Free Range Earthling

Building a Fun and Fulfilling Retirement Life

My Hospital Stay – Lessons Learned

Hospital Go Bag - what to pack for a hospital stayYou really need a hospital Go Bag!

OK, that’s kind of clickbaity (clickbaitish?), but it’s true if you are over 50 or so. I recently spent five days in the hospital (don’t worry, I’m fine) and I learned a few things about how to do a hospital stay that I’d like to share.

Of course, no one thinks they will ever have to go to the hospital, maybe when you’re 90 you think, but never now. Well there are dozens of things, large and small, that could send you to ER and on to a hospital stay. I won’t dwell on that, just know that it could happen to you as it happened to me.

Your Hospital Goals
When you find yourself in the hospital you now have two goals (besides fixing whatever brought you there):

1 – Be as comfortable as possible
2 – Get the hell out of there as quickly as possible (safely)

Appearance Matters!

Here’s the thing about hospitals and doctors that I didn’t know before – Your appearance matters! That’s why I put many of the items on the following list. At some point, a doctor (probably an over-worked resident) will have to make a judgement call on if it is time to send you home. You want to make this an easy decision. You make it easy by looking like you don’t belong in the damn hospital! Look around – there are some sad looking folks in the hospital. They are on day four in that gown, hair all sticking up, un-shaven, dirty socks. Don’t be that person!

Your Hospital Go Bag

That’s where the Go Bag comes in. A Go Bag is a pre-packed bag of some sort that you have stashed in a closet and ready to go. Sure, your spouse or family member could bring you things from home, but having a bag ready to go makes life easier for everyone – mainly you. So find a bag that’s easy to recognize – red or bright yellow – and start throwing stuff into it from time to time. Before you know it, you will have a fully stocked Go Bag that’s ready to grab and run.

Parents know what I’m talking about. This is just an updated version of the bag you kept next to the door for the last five months of pregnancy – you know…just in case.

So here are the things I wish I had pre-packed and why:

Pajamas/t-shirt – Hospital gowns suck. The bows (knots eventually) you tie in the back always poke you in the wrong place. And who wants to be seen in one?! Sure, if you are off to surgery, you will have to wear one, but if you are post-surgery, or just stuck there while they evaluate or treat you with antibiotics, get into your own clothes as soon as you can. You will:
• Feel better
• Be more likely to get up and move around (more on this later)
• Look like you don’t belong in the hospital

It may be impossible to put on a comfy t-shirt if they have an IV in your arm. But sooner or later they will have to disconnect it for one reason or another. This is your chance to break out of that ridiculous gown.

Extra Underwear – If you HAVE to be stuck in the gown, at least get some underwear on so your butt is not hanging out every time you stand up. Sure, you came in wearing underwear, but by day three you will want a change.

Slippers – Again, you want to get up and move around as much as you can – and they are not going to let you walk around unless you have either slippers with rubber soles or their goofy hospital socks with rubber tread on the bottom. Your slippers will be much better than those socks. You can put them on and take them off as needed – the socks they give you are much harder for you to put on and take off by yourself, and they get dirty. You really don’t want to wander the halls in those socks then come back and put all the dirt you collected into the bed with you. Slippers – not flip flops!

Shave Kit – If you are a guy, you want to clean up whenever you can, and shaving is part of that. Like I said, you want to look good and make the doctors and nurses to wonder why you are still here.

Hydrocortisone Cream/spray – You are going to be flat on your back a lot. By day three or four your back is going to start getting red and angry. A little drug store Hydrocortisone can work wonders. Sure, they might have something in the hospital, but they will charge you $100 for it minimum and it might take hours or days for the request to work its way from the nurse to your doctor and back to the nurse and then to you. Just bring your own.

Hair Stuff – Whatever you need to look normal, bring some. They have shampoo in the room, but if you need gel or hair spray, bring it with you. Ladies, you can probably get away with a wrap or scarf. At least throw in some hair ties. Just keep it neat.

Contact Lens Kit – If you need surgery, they will probably make you take your contact lenses out. If you want to put them back in later you will a need a case and some solution. Or just bring another pair (or two or three if you wear daily lenses).

Backup Glasses – You may not feel like messing with contacts right after surgery or treatment but having your glasses will make you feel a hundred times better. Being blind sucks! No one wants to have to just listen to the TV.

Reading Glasses – If you need them (don’t we all?) you want to have them in your kit. Nothing is worse than having a fully charged phone but not being able to read the damn thing. Pack an old pair of readers.

Chargers/cables – I didn’t realize that I only had one charge cable for my Apple Watch, it is embedded into a stand I have next to the bed. So… no watch for me after day two. If it’s electronic and it has a battery, get an extra charger and pack it. You may think you know where all your chargers and cables are, but describing the location to a friend or family member may be harder than expected. “You know, it’s under the thing in kitchen. The brown thing! You know, next to Grandma’s chair.”

Ear Buds – These are critical if you are in a shared room or a ward. But even in a private room they make anything to listen to on your phone or laptop better.

Hand Sanitizer – Holy crap yes. Bring sanitizer. Hospitals are wonderful places with people who work harder than anyone should have to, but they are also full of sick people and germs! You will probably get sent home with a round of antibiotics just in case you came into contact with one of those super bugs. It’s real, keep your hands clean.

Metamucil Packets – Huh?? You say? Well you are now in a facility where everyone you meet is seriously interested in your bowel habits. At least four times a day someone will ask. Being in a strange place, with strange food, no exercise, and odd sleeping hours could get anyone backed up. And if you are on pain meds, well Opioid-Induced Constipation is a real thing. So bring some Metamucil in the packets and take it three times a day. I’m not kidding, it’s important. You don’t poo – you don’t get to go home.

Melatonin – Sleep in the hospital is a precious thing. If you need something to help you sleep, pack it in. I’ve been taking melatonin every night so long that I can’t get to sleep with out it. Kind of a got-to-have item on my list.

Benadryl – If you have any kind of allergies, pack some Benadryl. Again, yes they have it at the hospital but it can be a pain to get them to prescribe it. I really needed it because any opioid pain med makes me break out in an itchy rash. Benadryl knocks it right down. But some doctors don’t want to prescribe it or just take forever to add it to the chart. I say bring your own.

Snacks – Yes pack some snacks! They will feed you well during the day, but from 6:00 PM till 8:00 AM you will be on your own. Throw some Pop-Tarts or trail mix packs in your go bag so you can make it through the night. Your guests and significant other will thank you too.

Quarters/Change – If all else fails you may have to hit the vending machines. Some don’t take credit cards and some of the ones that do – don’t work. Best to have a hand full of good old-fashioned quarters. Trust me, those long overnight hours drag on and on when they are waking you up every hour for something. Having a nice snack can make the night go a little smoother.

Chapstick – I don’t know how they do it, but hospitals are super dry. They spilled some water on the floor in my room and by the time they could get someone to come clean it up it had evaporated. Your lips will get chapped.

Get Up and Move

Several of the items on the list are designed to encourage you to get up and move around, not just stay in the bed. Do it! This is important for a few reasons:

  • It’s good for you – Here’s a fun sentence straight from the medical journals – “Pulmonary complications remain the most important cause of postoperative morbidity and mortality.” One of the best ways to prevent these postoperative pulmonary complications (PPCs) is to get up and move! Or what the doctors call “mobilization and early ambulation.” So, put on you comfy PJs and slippers and wander the halls.
  • Oh, the people you’ll meet – The doctors and nurses will see you wandering by their station at all hours and be more inclined to think you are ready to go home. Morning is a really good time to get out of the room if you can. The doctors and nurses all make rounds and visit each patient – it’s a good time to bump into your doctor looking good and ready to go home! Smile and wave!
  • Beat Cabin Fever – By day five of my stay I was getting really down. I was SO ready to go home. Getting out of the room and just looking out of a different window really helped me get through that last night and day.

So what did I miss? Anything else you should have ready to go? Other good lessons learned?


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