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James was so excited when we arrived in Spain for a holiday recently. We were barely in the door of the apartment when he was ready to go swimming. Then, when we got to the pool soon after, within just ten minutes he slipped and fell.

He wasn’t even running but, still, the poor little thing gave the side of his head an awful bang. We ended up in the local A&E where he had to get three stitches in his ear. James was then told the terrible news that he couldn’t swim for the week. I imagine, when you are four, that this bit of news is the equivalent of being told your life has just ended.

I didn’t even think about insurance for this trip and, when we arrived at the clinic, Mum showed the receptionist her European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) and she told us that if I received James’s number she would refund me the money. I did have a card for him, but I’d left it at home. I have to say, my local health center here in Ireland was incredibly helpful and sent me James’s details, but last Friday, after a week of driving in and out of Marbella, the clinic told me the EHIC didn’t actually cover the cost of treatment.

It was a mixture of lost in translation and, very simply, no travel insurance my end. I used to travel with insurance all the time — I had annual cover because I travelled so much — but for some reason lately I have not taken extra insurance out for holidays, and this has proved to be a very costly lesson. My advice to all families is that it is absolutely essential to take out appropriate travel insurance — the EHIC is NOT a substitute, which I found out the hard way.

All Irish residents are entitled to an EHIC, which is issued free by the HSE and gives you access to healthcare in the public system of any EU member state or Switzerland if you become ill or injured while on a temporary stay. It is personal to each individual, so infants need a separate card in their own name. However, few countries pay the full cost of healthcare for cardholders.

You will find that many travel insurance companies now insist that you also have an EHIC when travelling to any of the European countries covered by the scheme — or at least they give you better terms if you have a valid card. There’s no place like home, especially when it comes to doctors treating your child.

Our own doctor removed James stitches on Monday, but the poor little thing was already traumatised from his Spanish experience, when five medics held him down to stitch him up and I nearly lost my mind. We met a doctor from Athlone back at the resort and she said they would never do that in Ireland; they anaesthetise children first.

It can be really difficult in a foreign country because of the language barrier and I’m the type of person who likes to be told exactly what’s happening. Needless to say, James really milked it for the week, and I don’t blame him. He’s getting more and more like me every day.

One day, as we were passing the pool, he stopped and stared, and dropped his head and toys and said, ‘Life can be so unfair sometimes, just look at all those kids swimming and having fun!’

During my pregnancy the only thing I asked was that I didn’t get a child like me and it was at this point I knew my greatest fear had been realised. In the next breath he said he felt an ice cream and jellies would help to make it better and maybe pizza for dinner and a toy as we passed through the shop later.

He has done so well out of his ear that we have had arm, leg, toe and back injuries since. We ended up having a lovely week though and I discovered I’m great at games and building sand castles. I was also told that I’m really good at colouring and I don’t even go outside the lines. But if you are heading off with your family make sure you are fully covered and don’t learn the hard way like me!