What parents should know for a children’s hospital stay — Part 1: What to pack

While our little warrior is healing so nicely at home, I’ve been feeling the need to give back. I need to pay it forward in any way I can. One thing I know pretty well now is hospital stays. I hope most of you never have to take advantage of this list, but there are a few out there for whom, regardless of hospital, I want to share what I’ve discovered.

Part one has seven packing suggestions, and I will share a second list on how better handle some of the situations we’ve encountered.

1. Don’t underestimate your personal care needs.
I say this because the 5-10 min you take for showering a day can be the one thing that helps you unwind and re-focus. For me, the child-sized towels just didn’t cut it. That, and the cold water. So my tip is bring grown-up towels from home (or buy beach towels at Target or the gas station if you can’t get home) and bring your favorite soap, because the only other option is probably for babies, and while you love them, you might need something else to feel clean and refreshed and not another reminder that you’re in a child’s hospital.

Extra tip for ladies: I hated being cold with wet hair after my showers, (room temp is fickle), so I had a hair dryer. But if Reese was sleeping I used it in the locker room or down in the public bathrooms on the floor.

Extra tip: about that hot water. If you can’t seem to get hot enough water or have little water pressure, as was our case, look for a locker room. Having used the PICU showers several times for our stays, we knew they had hot, strong showers. So despite the walk and the lugging of the personal supplies, it was worth it to me to get a real shower. 

2. Go with the bare minimum for ICU stays.
Ok, so I know this seems to counter the above suggestions. But here’s the thing, if you know you’ll only be in ICU 1-2 nights, you can leave the details in the car and get them when you move to a private room. The ICU space is very small, and for our visit the lockers were tiny. So when we’re there, we go with the camping-style basics of hygiene and leave the luxuries for later.

Note: This is where donated toiletries go — to families in ICU areas that ended up there without expecting it and need overnight supplies. These are the parents who can’t even remember the last time they brushed their teeth. Been there, no fun. A GREAT cause in my opinion. 🙂

3. Pack snacks.
Though you wouldn’t be able to eat in the ICU, you can still save money and have your preferred snacks with you. You’ll just have to go eat them in the waiting areas. And when you have a room to yourselves, snacks are so helpful. I suggest whatever’s easy for breakfast because if there’s ever a time NOT to leave the room, it’s between 7-10am. Of course, I still ran down for coffee most days thanks to my gift card (see No. 4). But, we had Cliff granola bars and fruit. Oh, and my new favorite burst of energy comes from Mamma Chia. I love the texture compared to other baby food pouches. (Yes, I’ve tried baby pouches).

4. Gift cards rule.
Getting coffee leads me to my favorite tip. Ask for gift cards! If you have loved ones trying to help you, they can get you gift cards. Maybe it’s for restaurants near the hospital or in our case, our beloved Cook Childrens has a full-sized Starbucks in it. So I was able to get my favorite form of caffeine every day, and get Reese’s favorite treat, pumpkin bread, and know the cost was covered by our friends. Such a good feeling and one less thing to stress about! Also, our hospital has one universal gift card that can work at the smoothie shop, cafeteria and gift shop. So for those looking to surprise someone, you might call or go online to the hospital to look for an option like that.

5Don’t worry about toys. 
In our experience, the true kids hospitals have an amazing Child Life Services team, and they have loads of toys available for your kids. We only brought two of her most-used things, in case they didn’t have anything similar. For big kids they have game consoles to check out and if your child can leave the room, there are cool hang out areas on every floor! Our healthy kid thinks the hospital is as cool as going to the zoo!

6. Don’t forget noise canceling stuff.
This goes for you and for your little patient. We found bringing our ocean waves sound machine not only helped Reese feel at home, it drowned out the can’t-be-helped noises from beeping machines and unhappy children, both in the ICU and within our private room.

If you have fancy headphones or ear buds, make sure you have them. Rooms are small and if you plan to watch any TV/movies on a a tablet or laptop, definitely bringing them so your kiddo can sleep in peace.

Note: On our last visit we never watched TV or our computers in 7 days. We surfed our phones plenty, but your time is so constantly interrupted we never saw room in the day to turn on a show. 

7. Something to clear your head, maybe. 

Again, it all depends on your situation I think. You deserve something for yourself — whether it’s US Weekly or a chess set, bring your hobby for down time. It just didn’t work for us. Partly because Reese is so young and has to be played with, and partly because we chose to always be involved in her care… we never had quiet time to do any of the bill paying, “catch up on mail” To Do list kind of stuff, even though we brought a whole bag of it. So leave it at home if you have a little one like us. I am sure if you have an older kid who watches TV and can be self-entertained more you might have time to knit or read or whatever. We just couldn’t ever get focused long enough.

The one thing I did to relax, other than hot showers, was use my oils. I didn’t want to do much because I am cautious about how sensitive Reese might be to the smells both as a patient and as an epileptic. I was lucky to get my hands on a friend’s recipe for an anti-anxiety combo of oils. It smells earthy and comforting and I would inhale a whiff from my wrists or my scarf all during the nine hours of surgery so I didn’t rip off some poor innocent person’s head as I tend to do when I’m nervous. I also kept up with my night time regimen of Peace & Calming and Valor on my feet and neck to help me sleep and not clench my teeth.

Note: I did use rub the peaceful one on Reese’s feet and her lovey blanket, when she was getting tired of sitting in her crib all day or when we knew the lab team was coming to take more blood. I figured at that point anything I could do to help her and me relax was worth it. 

A second list is coming for how to prepare for the stay….