A Child’s Cold in a Mixed Marriage

It can be a frightening experience when your child gets sick. Do they need to go to the hospital or is this something that can be dealt with at home? It is up to the parent to keep a level-head and choose the right treatment.

In my life, there have been times, when I had to face really fearful circumstances. I laid flat on a bus floor and heard the crackle of gunfire overhead when in Israel. I have fought the overwhelming panic of getting pulled out to sea in the tide while swimming in Australia. I know the way fear grips your heart when the silhouette of a great white shark glides stealthily under your small boat, while on the sea off Florida. But it wasn’t until I had a child, who was unwell, that I felt true fear. Most parents would rather ride a floating bus under fire being pulled out by the tide to shark-infested waters than to see their child sick.

But it is a fact of life that children will catch a cold, get a cough or develop a stomach ache, and when that happened to me, I soon realized there were some major differences in the way we deal with it in England than in China.

When one of my sons gets sick, my usual reaction is to put them to bed with a hot water bottle and some comforting words such as “You’ll be fine in the morning.” Meanwhile Faith is already planning the quickest route to the nearest hospital, just in case we can’t land an ambulance helicopter on the roof. On the issue of treating a sickness in one of our children, Faith and I are much like that rabbit in Zootopia talking to the sloth, or those hobbits trying to persuade that speaking tree in Lord of the Rings; Faith is bombarding me with the questions about what to do, while I respond with a “Don’t be too hasty.” Our differences on this matter seems to stem from our upbringing and cultures.

One of the greatest benefits we have in England is free healthcare, this is especially true for children who are assigned a clinic and doctor from birth until they are 16 years of age. Visits to the hospital and the subsequent treatment are also paid for by the government. One of the side effects of this is that we must be responsible not to abuse this system, wasting a doctor’s time on something like a cough, which could be treated at home. Most parents will treat a cold or cough with some cough syrup and a good night’s rest, assuming the child’s immune system will fight the virus. A trip to see the doctor will usually be protocol only if their child’s case worsens. On the contrary, in my experience China is very different, strangely enough, a visit to the doctor is usually the first thought, which is certainly not free and at times very expensive. Most illnesses, no matter how minor, are treated in Chinese hospitals with an injection of antibiotics (which you pay for). I was never a fan of this as repeatedly doing this tends to weaken a child’s immune system making it easier for them to get sick again in the future.

By the time our second child came along, we were both far calmer and more measured in our response to a sick child. I have heard it said that if you ever caught your first child eating sand, you would rush them to hospital immediately, if it were your second child, you would just tell them to stop and keep a watchful eye on them for the rest of the night, but by the time you have your third child, and you caught him eating sand, you’d probably wonder if you still need to cook him dinner that night. I guess the point is that experience helps a lot in these situations. I have found the best thing to do is to know a good hospital nearby with reliable doctors that you go and see if necessary, keep medical supplies at home and most of all, keep in mind what that big tree said, “Don’t be too hasty.”

In my experience China is very different, strangely enough, a visit to the doctors is usually the first thought, which is certainly not free and at times very expensive.