With a child who has had multiple open heart surgeries, we have become veterans at overnight hospital stays. After living in the Pediatric Cardiac ICU once for twelve days and another stay where I found myself in the ER with a 30% charged cell phone and a wallet, bound for another weeklong stay, we learned quickly what we needed to make a difficult time a little more manageable.
Of course, the small things that might bring you comfort under a challenging circumstance might be different, but I’ve gathered up a list of our must haves–a mix of practical and comforting. But I would love to hear from other parents what is on your list.
Socks or slippers
No one wants to wear their shoes while sleeping but you also don’t want to go walking around a medical facility with bare feet. So a good pair (or two) of socks or a pair of slippers can be a lifesaver for the up and down routines of the night. Bonus if the socks have grippers on the bottom–no one wants to slip and fall while caring for their little one.
You think that when the doctor comes by to talk you will remember everything but that’s not how your stressed out and traumatized brain works. The doctor might come by while your spouse ran home or to get something to eat, so taking notes will also help you communicate important details to them as well as help you remember what you heard. It can also be a place to jot down the questions that come to you at 3am when your mind is busy but the unit is quiet so you can remember them the next day.
A cozy blanket
The hospital will provide you with a blanket to use while sleeping in your child’s room but it’s likely to be nubby, scratchy or smell like industrial laundry. In other words–not like home. When all the sounds and smells and stress keep you from relaxing and grabbing a few hours of rest, bringing a cozy blanket can help signal to your brain and your body that it’s time to relax and catch a few Z’s.
Somehow when you remember you need to eat, the hospital cafeteria is closed or all you can find is junk food. And while a bag of Chex Mix might get the job done it won’t give you the nutrients you need to stay sharp and process new information. I always try to pack some sort of healthy snack–durable fruit like apples and oranges, protein bars and trail mix.
Headphones and Chargers
Our daughter’s third surgery was a surprise. I found myself in the ER with my wallet, keys, my cell phone charged to 30% and a partner on a flight bound over international waters. Not the best time to find yourself without a cell phone charger. When we have the chance to plan we pack a pouch full of all the cell phone, Kindle, laptop and iPad chargers we might need so we can stay connected and entertained. Headphones can be helpful to listen to a show while your heart hero naps or if your child is older for them to use to tune out hospital life for a bit and play a game or watch a movie.
A nice towel
Like a blanket, the hospital will provide it but it will be nubby and small. If you are planning a stay longer than a day or so (and you have access to a shower on site) your own towel can be a comfort and convenience.
Lip Balm and Moisturizer
Hospitals are dry places on purpose to prevent the growth of unwanted things, but that means your lips and hands will likely get dry. A tube of lip balm for you and for your child and some moisturized can make you more comfortable during an uncomfortable time.
A Friend or Two on Speed Dial
Some days in the hospital float by in a haze and some are filled with information and decisions to be made. At the end of the day (or the middle of it) a good friend that will listen to you worry or celebrate milestones or let you talk things out or understand when you need a solid distraction is incredibly valuable. A friend that won’t repeat harmful platitudes or offer “bright sides” in your suffering is priceless. Know your people and know who you can call for support, ask them ahead of time (if you have that luxury) if they can be on speed dial.
There are times where you are highly involved in your child’s care but there are large lulls in the day when you child might be napping and hospital staff leave you to rest. If you can’t doze a good book can be a quiet time to pass the time and a welcome distraction. Personally I prefer something light and entertaining–think witches or rom coms or YA. Any from this list of light reads would be a good fit.
A comfort item (blanket or stuffie)
We were advised by our Child Life specialist to bring something that would give our child comfort. She was in preschool at the time so we selected a favorite blanket. She was grateful for the chance to snuggle under it in the hospital at night. We also brought her favorite stuffed animal which worked as a comfort and also a tool to help her process her experience. Even if your child is too young to appreciate such gestures–you will appreciate the gesture of nurture towards your child in moments when you feel helpless.
Little toes can get cold and so we like to bring socks for her. Bonus for socks with grippers on the bottom for safety when your kiddo can finally get up and walk around (if they are walking age). Double bonus if they are brightly colored, your child’s favorite color, silly, funny or unexpected. Sometimes the smallest things could brighten my child’s day.
Hair care items
No one told me about the giant knot that would form in the back of my daughter’s head after anaesthesia or a night of tossing and turning in discomfort. Now when we have the luxury of planning for our surgery, I take the time to neatly braid her hair out of the way. But sometimes that’s not the case, so having a hairbrush, a tiny spray bottle of water, rubber bands and clips on hand has been helpful. I am not sure that moms of boys face the exact same challenge but if your child’s hair is long, course or curly it’s good to bring something to manage the unruly bedhead they get from laying around in a hospital bed with limited mobility.
Favorite Movie, Card Game or Book
Our daughter had her first surgery at the peak of Frozen fever (if you know, you know). The hospital still worked on DVD players and they only had one disc of the beloved movie so we brought our copy. While technology has changed (and our daughter’s taste in entertainment), the need for physically calm activities that sooth, relax or educate has not changed. Infants love music, bigger kids enjoy movies and of course big kids can be distracted with a card game or two. Be sure to grab a few tunes, shows or games that will help ease your child’s mind during their stay.
This list is by no means exhaustive so I would love to hear, if you are a parent who has had to navigate surgery and overnight hospital stays, what have been your must have items?
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