Long hospital stays are so challenging. The stress, the poor sleep, being cooped up, dealing with the medical things, and trying to help your child as much as you can. There’s no privacy. And most of us fall into habits that don’t help our mental well being – sitting around, eating junk, drinking too much coffee, stress eating, whatever your coping mechanisms are.
Here’s a list of eleven things I’ve found make a HUGE difference during those long stays.
- Drink. No, I don’t mean alcohol (though I sometimes think hospitals should have bars that only take tokens, and parents can earn the tokens through doing good deeds like not being grumpy with the residents). I mean keep yourself hydrated! Drink water, yes. But you also need to get yourself some fun drinks. Like flavored water? Stick some drink flavorings in your hospital suitcase. Like pop? Pack it, but don’t over-do it. Like Coffee? If you’re going to be there for a long time, bring your favorite coffee things – whether that’s your Keurig, your French press, or your favorite creamer. I’m not encouraging over-indulgence here. But I find that treating myself to my personal favorite – raspberry flavored tea – every now and again really does put a bit of a bounce back in my step.
- Healthy Food. Especially if you’re a stress eater! Your hospital cafeteria might not have great food, but I bet it has a salad bar and I bet they serve at least semi decent veggies. Ours has great veggies and a nice salad bar, and I make it a point to stock up whenever I can. I also have my husband bring me frozen single-serve veggie dishes when he visits on weekends. Not only is this keeping my body functioning better than it would on junk food, but it actually gives me a mental boost, as well. Not because I love salad so much, but because I feel good knowing I’m eating healthy things. And my body has come to associate Hospital with Vegetables. I actually eat more veggies when we’re inpatient than I do at home. Which is weird. But it’s good for me! And good for you, too. Some hospitals even have arrangements with local farmers and food co-ops to make fresh veggies available to families. Take advantage if your hospital does this!
- Treats. Yes, to go along with all those vegetables you’re going to be eating… bring or get small portions of treats. I have a few of those single serve microwave brownie cups in my hospital suitcase, and I also pack hot chocolate mix. And I know where to get scotcharoos. And as long as I don’t get carried away, these sugary treats ALSO provide a mental boost, because there’s nothing like letting yourself have something that just plain tastes sinful at the end of a long, stressful, and either very boring or very unpleasantly exciting hospital day.
- Things Unique To Your Hospital. Most larger hospitals have SOMETHING available to families. A gym membership? Get Child Life to hang with your kid while you check it out. Massages? I used to get a massage during every surgery. They often joked that they couldn’t make much headway on my tension. But it still felt nice. Find out what your hospital has on offer, and take advantage.
- Exercise. Yes. Exercise. What can you do in a hospital? If you can leave the room, go for a walk. (If your child can join you, so much the better.) If you can’t, there are YouTube exercise videos, YouTube yoga videos, etc. You can do pushups, situps, squats, calf raises, tricep pushups, etc. in the room. (Oh no! What if someone walks in?!? It’ll be OK. If you’ve been there for a while already, I’m willing to bet that someone walking in on you doing a pushup isn’t the worst thing that’s happened, and you exercising is going to be FAR FROM the strangest thing the hospital folks have seen.) You could even jog in place, or figure out a small circuit in the room. I used to have a stretchy band in my hospital suitcase for some resistance exercises before it got lost. Look up Office Exercises for some other ideas. (or I have a Pinterest board with ideas!)
- Electronics. Yes, embrace the electronics. For you, for your child. Your kid’s likely sitting in bed most of the time. YAWN. It’s ok to put aside your ideals about electronics use and let them use a tablet for a while. Truly, this is how Teddy learned his letters and numbers. Yep. The iPod I let him use during hospital stays.
- Social Media. There’s nothing quite so isolating as being in the hospital with your child. Especially if you’re on isolation, lol, or in the ICU. Many parents live a distance away from their child’s hospital, making it hard for friends or family to visit, and even if you live in town, many people don’t or can’t have visitors. Use social media to stay in touch with the outside world. Even if it’s hard. I know, believe me, how hard it is to be sitting in the hospital with a gravely ill child and read on Facebook someone freaking out because their perfectly regular kid has a perfectly regular fever, or GI virus, or is getting a tooth. Stay off Facebook if you need to, but try to stay in touch via private messaging or text to your inner circle.
- Go Outside. If at all possible, go outside. Even in bad weather. Even if all you do is stand under an awning for five minutes. Go outside. Take a few deep breaths. Do some stretches, or that thing where you tighten and relax your muscle groups for a minute. It isn’t good for humans to be indoors all the time.
- Child Life. Get to know them. Get to know what they can do for you and your child. Use them. They can hook you up with toys, activities, art supplies, iPads usually, gaming systems, sometimes music therapy, sometimes therapy animals. Child Life is your friend.
- Spiritual Services. If you are religious, talking to the hospital chaplain, even if that person is a stranger, can be really helpful in re-setting your mental state. During one hospital stay, a long distance friend whose dad was a pastor in the are we were staying had her dad come and visit us for a while. I sat and chatted with him for an hour or so, and it was really very nice. Just…. soothing.
- Scream and Cry. Most hospitals will have a place you can do this. Embarrassed about it? Take a pillow and find a distant bathroom or meeting room. But there’s no reason to be embarrassed. Nurses will understand, and if you ask them for a safe place to go cry loudly and maybe yell nonsense for a minute, they’ll know where you can go. Sometimes you just need it, and you can’t usually do this in the room with your child.