Sometimes you have to take care of kids that aren't your own when they get sick. It's not ideal, but it happens. A parent can't take a day off work, a babysitter can't afford to take a day off, or the baby gets sick midday. Whatever the situation, taking care of a sick kid that isn't your own child can be incredibly nerve-wracking, so I've set up a few steps for myself that I'd like to share with you. Hopefully it's helpful whether you're a nanny or a parent! These guidelines help me to stay calm, assess the situation, and take action as necessary without losing my shit.
Always have children's basic information readily available. This may sound a bit, "No shit, Sherlock!" but in moments of panic, it can be easily forgotten. Have a list on the fridge that includes the following: Parents' phone number, pediatrician's phone number and address, nearby relative's phone number, nearest emergency room address, and child's birthday.
This way, whether you are a sitter or a parent, you can go down the list whenever you need guidance.
Step 1: Consult the list of contacts. Follow the parents' instructions, or if you cannot reach them, follow the pediatrician's instructions.
Step 2: If you cannot get a hold of anyone on the list, use common sense. Take temperatures often, clean out a cut or wound, watch a kid who hit their head closely to see if their behavior has changed, check a bee sting for swelling, etc.
Step 3: Internet. Use within reason when you need help determining if something is serious.
Step 4: Get help. If the child is in distress and you cannot reach his parents or pediatrician, then take action. Do not sit around waiting until it is too late. Find the nearest Urgent Care or ER. It is better to deal with an annoyed parent later and know you did everything you could.
About four years ago, I was watching a little girl, Darcy, (5 y/o) when she came down with a fever. We had been playing all afternoon, when all of a sudden she told me she wanted to go to sleep. When a five year old tells you they want to sleep in the middle of the afternoon, something is wrong. I took her temperature and it was 101.5 degrees. She was incredibly weak and listless, so I immediately changed her into cool pajamas, tucked her into bed, and called her parents. Both of her parents worked very demanding jobs with long hours, so it was no uncommon to be unable to reach them. Her father's phone appeared to be off and he was no longer at his office, so that wasn't an option, and her mother's phone went to voice mail every time I called her. Next on the list was the pediatrician. Of course, as luck would have it, the office was closed because it was 6pm on a Friday. So I made it my job to keep Darcy hydrated, checked her temperature every 15 minutes, and watched her very closely. Her fever climbed over the course of the next hour and a half to 102.5 degrees, and her parents were nowhere to be found. I made the executive decision that if I had not heard from either parent and her fever reached 103.5 degrees, I was going to take her to the nearest Urgent Care.
Most people advise waiting until a child has a fever of over 104 to take them to the emergency room, but since this wasn't my kid I didn't want to take any chances. Which is really my overall attitude when dealing with sick or injured kids. I will always err on the side of caution. Luckily, in Darcy's case, her fever never climbed higher than 103 degrees and her mom showed up shortly thereafter, so I didn't have to take her to the Emergency Room.
The fact that I was unable to reach her parents brings me to another problem: I could not medicate their child without their consent. I knew where the children's fever reducing medication was, but they had explicitly told me to never give her any kind of medication unless they had approved it beforehand. This complicated the situation because had they given me permission to medicate her at my discretion, I would have given her the medicine immediately upon noticing that her fever was rising. That's why it's imperative that there be open communication with the parents BEFORE any type of medical situation arises. Some parents are more liberal with medicating their kids than others, and it's important to stay within their guidelines. That said, had Darcy's fever climbed even more without hearing from them, I would very likely have given her the medicine and dealt with the consequences after.
Working with other people's kids is a delicate balance between trusting my gut, following previously agreed upon guidelines, and using common sense. It's better to be overly cautious than the be cavalier about a situation involving a child's health. If a kid who is learning to walk hits his head hard, (as they all do) just watch them closely, put some ice on the bump, and don't let them sleep for a while. You'll know pretty quickly if it's a serious head injury or if they just gave their noggin a good smack.
Always carry band-aids and wipes, and don't be afraid to ask for advice. I've called my mother many times when I was unsure of how to deal with a situation. I could go on and on about this for days, but we will definitely be revisiting this topic at a later date. Let me know if you have any questions or tips, for nannies or for parents!