When Should Your Child Go to the Hospital?

When Should You Call Your Child's Physician?

Between the black-and-white of a clear emergency or obvious illness, there are still shades of gray -- especially during the night, when fatigue can heighten frustration and fear. Never hesitate to call your child's doctor for guidance.

Before you dial, prepare to give as many details as possible: symptoms and when they started, including frequency of vomiting or diarrhea; temperature and how you took it; amounts and timing of meds; and changes in sleeping, feeding, and waste excretions. "Go to your child's bedroom to make the call so you're prepared to answer when the doctor says, 'Tell me this,'" Dr. Bothner says.

Don't worry about disturbing the doctor; many offices have after-hours programs staffed by nurses whose job is to help parents decide what to do. At a regular visit, find out how questions are handled when the office is closed and if your doctor prefers a particular hospital. "If your child has a complex medical history, such as a heart problem, ask your doctor for a letter describing it, and keep it with your car keys or on the refrigerator under a magnet," Dr. Bothner advises.

If you end up going to the ER, take that letter, along with bottles of any drugs your child is taking, a well-stocked diaper bag, and change for pay phones -- cell phones may not work in ERs.

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