Patients value comfort, dignity and privacy during a hospital stay; however, these things are often overlooked by hospitals and medical staff who focus primarily on physiology. Therefore, we’ve put together some tips to help make you or a loved one’s next hospital stay a little more pleasant.
Paperwork and information
The most important thing to bring is information about you and your health — ID and insurance cards, test results, doctor’s orders, preauthorizations. Bring a copy of your advance health care directives, such as a durable power of attorney or living will. (If you don’t have one, the hospital chaplain or social worker can put one in place for you.)
Have your medication list ready, including over-the-counter drugs, vitamins and supplements. Note the dosage and dosing schedule. Alternatively, bring your meds in their original bottles.
If you have an implanted device such as a pacemaker, nerve stimulator or insulin pump, note the make and model and bring any attachments or controllers. It’s also wise to write down the contact information of your outpatient doctors so your hospital team can get in touch with them if needed.
Hospitals may charge 5-star hotel rates, but they don’t provide the high-end toiletries, bedding or room service. Most of the time, you won’t find any personal care items in your hospital room except for a few basic items. Maintain your daily hygiene routine will provide you comfort and dignity during your hospital stay, so bring your own toiletries. Don’t forget lip balm and nail file, as chapped lips and overgrown nails are sure to plague you.
If you don’t want to be limited to wearing a hospital gown, bring extra underwear, socks, pajamas or a robe and a pair of rubber-soled slippers. Keep in mind that these should be clothes you’re willing to part with, as they may get soiled, cut or discarded.
Consider wearing glasses instead of contact lenses. You’ll be sleeping off and on. Leaving contact lenses in for too long can lead to corneal abrasions. Remember reading glasses, too. Bring storage cases for your dentures and hearing aids. These customized items can be costly to replace, so you don’t want to lose them in the hospital.
If you have obstructive sleep apnea and use a CPAP machine at night, bring it. Your own mask will fit better than the standard ones from the hospital. If you have a walker, wheelchair or crutches, bring them as well. Even if you don’t use them while in the hospital, you may need them to leave upon discharge.
Communication and entertainment
Keeping in touch with our loved ones eases the stress of hospitalization. Most hospitals now allow cellphones and have free Wi-Fi. Have a pen and notepad for instructions and questions as you talk with your medical team.
You may have some down time between tests, treatments and rest, so bring a book to read, a laptop or tablet, and headphones. We recommend keeping the number of electronic devices to a minimum because they’re heavy to lug around and may get lost or broken. Of course, don’t forget the chargers!
What not to pack
Leave jewelry, money and other valuables at home. Jewelry poses risk because of how your body may change during the hospital stay. Intravenous fluids can make your fingers swell. Hospital staff won’t hesitate to cut off your heirloom ring to save your finger. Tongue rings and ear studs can fall off and become a choking hazard. Tobacco and vaping products are prohibited (hospitals will provide nicotine patches). Although home-cooked meals and favorite snacks comfort our heart and soul, you may not be allowed to have any due to the need to monitor and restrict your oral intake.
Hospital rooms don’t have much storage space, so pack your things in a duffel bag or rolling suitcase. You may be moved from one room to another during your stay, needing to pack up and go. Restrictions on visitors is common during the COVID-19 pandemic, so if you forget something, it’ll be hard for a family member or friend to bring it to you. Plan ahead and your hospital stay will be much more manageable.
Qing Yang and Kevin Parker are a married couple and live in Springfield. Dr. Yang received her medical degree from Yale University School of Medicine and completed residency training at Massachusetts General Hospital. She is an anesthesiologist at HSHS Medical Group. Parker has helped formulate and administer public policy at various city and state governments around the country. He is formerly the group chief information officer for education with the Illinois Department of Innovation and Technology. This column is not intended to substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. The opinions are those of the writers and do not represent the views of their employers.