Who will you call if you are sick during deployment?
It’s an unfortunate rule of deployments that whatever can go wrong, WILL go wrong. So let’s face it– people are going to get sick during deployment. At some point, the kids are going to get sick– first one, then all of them. There will be vomit and fevers and trips to the doctor. Most moms don’t want to think about this, but when the time comes, they step up and get through it and do what needs to be done. Tylenol and Lysol and wine can cure almost anything.
But what happens if YOU get sick during deployment? You, the solo parent, with healthy children that need meals, and rides to school, and diaper changes? What happens when YOU are the one throwing up in bed?
It happened to me recently, at the beginning of deployment (of course!). I am usually very strong and fit and healthy. One night I went to bed feeling a little queasy, and woke up in the middle of the night needing to vomit. No, I wasn’t pregnant, but that’s certainly how it felt! I didn’t get much sleep that night, and in the morning things were even worse. I started to suspect food poisoning. I heard my 4 kids waking up, but realized that I would be spending most of the day in the bathroom. I was tired, and weak, and still nauseous, and just wanted to stay in bed and cry. How in the world was I going to get the 3 older ones to school, and spend all day with an active toddler who is at the stage where she needs to be watched EVERY minute? Time to call for reinforcements. But all of my family lives on the other side of the country, so I had to get creative when I was alone and sick during deployment.
My first call was to the base CDC (Child Development Center). They have drop-in childcare available sometimes. You have to pre-register your child with the CDC, and then call to see if there is space available that day. Then you pay by the hour. Thankfully, I had already registered my child before the deployment started, just in case a situation like this came up where I was sick during deployment and unable to take care of her. To my great relief, there WAS a space available for her, so at least I knew that professionals could take care of the toddler in the morning.
The next call was to a friend, another mom with a child in my son’s preschool class. I had talked to her before about carpool options, since we live in the same neighborhood, and she readily agreed to get my little one to and from school. So I just had to rally myself to get everyone else in the car, and drop off the older ones at their school and the toddler at the CDC. Then I had several glorious hours free. I crawled back into bed and slept the entire morning. After I picked everyone up, the baby took a nap, the older kids watched TV, and I went back to bed. (They don’t usually get to watch TV after school, so they were thrilled that Mom was sick during deployment.) I don’t even remember what I served for dinner–probably some leftovers. But by evening, I could tell I was getting a little better, and that it was probably just a 24-hour thing. Also by evening, I was flooded with several offers from neighbors and friends: “Do you want me to get you anything from the store?” “I can watch the baby tomorrow if you need it!” and “I have medicine and can leave it on your door if you want!” I realized that I was not alone. People actually wanted to help and support me with deployment survival packages, in the same way that I send care packages to my husband overseas. We are relatively new to this community, but they are here for us nonetheless.
So what do I want you to learn from this sad tale? First, don’t eat the leftover chicken from the back of the fridge! Soooo not worth it! But I also want you to try and finish this statement: “If I wake up terribly sick, I will call…” Because it’s only a matter of time. Sooner or later, something will happen and someone in the house will get sick during deployment. You are going to need help. So here’s how you can be prepared:
- Get phone numbers from all your local friends and neighbors. Even if you’re just casual acquaintances or have kids in class together–get their number. Too often we are lazy and just look people up on Facebook. That’s not good enough for an emergency. Before he deploys, I want you to have at least 5 phone numbers of people who could help you in some way if you had a medical issue. Try to have at least 1 neighbor, 1 spouse from the same unit, and 1 mom from each of your kid’s classes.
- Register your child in the CDC. You don’t have to pay anything to enroll them in hourly drop-in care. It just means that you have filled out the forms, turned in their shot records, and your child’s name is on their database. You won’t pay until you actually use the CDC. But you can’t gather registration materials in 1 day, especially on a day you are sick. So register in advance, and have all the paperwork squared away, so you are ready to go ‘just in case.’ Then all it takes is a quick phone call to check if there is space available. It may end up being a rather expensive nap for Mom, but if it is really necessary for your health, then it is worth it.
- Fill out your children’s school emergency contact sheet. Some schools will not release children to someone other than a parent, unless that person is already registered with the school office on the child’s pickup sheet. So even if you call the office or send a note, saying that Johnny will go home with Mrs. Smith today, the school might not allow it if they don’t have any record of Mrs. Smith. So, at the beginning of the school year (or the deployment), make contact with at least 1 parent from each of your child’s classes. After-school pickup is a good place to meet new friends. It’s even better if the friend lives in your neighborhood. (If your child attends school on base, this is almost guaranteed. In town, it is still not impossible.) Ask them if they would mind being an emergency contact for you. Then, GET THEIR PHONE NUMBER and fill out the form.
- Actually ask for help. I’m not great at this, but being a mother of 4 has forced me to learn to swallow my pride and admit when I need help. And you know what I have learned? People almost never say no! If you ask someone for a small, reasonable favor, it might make a huge difference to your day, but it is almost no trouble for them. People are happy to help you when you are actually in need. So think about what small things could make your life easier that day, and then start the calls and text messages. Do you need medicine or ginger ale? Ask the mom whose kids are in school all day if she could possibly get these items for you. I bet she will! Do you need help getting your kids to and from school? Ask another mom from their class. (See, this is why you need their numbers!) Want someone else to have the kids over for a play date after school so they don’t watch TV all afternoon? Ask the neighbor! Everyone in the military community has gone through challenges during a deployment, so most are very willing to help you out. But they won’t know you need help unless you ask.
- Fill out a Family Care Plan before he leaves. What about situations where you can’t make phone calls? If you are in a car accident or some other terrible tragedy? If your children are abandoned at school, or the school gets a call from the local Emergency Room, then they check the service member’s Family Care Plan to see who is designated as temporary caregivers. This is a required form that everyone with children must fill out before they deploy. The trouble is that the service members often fill it out without discussing it with their wife. So who knows what buddy they put down to be contacted? Make sure you see the Family Care Plan and fill it out with YOUR contacts, local people you actually know and trust. If the worst happens, these people will pick up your children from school and be responsible for them for a few days–either until family arrives, or the state takes over.
Since my deployed spouse isn’t in danger right now, one of my biggest deployment fears is something terrible happening to me. But there isn’t any way to prevent accidents or disasters in life. So I am reassured by the fact that I have taken care of these things, and I know that help is always just down the road, a phone call away. We are told to hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. So even though I hope that you never get sick during deployment, it is wise to be prepared in advance.