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Every Parent’s Nightmare: An ER Visit Abroad

Updated: Oct 3, 2023

How our First Night Living Overseas Went Awry

Stock photo of Spanish emergency room entrance sign that reads "Urgencias"

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My husband Carlos raced our rented Renault SUV down the main paseo near La Romareda. It was dark, after 11pm, and we veered into a parking space in front of the children’s hospital. Like a mall scene at the turnstile door on Black Friday we all poured into the hospital in a frenzy. My daughter was suffering a febrile seizure, as we’d later learn, caused by a fever that spiked too high too fast. Foreign to the logistics of overseas emergency rooms, we didn’t know what to expect.

Hours earlier we’d enjoyed a celebratory dinner at La Tagliatella, stuffing our faces full of bread, wine, and a very heavy pear and gorgonzola pasta that no one but me enjoyed. My daughter Sofie was closing in on her second birthday in a few months and she seemed her happy playful self as we dined in the window booth, overlooking our new street scene in Spain. We had just signed the paperwork on an apartment in Zaragoza the day before and had finished a successful day buying and assembling IKEA furniture for our first night in the new ‘piso’. Full stomach, happy hearts and bed time around the corner, all was right with the world.

As we readied for our slumber, my daughter began looking ‘off’. Every mother knows this look. I picked her up and started looking into her eyes to see what I could read off of her face. Confirming she was scalding to the touch, she vomited what felt like a gallon of milk and stomach acids all over me. I screamed for my husband’s assistance, my striped dress soaked with fluids. As I passed her off to clean up, I noticed it - her eyes had lolled back, her face went white and she started to convulse. Unsure of what to do, I called my parents, who were in town to help us with the move. I cried hysterically into the phone - “I don’t know what’s happening! She’s burning up, she’s shaking!”. Had her first overseas flight been too much strain on her? Maybe we shouldn’t have let her sleep cozied up on the cabin floor by our underseat bags? Thoughts raced and so did we as we hurried her to the bathtub to get her fever down. Filling it with cool water she continued shaking, virtually unresponsive.

As Carlos desperately cupped water over Sofie’s tiny body, mom was still on the phone with me, giving me instructions. “Get her to the hospital now”, she said in no uncertain tone. Now what? We’ve only lived here for 36 hours. We hadn’t even slept in our own beds yet. I don’t know where to take her, or what the procedures are. She’s still flailing in the tub and I am trying to ask Google where to go. Why didn’t we think of noting the nearby hospitals on our move-in list? Frantic, I piled her children’s Tylenol and passport into my purse and quickly changed to clothes that didn’t stink of cheese and ravioli. Meanwhile, Carlos phoned for his nearby uncle’s help as he ran to our car parked at my parent’s hotel about eight blocks away. Her fever wasn’t getting lower and the clock was ticking.

At the hospital, Carlos and his uncle dealt with the language and logistics at the counter, while the rest of us were told to wait outside because of COVID policies. It was July 2021 and Spain hadn’t raised any of their restrictions yet. As a dual-citizen of America and the EU, we were able to admit her with her Italian passport and a plastic laminated copy of her medical insurance ID, which by some stroke of luck we had thought to put in Carlos’s wallet.

The next several hours were agonizing for us all, as we waited for Sofie to get attended to. Carlos sat alone in a waiting room full of face masks, concerned parents and crying babies while the rest of us obligingly waited outside. Within the first hour she was taken to a consultation room. After another hour she was admitted to a room for more formal examination.

Around 3 AM Carlos came out looking weathered, beaten down by the wails of parents in a nearby suite, by the smells of cleaning supplies and the chill of a sterile hospital room. He told us all that our baby would need to stay the night for observation and for us to all go home. Dad took the Renault’s helm, navigating roundabouts and flashing street lights, until his baby was taken home safely. This was supposed to be our first night in the new apartment. We’d only gotten the keys the day before and now here I was, all by myself in our new apartment dream home, restless and worried for my family. Thankfully by the next day our girl had been revived, restored and was ready for a day of painting the walls and having fun with all of us once more.

We are so grateful to have had Spanish speakers with us and we really learned a lot that day. Even though the first thing we wanted to do was shop at IKEA, what we should have done is make a plan for situations like this - have a ‘ditch bag’ on hand, keep all important paperwork and medications in a top drawer ready to go, keep hospital and emergency numbers on the fridge, and always pack our ID cards. We’ve actually gotten in the habit of scanning digital copies of all of our documents from COVID vaccine cards to medical IDs, just in case something like this happens again. Easily accessible on our Google Drive, we have the necessary items on hand, always. What really took the cake about this whole fiasco though? - for whatever reason (thanks EU!) we never got a bill.



Aug 25, 2022

Wow that must have been terrifying.

Maria DiCicco
Maria DiCicco
Aug 30, 2022
Replying to

It sure was! Thanks for reading :-)


Aug 06, 2022

Anyone who travels away from home should take heed of your final paragraphs. Be prepared for the unexpected medical emergency.


Hi, I'm Maria!

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