For whatever reason, each one of my children have decided to enter the world in their very own dramatic way.  None of them wanted to follow the trail blazed before them and decided that their own birth experience should be entirely different from that of their siblings.  The birth of my 3rd child, a darling little girl that we shall call Baby S, was full of excitement and “flair” like the others, but with wildly different circumstances that her Grandpa’s travel emergency helped her out with.

This post is sponsored by Allianz Global Assistance (AGA Service Company) and I have received financial compensation. The story detailed below? Very personal and very true. 

A Family Travel Emergency in the Last Weeks of Pregnancy

At the time, my family had been living fairly remotely in the beautiful state of Vermont just shy of the Canadian border.  Knowing that we were more than an hour from the hospital, we set up camp at my in-laws house- just a few minutes from the hospital.  This was a very pragmatic decision as my wife has a tendency to deliver “fast.”  Now some may think that this would still leave plenty of time to drive to the hospital and they would be very, very wrong.   My wife is a bad ass and she just fires the kids out before everyone has the time to properly suit up (she is an incredibly efficient person).

We had been staying there for a few days and we decided to go for a walk in the neighborhood.  When we got back, my mother-in-law (who is the BEST mother-in-law a man could ask for) met me at the door and said that I had received a very urgent call with regards to my father.   My father, who a mere 48 hours or so prior, had boarded a flight to Ireland for a 10 day trip to see the country.  When I called back a nurse with a thick Irish accent answered the phone and proceeded to tell me that my father was gravely ill and I needed to get to Ireland “immediately.”  She told me that my father was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL for short) and was not going to live much longer.  I told her that it would take some time to make travel arrangements since my wife was expected to give birth any day now.  The nurse told me that it would be a stretch to wait even 3 days, and a “miracle” if my father lived to see the end of the week.

A Well Planned Trip Turned Emergency Hospitalization

So how does a man on a sightseeing trip to Ireland (a trip planned for over a year) end up in a hospital on his deathbed? Well, he remained seated for the majority of the 16+ hour flight, and upon landing in Dublin began to experience a sharp pain in his foot.  The pain became so intense that he was no longer able to walk or even bear weight on the affected foot.  Sensing a blood clot had likely developed, the guide arranged for my father to be seen at a nearby hospital.  The hospital began treating the blood clot, drew some labs and immediately noticed something was very wrong.  His white blood cell count was through the roof and there were so many blood clots in his system that a stroke or heart attack seemed imminent.  A full fledged travel emergency was declared and he was promptly loaded into an ambulance, and shipped across the country to the best hospital in the land: Cork University Hospital.  It was from that hospital that I received the initial phone call.

So an hour away from my own house with a pregnant wife I was woefully unprepared to pick up and leave to go halfway around the world to my ailing father.  Like any vacationer he had prepared for this trip but not the extended version that was about to happen. His car was at the airport, his dogs were in the kennel and his Florida home had not been battened down or prepared in any way for him to be gone for an extended period of time.  His luggage was “somewhere” in Ireland, presumably still at the airport on the other side of the country.  It was unclear if his insurance would cover the hospital bills, which of course were EXTREME right out of the gate.  My father was particularly concerned over this last point, because if he were to die he did not want to leave hundreds of thousands of dollars in bills behind him. This was quite a mess. (And the impetus for our family to now ALWAYS buy travel insurance.)

I talked to my father and he was insistent that I do not miss the birth of my child on account of him and to only come after the baby was born.  Being torn between my obligations as a son, husband and father, I knew that he was right.  If our roles were reversed, I would have done the same.  I wouldn’t want my children to miss the birth of their children because of me, so with a heavy heart I agreed to remain state side until Baby S was born. After a discussion of the situation with our OBGYN they agreed to induce at exactly 39 weeks. Baby S was out and I was ready to get my butt off to Ireland.

Travel emergencies can require unique ticketing itineraries.

Checking in for a flight without having a return booked was a strange side effect of this travel emergency. Photo Credit: Nasreen Stump

Emergency Travel to Tend to Travel Emergencies

A trip to the passport office was in order.  Now, for those of you who may enjoy a preparedness mind set KEEP YOUR PASSPORT UP TO DATE AND VALID.  You never know when you might have to jump on a plane and travel several thousand miles.   Despite the fact that I was the only one going to Ireland, we got expedited passports for all of the kids just in case they would need to make the trip as well later on. Want to know how to get a passport for a 1 day old infant? My wife wrote about it on TravelingMom.

I furiously packed a bag, and got prepared to go.  In less than a week from my father’s diagnosis, my wife packed the newborn into the car and we drove to Montreal (good thing we got the baby a passport). Turns out last minute overseas flights are cheaper from Canada. Headed to Ireland on a one way ticket I didn’t know when I was going to be back.  I could be gone for a day or two, or several weeks. The pain of leaving my wife, kids, and newborn behind was indescribable and I am incapable of doing it justice within the limitations of written word.  During the flight my mind was savaged with the conflicting duty I owed each of my family members.  As a son I needed to be with my father, as a husband I needed to be with my wife, and as a father I needed to be with my child.

Travel emergencies come up. How would you cope?

Travel emergencies come up. How would you cope?

A Happy Ending to the Travel Emergency but Not Without Health Insurance Company Woes

I arrived to Ireland, and to make a long story short (too late, I know), much to everyone’s immense surprise, he survived the first week.  His treatment considered of obliterating his immune system, putting him under strict isolation precautions in the burn unit (because burn units have positive pressure rooms to keep any sort of virus or bacteria from floating in and have enhanced contamination precautions).  To everyone’s even greater surprise, he survived the second week.  By the third week, a long term care plan was being worked out, which would include getting my father well enough to travel back to the United States.

As it turns out, my father is an incredibly stubborn man and refused to die of some pesky type of leukemia. I ended up booking a flight back to the United States some 3 weeks after arriving in Ireland.  My father was to remain a good deal longer (3 months in total) before being well enough to travel back. Initially, the doctors in Ireland and the doctors in the US that would be taking over care had attempted to have a specialized air ambulance fly to Ireland to retrieve him from one hospital and bring him to the next.  However, his insurance company, who did not pay a single cent towards any of his bills up to this point (3 months into the ordeal mind you), did not seem to think that it was a medical necessity for a man with NO immune system whatsoever to fly by air ambulance.  Instead, they deemed it perfectly appropriate for him to fly through multiple international airports on commercial airliners and hail a cab to the hospital once he returned stateside. For the good of all and for the sake of this article’s length, I will not express my opinions (and there are MANY….  Sharp and pointy ones) on insurance companies and how they deal with a health travel emergency.  And let’s just say that travel insurance would have covered medical evacuation.

The doctors and nurses in Ireland packaged my father up like a CDC field agent researching Ebola and sent him off to the airport to fly back (complete with full head covering, N95 respirator mask, nitrile gloves, cuffs of his long sleeves and pant legs taped down, and shoe covers).  My father’s sister met him in Ireland to escort him back and helped sterilize everything within a 5 foot radius with sanitary wipes and hand sanitizer. Any virus or bacteria could have killed him.  Anyone who has ever been in an airport, or an airplane for that matter, knows they are the perfect little incubators for disease.   My father arrived stateside, went into the hospital and ultimately made a full recovery. To this day he continuous to travel frequently, and enjoys new experiences.  His leukemia has made a couple more runs at him, but like I said, he is a very stubborn old man and remarkably hard to kill. We all live together now and enjoy every day we have.

Four years after our travel emergency everyone is thriving.

4 years after the travel emergency Grandpa holds the “baby” intertwined with his story.

Buy Travel Insurance. Seriously. Travel Emergencies Happen.

My point in all of this? Every day when you wake up you have no idea what will happen. This includes when you travel. Embrace new experiences but go into them prepared. Travel insurance exists because shit happens. My family is living proof of this. Never again will one of us travel without insurance. Do not expect your health insurance company to do you any favors even if it’s a health crisis. Allianz Travel Insurance offers annual plans. You can buy one time and it will cover your travels for a year. That kind of peace of mind would have been awfully handy during dad’s three month ordeal.  Even if your travel doesn’t include a medical emergency there are so many travel fails that travel insurance can fix.