The least magical thing to happen on vacation is having sick kids at Disney. You've waited and planned for this trip for months, and now your little peanut is so sick they can't leave the hotel room. What should you do? Stay calm and follow these easy tips for handling a sudden minor illness.
It was bound to happen. Semi-annual trips to Disney for the last 5 years just increased the odds. Our most recent trip in October was . . . downright traumatic for me. So much so that I couldn't really write about what happened until now.
In our family when the sick bugs hit, Handyman Tim is the far better "nurse". I am the reluctant default caretaker since I'm usually the one home with the kids. I am extremely sympathetic and loving but from afar. When the kids get sick at home, I rely on quarantine and containment--they are required to stay only in their rooms or a "sick nest" on the couch and one specific bathroom is made available for their use while the rest of the family uses alternative spaces as much as possible.
But what do I do when we're are on vacation? Trapped, all four of us, in a small hotel room? And it's not just sick, but simultaneously violent vomiting and diarrhea, horror coming from both ends for Patient Zero?
Waking up at 5 am to: "Mommy, my tummy hurts. I feel like I have to throw up." is the stuff of my regular nightmares at home. But to hear it for real in the hotel room on the day we have tickets to a non-refundable special event that we've looked forward to for months? UGH.
What to do when you find your kids sick at Disney:
Thankfully we came almost fully equipped with essentials to handle the situation. We drove to Disney so Tim was able to take the car over to the nearest CVS to pick up everything else we needed. Next time we road trip there, I'll be traveling fully prepared. If you are driving, I promise having a small tote with these supplies EARNS IT'S PLACE in your trunk. If you're flying, I would just try to pack the portable essentials!
Step 1: Containment & Sanitization
The first order of business is to set up a system for containing the germs.
1. Call for more towels immediately: As soon as you know you're dealing with this kind of sick, call the housekeeping service for as many towels as they will give you asap. Ask them to bring a large garbage bag for storing discarded towels. Towels are the easiest thing to use in a hotel to keep surfaces clean without needing additional help from the hotel staff.
I made a "nest" near the toilet for our patient out of a small stack of towels as a cushion and then wrapped her pillow in another towel. Then when she was sick, I was able to swap the top towels, put them aside, and wrap her pillow with a fresh one as needed. When she was finally better enough to go back to bed, I placed a few just-in-case towels underneath her to keep the sheets and pillows clean.
2. Bleach Wipes (Like Clorox): Messes were happening faster than I thought I could keep up with. I did not want to wait for the hotel staff to make trips to our room. I was so thankful I could clean up areas of the floor, sink counter, and toilet myself! I also wiped down door handles and light switches and other things I worried our patient would have touched to keep the rest of us healthy.
3. Ziptop Plastic Bags: I had a mountain of gallon sized bags along for the trip. I used them to contain the patient's dirty laundry I knew I could wash back home to keep the germs from open contamination of the rest of the laundry pile.
Sadly, there were some pairs of underwear that were beyond salvaging. I simply sealed them up in a separate bag before putting into the garbage to help prevent the germs from spreading to us or the hotel staff that would have to clean up after us. In a pinch, the bags also work well as a garbage liner in place of a sick bucket.
4. Designate a sink: If your hotel room has double sinks, declare one of them for use for only the sick patient. She washed her hands, brushed her teeth, and we rinsed out any dirty objects all in one specific sink. I sanitized the other one with the Clorox wipes for the rest of the family to use for everything else.
5. Separate sleeping: We were so grateful to be staying in a comfy room at the Grand Floridian Resort when this hit. There is a couch that converts to a single sleeper so our kids had already been sleeping separately from one another--1 on the couch bed and one in the second regular bed in the room. The Contemporary Resort rooms have a similar couch. There are many reasons I'd want to stay at those particular resorts again, but this feature alone was a HUGE benefit to our family. If your hotel doesn't have a pull out couch, call the front desk to ask if they have a rollaway cot you could use for your stay.
Step 2: Soothe and Comfort
Helping your child feel better and soothing everyone else's jittery "Please don't let me get sick too!" nerves
1. Open the window or patio door: I was so grateful the weather was mild enough for us to keep the patio door open all the way to let fresh air into the room. When a breeze picked up and made the room too cool, I kept the door open but slightly shut the curtains to help shield us from the wind. I took several breaks out on our patio breathing in as much fresh air as I could.
2. Room diffusers and essential oils: I will never take another road trip without bringing my diffuser and essential oils. I brought along peppermint, lemon, and Thieves and was so grateful to have them each on hand. Peppermint and lemon are both soothing for nausea, I used those scents to help ease my morning sickness when pregnant and I still find both of them very refreshing and calming. I set up the diffuser on the bathroom sink to help combat the odors coming from the bathroom. It was also close to the patient to help her feel a little better.
We were diffusing Thieves with a drop of Lemon just to keep the room smelling fresh before the sickness hit and a housekeeper wanted to know where we got our "candle". She said she just loved the smell and wanted to get it for her own home!
3. Call your pediatrician: As soon as our patient was stable, I called our doctor back home to ask for advice. She offered to call in some anti-nausea medicine to the local pharmacy for us to use as needed during the vacation but particularly for the long drive home. At home, I would likely have just let everything run it's course. Don't assume the doctor won't be able to help! You will feel so much better keeping in touch with your own trusted doctor than one you'll find on the road for mild emergencies like ours. Obviously, seek urgent care if your situation is more serious than ours was.
4. Bring your own over the counter medicines: I was grateful we already had some children's fever reducer/pain reliever and allergy meds along with us. Even if your child isn't sick when you leave home, it is so nice to be able to grab a fever reducer in the middle of the night! Our pediatrician recommended some specific stomach related ones over the counter. Before you leave for vacation, it would be a great idea to discuss with your doctor the right dosages of approved over the counters so you come prepared.
5. Get everyone else OUT: I stayed with the patient and everyone else left as soon as they could and stayed out all day except for brief check-ins to see if we needed anything. They spent their time at the pool or lounging around the hotel. Anywhere but ground zero.
Step 3: Pack Before You Go
Things to add to your luggage back at home
This may not help you if you're reading this from your vacation, but hopefully I'm catching you before the worst hits. Add these to your suitcase every time you travel with kids!
1. Spare Pajamas: Take at least 2 pairs of pajamas per child. It might seem like overkill, but it is so nice to have a back-up pair in case the first pair gets soiled.
2. Extra Underwear: 1 pair per day per person is just not enough. When traveling with kids, I try to average 2 - 3 pairs per day we'll be gone. We almost never end up going home with clean ones. This trip, several pair simply got thrown away.
3. Spare toothbrush & toothpaste: Normally our kids share a toothpaste container. Just before the trip, they each started using a different flavor of their own. I will never have them share again since that potentially means a sick kid wiping their toothbrush near the healthy kid's paste. Either have your children store their tooth supplies separately or travel prepared with a clean set for the healthy ones when sickness strikes!
Step 4: Surviving the drive home
We had to survive an 8+ hour drive home with a sick patient. We were so scared an emergency would happen before we could pull over. I am SO thankful that did not happen. But, just in case this is what we did to prepare:
1. Pull ups or bladder pads: We bought the largest pack of disposable pull-ups and they just barely fit our patient. She was mortified she had to wear them but we told her she didn't want to sit in a dirty car seat, either. For even bigger kids, consider using adult bladder control pads in a pinch.
2. Bring a bucket: We bought a cheap Halloween trick or treat bucket from CVS to use in the car. Thankfully it never saw action but we were so relieved to have it.
3. Ask your doctor for anti-nausea remedies: Our pediatrician called in a prescription for us to use on the drive home. It helped her sleep most of the way.
4. Tiny sips of water: It's important to keep hydrated but we also didn't want the water to cause extra problems on her tummy during the drive. We set a timer and just encouraged tiny sips over extended periods of time to help keep her going.
5. Take lots of breaks: Fresh air is good for everyone. Get out and stretch your legs and give your patient plenty of opportunity to use a real bathroom whenever possible.
The good news in all of this? We were really lucky that the other 3 of us never caught what she had. We were able to make it home safe and sound. But that doesn't keep me from wanting a do over. . .