We drive a fair distance to see specialists (depending on which specialists, 2 hours or 10 hours) and appreciate it when they coordinate schedules to see us on the same day to cut down on driving time, gas, etc. But that can result in some LONG days hanging around a hospital. Here are our top tips for surviving those long days.
1. Pack Wisely
I prefer a medium sized backpack because that’s what I find the most comfortable, but you do what works best for you. Whatever type of bag you choose, keep your things easy to find. I use my small and medium wet bags to keep things organized in my backpack, so when I need to grab, for example, supplies to start a meal with the feeding pump, they’re all in one place together. Any children who come with you who are old enough to carry their own things should carry their own things, as well.
It also bears considering the weather and any other extenuating circumstances. During sketchy weather, I tend to bring the whole medication box and a few days of tube feeding supplies as well as a complete change of clothes and a toothbrush – if a snowstorm blows through sooner than expected, or what was supposed to be rain turns to ice or a tornado, we will have the supplies we need to hunker down overnight, rather than having to push through.
2. Make a list, check it twice
Obviously, you need to bring all of the things you need for the day, plus all of the things you MIGHT need for the day. And though you’ve maybe packed for a day away from home a billion times, if your clinic day involves leaving the house at the crack of dawn or earlier like ours do, you might want to make a list instead of relying on your memory. I pack up as much as I can the night before, then make a list of the things that aren’t packable – meds that need to go in the cooler, for example, or some hot coffee for me.
3. Different bags for different jobs
I like to pack a clinic bag (that I take in with me), a car bag (which holds supplies for use in the car or for keeping in the car as backup), and an emergency bag (this bag actually lives in the car and has supplies we’d need if we have car trouble or unexpected weather delays our return home). We also usually take a cooler, not only for the meds that need to stay cool, but so that we have nice cool drinks when we get back to the car, and to hold snacks that are better cool. And for many years, every clinic day I also loaded up our hospital suitcase, which had supplies to last a week inpatient.
It bears mentioning that in the winter, we also bring a bag that has a complete set of extra winter supplies for everyone, and I also usually throw our coveralls into the car. Again in case of unexpected weather or car trouble.
Photo by Dids from Pexels
4. Snacks, Lunch, and Water
Pack snacks. Lots of snacks. If you’re leaving early, pack breakfast. If at all possible, make something like a breakfast sandwich for every oral eater and heat it up as you walk out the door for some nice protein to start your day. Make sure your snacks have protein, as well. Have a solid plan for lunch – either pack it or plan to buy it there. And bring drinks – preferably water, but I know I sometimes need either the sugar or the flavor of non-water drinks to make it through clinic days. I try to stick with herbal iced teas, but won’t lie that I sometimes pack myself a root beer for the drive home. In the winter, I sometimes pack myself a hot tea bag and get myself a cup of hot water from the coffee machines for a nice hot tea treat between appointments. When I was bringing the older kids, I’d often pack a hot chocolate mix packet and let them split it between appointments. A little treat tends to go a long way when you’ve got a long boring day.
5. The Car bag
My car bag has a handful of snacks for all the oral eaters, extra water bottles, some rags, DVDs, a few extra diapers, a change of clothes for me and for any children who might need it, emergency supplies like a spare bag for the feeding pump, a shelf stable meal (or cold meal if we’ve brought the cooler) for everyone who’s coming, and any other supplies we may need that we don’t want to carry with us. The shelf stable meals – I can’t tell you how many times we’ve ended up eating them. We can’t always afford to buy food for everyone from the cafeteria, but many clinic days have dragged on much longer than expected and left us starving and needing more than our lunch and snacks. Heat and eat food to the rescue! (We usually bring one or two of those microwave single mac and cheese bowls, a can of spaghettios, and a shelf stable pasta meal.) I also always pack a few of my emergency chocolates. (I hoard a specific type of chocolate that’s only available during the Christmas season, and I always have a few of these in my car bag for the drive home. I don’t really drink, but these are like my version of wine. Bonus: I can enjoy while driving.)
If you use electronics, long clinic days are the time to get those out. Whether you have tablets or portable DVD players, electronics can help fill hours in the car, hours in the waiting room, and hours in the doctor rooms.
7. Audio books or Podcasts
If your child/children will listen to audio books, pick something you can all enjoy together. If your child/children will not listen to audio books, pick something you’ll enjoy while you drive. I have read so many books this way, over nearly 8 years of driving to and from clinic appointments. It gives my mind something to do so it doesn’t go into auto pilot too bad while I drive.
8. Car Games
If your child is capable of playing car games, they can be a great way to fill the time in the car together. I’m Thinking Of, I Spy, Alphabet Games, Would you Rather, 20 Questions, etc. are all great to do in the car and easy enough to do while driving. Parents magazine has a decent list of car games here. These games are also great for waiting for the doctor, as well, as long as your child can quickly transition to another activity when the doctor comes in.
9. Prizes and Activities
I don’t pack a prize for one-appointment days, but for long days, I usually pack some sort of small, cheap, new toy, or an old toy that’s been forgotten for a while. I try to find something that will be engaging for longer than a few seconds. Pullback cars are always a hit with my kiddo, for example. If your kid’s into crafts, bringing the parts needed for a non-messy craft or two would be awesome. Bring a printout of a Lego creation and the bricks needed to make it, or some How To Draw The Thing Your Kid Likes instructions, as well as some art paper and drawing supplies. Some kids are really into coloring or activity books. Obviously you’ll bring activities your kid likes to do, but try to also bring something you can realistically pull off as being a Prize (or a surprise). We usually pull out the Prize after the first appointment. It’s just a little extra something to look forward to on an otherwise boring and sometimes icky day.
10. Work on rules for when the doctor comes in
We have a rule that when a doctor is in the room, kids get my attention nonverbally and they refrain from obnoxious behavior. This is a goal, and it isn’t always achieved. But I do remind them every time we are waiting for a doctor. “What’s the rule for when the doctor comes in?” Make it clear what the expectation is and remind them as necessary.
11. Help older siblings learn to navigate the hospital
Older siblings can start learning how to navigate the hospital on their own. Help them notice where the signs are, the name of the place where you are, how you got there, etc. Point out where the bathrooms are when you walk by them. If you feel safe enough, and if your kids are old enough and well enough behaved, they can go places – even if it’s just back to the waiting room – on their own while you and the kid the appointment’s for stay in the “doctor room.”
12. Your child is a child. Your child’s doctor chose pediatrics.
Your child is a child. They’re going to act like a child. They’re not going to sit quietly and wait while you and the doctor talk, especially after a long car trip. Even if they’re being pretty good, they still make noise. Play is often noisy. They aren’t going to always cooperate with everything the doctor wants to do, either. And it’s fine. Your child’s doctors chose pediatrics. Everyone they see all day is a child. Are some children more cooperative and better behaved than yours? Yep. But so what? Any pediatrician who judges you or your child based on behavior during long, stressful days isn’t probably worth your time. But most peds doctors are pretty accustomed to talking over background noise, to getting down on the floor to address a child, to coaxing cooperation from a reluctant child. Your kid’s a kid. It’s ok.
13. Exercise between appointments
Sometimes, we find that clinics want us to wait in the doctor room for the next doctor, rather than go back to the waiting room. I don’t mind this – I’d rather not have to pack up all our stuff again – but those rooms are SO SMALL and SO PLAIN. They often don’t have windows. Even I get a little stir-crazy. We have never felt an obligation to actually remain in the room, as long as we can SEE our room at all times. Our new Children’s hospital has hallways that are quite deserted most of the time, since staff use back hallways, so I let my kiddo go run wind sprints between appointments. “Run as fast as you can to that chair and then turn around and run back!” or “hop like a bunny until you get to the star on the floor, then turn around and walk like a bird back to me!” Before they remodeled, the hallways were much busier, so we didn’t run, but we did still stretch our legs and walk up and down the hallways. As long as you keep an eye on the door to your room so you can run back when you see someone headed in, this SHOULD be ok. Nobody’s ever said anything to us about our wandering habits, anyway.
14. Find fun things to look at or do between appointments
We do bring between-appointment activities (usually it’s Go Fish cards right now because he’s totally into Go Fish), but we also enjoy exploring and finding interesting things to look at around the hospital, and we also usually seek out the things there are to do at the hospital. Does your hospital have a playground or a playroom? A patient library? Activities? Artwork on the walls? Statues to look at and pose with? New hallways to wander down? Find a map, ask the people who work there, or just wander around a little and see what you can find. One day at Children’s in Cincinnati, we took a picture with as many statues as we could find, for example. One day, I had him pick an elevator and then pick a number, and we got off on that floor and explored, lol. Consider asking other parents for their tips on things to do at your hospital – we discovered, through much wandering, a little cubby in a not-busy waiting room with an Xbox, for example, and that’s where we spent an hour one day.
15. Plan a post-clinic reward
Is there a playground nearby? A fun park? A children’s museum or zoo (if you have the energy for something like this after a clinic day)? Is there an inexpensive treat your child likes (like McDonald’s ice cream or a fountain drink from a gas station)? Whatever your kid would enjoy and find rewarding, plan to do it after a long day in clinic. It isn’t a reward for good behavior. It isn’t a bribe. It’s a “we just have to get through x more appointments and then we can (whatever)!” The treat is a given. It cannot be taken away for “bad” behavior. It’s simply a way to recognize that they – and you – made it through the day – whoo hoo!