her sit for the exams. I let her battle it out on her own, without the benefit of my magic chicken soup, but thankfully she was able to keep me abreast of her condition every step of the way.

What if she had been admitted to a hospital or infirmary and could not communicate with me?

What can you do if your child falls ill while at school and you decide not to make the trip to check on the situation first hand?

Your child would not want you to be in the dark about their medical care, but unless prior authorization has been documented, that is what will happen.

Parents can plan in advance for unforeseen emergencies by getting a few forms completed. If your child attends school out of state, then you need to look at the laws for the state where they are enrolled.

HIPAA authorization--The Privacy Rule of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) makes it difficult to get information on your child who is older than 18. Even if your child is still covered under your insurance plan, and even if you are still responsible for all the medical bills, you do not have a right to the medical information.

HIPAA was created in 1996 to protect an individual’s health records. You have seen these when you go to a new doctor and are asked to fill out a form to designate who your healthcare information may be shared with. If you have a copy of a HIPAA form signed by your child, then the hospital or doctor can discuss their medical information with you. Your child can specifically exclude information that deals with sensitive subjects such as sex, drugs, and mental health, if they wish.

Power of Attorney forms--these can be medical power of attorney and/or general power of attorney. A medical power of attorney allows you to make decisions for your child if they are mentally or physically unable to do so. It is sometimes also called a Healthcare Proxy or Advanced Directive.

A power of attorney is a legal document that allows you to act on behalf of your child in personal and financial matters.

Power of attorney forms vary by state, and usually require a lawyer, witnesses, and notarization.

Back in Italy, I’m glad my son knew that the peeing-on-the-jellyfish sting thing was not really suggested on the Discovery Channel, even though the Friends episode created quite a bit of disinformation with that beach scene suggestion. (When a jellyfish stings, it releases thousands of tiny “nematocyst” into the skin, and urine can actually aggravate them, which releases more venom and creates more pain.) Now you know.

He will put some Benadryl on his shopping list for the itching that is imminent, and I will put getting HIPAA forms signed for all my kids on mine.



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