If your child is visibly ill while you are overseas, stay calm and do a careful assessment. All children look miserable when they’re running a high fever. Ibuprofen or acetaminophen and a lukewarm bath can do wonders to bring a temperature down. With the fever gone, examine your child again. Is she coughing? Breathing quickly? Vomiting? Will she play or is she still lethargic? Pediatricians worry most about children who remain listless after their temperature returns to normal.
Remember that children running a fever often don’t drink well and can easily become dehydrated. Be very vigilant if a child has diarrhea or vomiting, as these can quickly cause severe dehydration and even death. One way to monitor for dehydration is to keep track of your child’s urine output. A child should be urinating at least three times a day; less can indicate a problem. You can give pediatric electrolyte fluid or other clear liquids to prevent dehydration. Giving little sips of pediatric electrolyte fluid regularly every few minutes is better than having a child drink a lot all at once. If your child seems listless and isn’t urinating, get her to a medical facility advanced enough to give intravenous fluids if necessary.
When should you give your ill child an antibiotic? The answer depends on your specific situation and available resources, since there is some risk to giving an antibiotic without a proper diagnosis. Before you medicate, ask if there’s an American physician traveling with another group or staying at your hotel who can assist you. Contact your adoption agency to see if there’s a local clinic they can recommend. If necessary, contact your physician back home for advice: she may be able to help even from half a world away. If you do start an antibiotic, watch closely for signs of an allergic reaction. Fortunately, allergic reactions are relatively rare, but the antibiotic should be stopped if your child develops a rash or hives. The antihistamine that you brought with you can be used to treat hives (and is also mildly sedating for most children and therefore nice for the plane trip home).
All in all, most families who travel overseas to adopt have a wonderful experience. And those families greeted by a visibly ill child will have a less stressful time if they’ve planned ahead. Most important, try to enjoy your trip, because becoming a parent through adoption—even if the beginning seems a bit rough—is absolutely wonderful!