Your phone rings. It’s your father’s in-home caregiver.
“It’s Mary,” says the voice on the other end of the line in her familiar accented English. “Your father fell and he was taken to the hospital. Can you come to Israel?”
Maybe you were born in Israel but you moved to the United States as an adult. You’ve made a life and are raising your family there, but your parents are still in Israel.
Or maybe you’re American, and your parents moved to Israel after they retired to fulfill a lifelong dream. You might join them some day, but not in the immediate future.
Either way, it’s not easy being an ocean away from Mom and Dad. And the difficulty is never more strongly felt than when there’s an emergency thousands of miles away.
There’s no way to be 100% ready for an emergency. The more prepared you are emotionally, intellectually and technically, however, the less of a monkey wrench it will throw into your life.
Here are our best preparation tips from years of experience working with many seniors in Israel and their adult children in the USA:
1. Build an emergency travel fund
Whether or not you have a general emergency fund, once your overseas parents reach a certain age and stage of health, you should have a specific financial reserve for emergency trips. Having money put aside for plane fare and other likely expenses will enable you to buy a ticket and go without having panic emotionally because of the financial scramble.
2. Plan time off work
If you need to take time off work for your emergency trip, that can impact you both financially and professionally. Treat an emergency trip like an eventuality and save some vacation days in preparation for it. Do make sure you also keep vacation days for your personal and family time. Caregivers – even and sometimes especially long-distance caregivers – must give to themselves in order to stay healthy and functional.
Check – before an emergency arises – if there are any time-off provisions for taking care of ill family members. In some work settings, the Family and Medical Leave Act applies, giving you 12 weeks each year of unpaid, job-protected leave to care for your parent.
3. Research and establish your preferred vendors
How will you book your flight? Do you prefer travel agents or do-it-yourself online booking sites? Pick a travel agent and/or make a list of the online booking agents you would check. One thing to have your eye on: does the online booking agent offer same day flights? Orbitz does, for example, but not all do.
The only thing worse than going to Israel to deal with your parent’s health issues is going and then running into health issues of your own. While illness may be beyond your control, you can at least make sure it doesn’t stress you financially. Check into travel health insurance policies ahead of time and decide which one you would choose to cover you. That way, as soon as you book a ticket you can set up your policy for the days you’ll be away.
If you’re going for an emergency, you want to hit the ground with an operational phone. Look into phone services in advance and decide which one you would use: rent another phone? Use an Israeli SIM? Does your provider offer calls from Israel at a reasonable price? Just stick with Skype and/or WhatsApp? If you have it planned out, with minimal effort you can ensure you’ll have a working communications device immediately upon landing at Ben Gurion.
4. Keep your passports up-to-date
A ticket without a passport is a recipe for disaster at the airport. (Think: sobbing messes or emotion-fueled fights with airport security. Either way, not pretty.) Do yourself a favor and keep one step ahead. Make sure your American passport (and Israeli passport, if applicable to you) is always up-to-date.
If you find yourself in the unenviable circumstance of planning an emergency trip with an expired passport, don’t just show up at the airport and hope it will all work out. Use the >US government’s emergency passport service.
5. Pack smart
Do you have documents or items that must come with you? Don’t leave it to your memory – or even to a checklist. Have anything non-negotiable pre-packed in a small bag that you can pop into your suitcase or your carry-on. Examples might include:
- cell phone charger/plug adapter
- contact lens supplies
- legal documents like health care proxy, advanced directive, power of attorney
6. Know where you’ll stay
If your parent has has their own home, you will most likely stay there. What if that’s not possible for whatever reason, or your parent is in an assisted living or nursing facility and no longer has a private home? Where will you stay then?
Speak to friends or relatives in advance and make sure that you have at least one or two options of places you can call your home base on a moment’s notice.
7. Have backup child care planned
Who will take your second grader to school? Who will be there when your nine-year-old gets home from school? Do you babysit your 14 month old grandchild while your daughter works?
Those of us in the sandwich generation have dual responsibilities that can leave us feeling stretched… or squashed.
Sometimes your spouse might be available for those roles. Sometimes you’ll have to find a neighbor, friend or parent of a child in your child’s class. Reach out in advance of an issue to see if you’d be able to call on them in time of need, and what help they would be comfortable offering.
8. Be ready to face medical staff and know where to ask questions
When you make an emergency trip to Israel because your parent has been taken to the hospital, you’re not just there to give moral and emotional support. As a well respected doctor quietly reminded our Care Manager during an ER visit with a client: Never, ever leave a senior alone in a hospital.
Your presence as an advocate is necessary to make sure your parent is given the right medications, assigned appropriate treatments, receives prompt test results and understands what’s going on. You can bring any changes in your parent’s condition to the attention of well-meaning but often overworked nursing staff. Your gentle reminders can help prevent hospital acquired infections and surgical errors.
You’re going to need to be respectful but adamant, sensitive but insistent, observant and aware.
The more familiar you are with your parent’s condition, health issues and medications, the better you will be able to ask targeted questions and get helpful answers.
9. Find a support system
All of these preparations take physical and emotional effort – and you haven’t even boarded a plane yet!
Having a support system in place for practical advice, an objective third party to bounce ideas off of, and emotional support and empathy can mean the difference between a stressful but manageable emergency trip and a complete emotional, financial and health meltdown. One community resource that helps its members cope with these issues – among others – is our Sandwich Generation Israel private Facebook group.
Whether it’s Facebook or your parent’s next-door neighbor, having the right emotional and practical support can make all the difference.
“Yes, Mary,” you answer your father’s aide after a few seconds of thought. “I’ll be there as soon as I can.”