What to Expect at the Hospital with Your Kid During COVID-19

June 2, 2020

So, we’re in the middle of a pandemic and not only do you have to make a visit to the ER with your child, but you now learn he or she has to be admitted. This news is not fun, no matter what the situation is or how you got there, and staying overnight during the time of COVID-19 makes it even trickier. Coronavirus restrictions may be easing, but as far as I know, hospitals are still zipped up pretty tightly.

We faced this situation at the end of April. After heading to the ER worried we had our own household COVID-19 case, our three-year-old landed himself three nights in the PICU. COVID-19 – negative, fortunately. Pneumonia – positive.

Our first hospital stay being during all this craziness didn’t really help. So, in case you’re facing a similar situation (hopefully not!), here is our experience of what you can expect when staying in the hospital with your kid during the COVID-19 pandemic:

Call ahead to your doctor before you head to the hospital or ER.
I feel like I need to disclaim that before you rush to the ER, call your doctor first, especially if it’s something you think is COVID-19 related. Virtual visits are readily available. Urgent care is an option. Our doctor’s office has special safety protocols to tend to sick patients in-office. They’ll advise if you need to head to the hospital, and it may even save you a nice hospital bill.

Don’t necessarily expect a crowd.
So, unfortunately, that was our third ER visit in April. (I’m not even going to begin to explain the nightmare of sickness that was April 2020.) And our first visits to the children’s ER being in the midst of a pandemic, the ER wasn’t scary at all. Literally, there was not a crowd, any of the three times. I’m not saying go flood the ER, I’m just saying, it’s pretty buttoned up. It felt sterile, I felt safe, and we were well taken care of. (Note, I can’t speak for the current status of the adult ER.)

COVID-19 tests aren’t necessarily readily available.
So, since we are in the middle of the pandemic, please note there is a good chance that a cough and fever is not enough to get your child a COVID-19 test. Tests are still limited, average kids are not in the vulnerable category, and average sick symptoms just do not qualify. Our son faced labored breathing, a week’s worth of other symptoms, and other doctor visits before a doctor, virtually, told us to go to the ER and before my son was eligible for a COVID-19 test. We are thankful it wasn’t COVID-19 in the end, but it sure felt close, and it took a lot to find that out.

Parents, get ready for temperature checks and wristbands.
When you walk up to the ER you are greeted with a thermometer, and if you pass go, you get a nice wristband to go along, so they know you’re A-OK for the day. Rinse and repeat for the next day. And if you have temperature, you might as well stay home.

One guardian at a time.
No, they do not separate kids from their parents, but they also did not allow us more than one parent or guardian in the room at a time. You have just enough time to tap in and out, so be prepared. Pack everything you can think of that you need to make your stay comfortable, as in and out is tricky. And other visitors? Don’t even think about it.

Masks are the norm.
If you’re not comfortable with masks, get ready. You need them to navigate the hospital. Your nurses will be wearing them, along with the rest of their PPE. Until they know what’s up with you or if they themselves are vulnerable, they may even wear an entire face shield. The hospital will offer for your kid to wear a mask too, if they’re willing. Be prepared to talk to them about it. It’s not necessarily the most personal experience, and I’m sure being poked and prodded by a masked person can add some anxiety to the experience.

Clear your schedule and plan for shifts.
Due to the said “one guardian” rule, you have to be mentally prepared for a 24/7 rotation with your significant other, if you have one. Tag in, tag out. No visitors to give you a break. No random stops in to drop off food. There is not an extra body (family/friend) to stand in your place while you take a quick break to grab some fresh air. Or to give you emotional support at that. Clear your work schedule too. Between tending to your child, nurses and doctors popping in and out, and being the only guardian, you’ll be pretty busy.

Get support outside the hospital.
When one of us wasn’t at the hospital, we were at home trying to catch some sleep. The experience was physically and mentally draining. I can’t imagine having to try and parent alone and keep my household afloat in between hospital shifts. We are lucky for grandparents to help with child care, friends to bring us food, etc. Let those close to you know what is going on. Use Facetime and Zoom to catch up. And gifts are still welcome in the room if they’d like to send something.

This isn’t a normal experience for anyone.
Being our first hospital stay, this may have felt “normal,” but it wasn’t. The restrictions thanks to COVID-19 definitely make the experience feel a bit more “cold.” I say that based on many visits to family members in the hospital in times past, when it was easy to pop in and give some company. Our natural instinct is to love and support, and it can be hard for those we love to stay away. I know our parents sure would have preferred to be at the hospital giving support. Scary experience for all.

Give the staff and yourself grace.
These are weird times. Your norm is not the hospital. The hospital’s norm is not COVID-19, and from what I can tell, everyone is doing their best. We had a moment when trying to discharge when they would not let my husband in the hospital due to miscommunication on the “one guardian” rule. I was not going to leave my child by himself to go outside to switch places with my husband, nor had that been the expectation the previous three days. It was frustrating, and we had to get our floor nurses involved, but it all worked out in the end. No one had ill intent. Patience and grace.

Thank you to our healthcare heroes and many blessings to all during these tough times!