11 Ways to Survive a Long Hospital Stay With Your Child

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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!
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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!)
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.

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Packing for a Long Hospital Stay

Packing for a hospital stay

So you’ve got an upcoming hospital stay and you’re not sure what to bring? After several dozen hospital stays of varying lengths, most averaging two weeks, during my son’s first three years of life, I’ve got plenty of experience in knowing what is and isn’t useful in a hospital! Even these days, when we’re in a period of relatively few long hospital stays, I keep the suitcase packed and stocked. Partly because, with my son’s medical conditions, you just never know when you’ll suddenly be thrown back into long stays, and partly because most of the things in the suitcase were purchased specifically for the hospital and I truly have no other place to keep them.

My hospital packing is actually two-pronged. I have the suitcase, whose contents rarely vary. And then I also have what I call the “fun bag.” (OK, I only call it that to myself. I don’t think I’ve ever said that out loud.) The “fun bag” is for all the “current” things that we’ll want while we’re at the hospital. My knitting, a book, my notebook, his current favorite toys, our bedtime reading book, technology and chargers, etc. And then he is allowed to pack some number of stuffed animals and toys in his backpack, as well.

Your needs will obviously vary depending on your child’s needs, your individual needs and wishes, your child’s age, and what is available at your hospital.

So here’s what’s in my suitcase, and why.

Inside my Suitcase

For him:

  • Packaged blended food (Real Food Blends), enough to last a week. My husband or someone else can either bring us additional food if we’ll be staying for longer than a week, or they can mail it. Our hospital is reasonably supportive of blended diets (DS gets real food blended up through his feeding tube) but I prefer to bring our home food and let him order from the menu for oral food. I consider asking them to blend up something from their menu as a last resort.
  • Immersion blender. I need to mix the RFB with water to make them thin enough to go through the pump, and I do this with the blender.
  • His feeding pump and feeding sets. At some point, our hospital switched to Kangaroo pumps, and their pumps don’t work well with blended diets. I just bring our own. I also have several extensions in the suitcase, but generally just use hospital provided extensions.
  • Diapers. Teddy’s in a size 7, and our hospital doesn’t stock that size for some bizarre reason. I keep a pack in the suitcase.
  • Clothes. This is a variety of hospital gowns I’ve made him, a set of commercial pajamas, underwear and socks, and a few shirt/sweatpants combos. There’s a hoodie for him, and also a pair of slippers, though he thinks hospital socks are the best things ever. I sewed up a soft fabric basket that holds his clothes in the suitcase to keep them all together and to make them easy to find quickly.
  • Activities. I keep an inflatable ball in the suitcase, as well as some coloring books and markers. (I don’t pack crayons, but that’s because I keep crayons in my every day bag.) A floor cloth – I think this is technically a beach cloth? I found it on clearance at Toys R Us. It folds up small and we use it on the floor so he has a clean place to play.
  • A sippy cup. He’s technically too old for sippy cups, but I find they’re still handy for when he wants to drink but doesn’t feel very well and wants to lay down.
  • Personal care items. I pack special soap and lotion, his toothbrush and toothpaste, and nail clippers.
  • A special pillowcase.
  • Last minute, we put his weighted blanket in the suitcase, as well.

For me:

  • Food. I can’t always leave to get food in the cafeteria, and I don’t always want to order from the parent menu for home delivery. Ordering outside delivery food all the time gets expensive. I started packing shelf stable microwave meals for myself and honestly it’s been awesome. It’s not the BEST food, but when your kid is miserable and you don’t want meal service pizza again, it’s not bad at all. I tend to get noodle dishes, soups, ramen, instant mashed potatoes with canned meat, and those Ready Rice packages also with canned meat. (Not many vegetables here, so when I have the opportunity, I do run down to the cafeteria and stock up on veggies from the salad bar as well as whatever hot veggies they have.)
  • Things to make the food. A two cup Pyrex cup. Some spoons and a knife. A bottle brush, though I think this is leftover from when I used bottles to store pumped breastmilk.
  • Clothes. I keep three sets of clothes in my suitcase, so combined with the one I’m wearing when I arrive, I can go three days between laundry. I pack extra socks because socks get nasty in hospitals. A pair of slippers. Pajamas. My hospital pajamas are yoga pants and a shirt – so they’re not obviously PJs. I feel ridiculous talking to doctors half my age when I’m wearing my jimjams, so I prefer to look like I’m actually wearing clothes regardless of what time it is. A hoodie. A spare belt. I usually wear skirts, but we had a hospital stay once where it was so cold in our room that I mostly wore a pair of jeans I had packed, but I had no belt and spent two weeks pulling up my darn pants. NEVER AGAIN. Like with his clothes, I keep mine in a soft fabric basket inside the suitcase.
  • Personal care items. All the usual things. Deodorant, brush, toothbrush and paste, hair ties. I cover my hair, so I have a few casual covers in there. Some OTC meds like allergy and advil. Travel size shampoo and conditioner. Good lotion. Scissors. (I don’t shave, so I don’t pack a razor, but obviously you’d want that if you do.) Pads, enough for a whole cycle.
  • Miscellaneous things that make me happy. Tea packets. A hot chocolate or cider packet or two. Gum because I grind my teeth when stressed and this somewhat mitigates that. An insulated, lidded mug.
  • Envelopes and stamps. I don’t use these as much any more, but when my other kids were younger, they enjoyed getting mail from me from the hospital.
  • Notebook and pen. I take notes during rounds. Some moms keep a journal.
  • Humidifier. I found a small portable humidifier at Target one year. It holds a water bottle. Hospital air is so very very dry. This is one of my favorite hospital bag things.
  • An internet television device. I call mine my Fauxku because it’s like an off brand Roku. I can hook it up to the hospital TV and get Netflix, so we’re not limited to the movies the hospital provides on the entertainment system, if they have one. Our hospital does NOW but hasn’t always.
  • Spare cords. I have a handful of phone, kindle, and ipad cords, and an extra cord for my laptop. Because I can always remember my laptop but for some reason, I can’t always remember the cord.
  • Two empty tote bags. Because you just never know.

Inside my Suitcase