My Son’s Spring Break Nightmare: What This Mom Wants Parents to Know

My husband Joe and I were winding down on a quiet Sunday evening. Our 20-year-old twin boys left for their spring break trip to Mexico earlier in the morning. We didn’t have nearly enough time with them this trip but the sushi dinner and belly laughs we had with them the night before more than made up for the brief visit.

How to prepare for emergencies before your college kid goes on a spring break trip.

We worried about them because they stayed up all night working on homework they knew they wouldn’t get to while in Mexico. They got up really early to drive to San Diego to catch a flight to Cabo. They left without eating breakfast and we knew based on their typical habits, they wouldn’t be grabbing any food in the near future. We prayed for their safety and felt good about our conversation with them before they left. Stay together; keep your eyes and ears open. Watch out for each other and so on and so forth.

We were preparing dinner and deciding what show to watch to end a fun and beautiful weekend we had with our boys. Joe was upstairs when his cell phone rang on the kitchen table. I looked at it and saw a Las Vegas number. I disregarded it thinking it was just another telemarketer or charity requesting money. Then a text came in on my phone. “Lynn can you please call me it’s a medical emergency regarding Riley.”

I looked at the text and screamed and threw my phone across the table. NO, NO, NO, NO!! Joe ran down the stairs in a panic, “What? What is it?” It’s Riley…there’s been an accident. I was beyond consoling. There was panic, confusion, fear, and hysteria…just as you would imagine after getting a phone call like that about your child.

We dreaded calling the number in fear of what they would say. The young man who answered the call seemed uncomfortable and cautious when he spoke. He wasn’t making any sense to us and it all seemed unclear as to what happened. We screamed into the phone, Is Riley dead or alive??? He wouldn’t spit it out. He said he wasn’t sure what happened but he wanted to contact us as soon as possible and….“SPIT IT OUT!!!”

He said he was taken to the hospital but wasn’t sure about his status so he said he would find out and call us back. We hung up and fell to our knees. “Oh please God don’t take our son.” We prayed out loud asking for God’s mercy. We decided to do mantras and take one step at a time. We tried to gather our thoughts. We agreed that when he calls back, he is going to say, “Riley is stable.” We chanted, “Riley is stable” “Riley is stable” “Riley is stable.”

You know the term, my life flashed before my eyes?  Well, Riley’s life flashed before my eyes. I saw him as a baby in his little red onesie as we called him Santa man. I saw him on the Little League baseball field with his Rocket Power cartoon underwear showing through his white baseball pants. I saw him in his Pooh bear costume on Halloween repeating, “I wanna go ‘nother house.” My head was flooded with more thoughts and images of our beautiful son. It was unbelievably painful.

The phone rang and our hearts skipped a beat. By the way, it still does today. Not sure if that will ever go away. The voice on the other line said, “Riley is stable but in critical condition.” YES!!! First prayer answered. At this point, we still had no idea what happened. Was it a car accident, water incident? He told us that he fell from a 4th story balcony. WHAT?? And he’s alive? A security guard heard the thump. He landed on a car on the first-floor parking lot. He was intubated and in the hospital within an hour of the accident and never stopped breathing on his own. More good news.

The spring break tour group helped us make arrangements to get to Mexico the next morning. Needless to say, we didn’t sleep at all that night. We feared there would be another phone call telling us the worst. In the darkness of the night, my mind raced. I had moments of knowing in my heart he was going to be okay and then moments of despair and fear. How would I tell people, my mother, how would I go on living without him? It was then that I decided, I would not allow my mind to go there. I would push out those negative thoughts and only welcome thoughts of him alive, well, laughing, full of life, etc. It wasn’t easy but I had to. I couldn’t bear the thought of losing him. The only power I had left was controlling my thoughts.

Thankfully, Joe and I had passports so making the arrangements and getting into Mexico wasn’t an issue. The plane was full of other spring breakers already in party mode. Thank goodness for noise canceling headphones.

The tour group met us at the airport and took us straight to the hospital. We were petrified at what we might see. Was Riley going to be recognizable? Was he going to be a vegetable? Was he going to be paralyzed? It was terrifying.

He was in ICU so only one of us could go in at a time. Joe agreed to go in first. I couldn’t bear seeing him in that state. When he came out he said, “It’s okay, it’s Riley.” I was somewhat relieved. It was a horrible sight but my son was alive. They told us about the brain injury and how his skull was pressing on his brain and optic nerve which meant airlifting him out of there was not an option. He needed to have surgery immediately. The good news was they didn’t see any other injuries that would lead them to believe he would be paralyzed.

They flew in a neurosurgeon and he had surgery that evening. More prayers and mantra chants got us through the night. Riley survived the surgery and the surgeon said it went well. He saved our son’s life. We ended up staying in Mexico for five days. They thought he might need more surgery but, thankfully, that was not the case. I clung onto the brief moments he responded to my voice and moved his legs. Signs of hope.

We spent those days walking back and forth from the hospital to the hotel. We witnessed a lot of drunk, barefoot, incoherent, scantily clad college students on spring break unaware of their surroundings looking like zombies from the movie Dawn of the Dead. You wouldn’t believe how many of these kids we watched come into the hospital with some sort of injury. Most were “dehydrated” but others had broken glass removed from their feet, broken arms, fist fight injuries, and so on.

That week alone, there were 2 other balcony falls, one of which resulted in death. It was eye-opening. It’s easy to forget when you’re in paradise that it is still a third world country with different codes and regulations than the US. They have no height requirement for balcony railings so most of them are only about two to three feet tall. I was afraid to go out on our hotel balcony because of it. I’m 5’2″ and the railing just barely made it to my hip.

After five long grueling days, we were finally airlifted to the San Diego Trauma Center. We spent a week there while Riley recovered. We were finally able to return home with our son which was truly a miracle. Some people are not so lucky.

Our family narrowly avoided a terrible tragedy and here is what I have learned from our experience. If you have adult children who are going out of the country, for spring break or for study abroad, here are a few things you should know.

10 Things to Do Before Your Kid Travels for Spring Break or Study Abroad

1) Get a passport. If you already have one, make sure it’s valid. You need to be prepared in case you have to go out of the country suddenly. They need to be valid for at least six months into the future, so check the expiration dates if you have one already.

2) If the trip was booked through a travel company, ask for the following:
• A copy of the agreement
• Ask if some of the cost includes insurance coverage
• Ask if f there are any known accidents, incidents, or unsafe conditions at any of the hotels they endorse?

3) Check with your own insurance carrier. They may not cover medical treatment and hospital care outside of the United States. Check if they cover medical evacuation back to the US. This can cost anywhere from $25,000-$50,000. You may need to purchase additional coverage

4) Make sure you have a credit card with a high spending limit. You may not be able to leave the hospital without leaving a substantial down payment. They wouldn’t let us leave until we authorized a $5,000.00 payment.

5) Check out your phone’s international coverage. Make sure your cell phone coverage includes international cell service or know how to add that to your existing plan.

6) Educate your kids on the perils of international travel.  You can’t necessarily forbid them to go but you can make some agreements with them.

7) Have other phone numbers. If your kids are anything like mine, they are notorious for losing their phones, jumping in the pool with it in their pocket, dropping it etc. so it’s important to have other phone numbers to call if their phones are broken.  Ask for their friend’s cell number or their friends’ parent cell numbers so you can create a support system.

8) Ask for other parents’ cell numbers. Another idea might be to ask them to put together a packet with cell phone numbers and pictures of their friends and their parents’ cell numbers. This can be extremely beneficial when you can’t get a hold of your kids.

9) Have faith and pray. Never underestimate the power of prayer. I call it a divine partnership. Miracles do happen.

10) Practice gratitude. Each day is a gift filled with small miracles that go unnoticed. Be grateful for each and every day you have with them.

I know asking for some of these things from your adult children is challenging but think of it this way, you’re paying for the trip in some way shape or form anyway, right?

Explain it’s not about checking up on them but rather a safety concern. You want them to have a good time but you also love them and want them to come home safe and sound. It doesn’t matter how old my children are, they will always be my babies and the love I have for them only grows stronger each and every day. We all know that some circumstances that occur are out of our control but being prepared can make certain situations a little easier to navigate so you can focus on what’s truly important.


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Lynn Finley received her BA in Film Studies and Communications Arts and Sciences at Queens College in New York City before moving to Southern California to pursue a career in the entertainment industry. She worked at the Walt Disney Company for 23 years, becoming Senior Vice President of Media Distribution and Operations. When breast cancer turned her life upside down, her priorities underwent a major shift and she studied to be a Certified Professional Coach (CPC) finding a new sense of purpose working with other cancer survivors. Lynn contributed as a writer in the book Pebbles in the Pond Wave Three – A Gift in Disguise and currently resides in Los Angeles with her husband, twin identical sons, and two mini Australian Shepherds.


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