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Taking Care of Self When a Child is in the Hospital

When the doctor said, “Your son needs surgery. Check into the hospital at 9 o’clock on Friday morning,” my head started spinning. I was calculating all the things I would need to remember to make his stay as comfortable and glitch-free as possible. I made sure I had the correct paperwork, a list of his medications and directions for finding my way around the hospital.

I also made sure I threw something to occupy myself into the bag, but I never gave any thought to my needs or comfort. Big mistake. From hunger and thirst to upset stomach, I experienced a wide array of issues that could have been easily remedied had I been better prepared.

If you need to accompany a child or loved one to the hospital, here are a few things to remember:

Take a water bottle and snacks. Since we are not early risers, I took my son to the hospital without breakfast in my stomach. After turning him over to a nurse and watching them disappear behind the double doors, I realized how hungry and thirsty I was. I really wanted a cup of coffee but couldn’t find that complimentary pot in the waiting room. Had I thrown a couple granola bars and a water bottle in my bag, I wouldn’t have run into further problems the rest of the day. “I always bring something that I can eat without leaving the room,” says Jennifer Burcke, mother of two. “I never want to leave in case my child wakes up or a doctor comes in.” Preparing the night before always pays off.

Take cash. I changed handbags at the last minute – throwing my debit card and driver’s licence into a tote with my writing pad. When I went to the coffee shop to get a coffee and a muffin, however, I was a bit embarrassed to use my debit card for such a small amount. And if your hospital trip is in the middle of the night, you may need to rely on a vending machine that requires cash for your sustenance.

Have your own medications. You never know how long you might get stuck somewhere. If you take regular medications, it’s always a good idea to keep some in your purse. The muffin I bought in the hospital coffee shop did not sit right in my stomach. But since I changed bags, my regular stomach remedy was not there for me. Neither was my standby of mint chewing gum. I suffered the rest of the day with a needless stomachache when I was supposed to be there to make sure my son was comfortable.

Be fully charged. I enjoyed playing with my new cell phone while my son was in surgery. But I didn’t realize how fast the battery would drain by surfing the Internet. Had I not fully charged it the night before, I would have been stuck with no way of communication. The same goes for your Kindle or iPad, if you want to be able to enjoy them the entire time you are away from home.

Dress in layers. You never know what the temperature might be in a public setting. I found the hospital waiting room comfortable. But when my son was out of surgery and the nurse took me to his room, it was considerably cooler. “I would wear a long sleeved shirt, a zip-up hoodie and a zip-up windbreaker,” says Katie Driscoll, mother of three. “You never know if it will be too hot or too cold, and you don’t want to carry a heavy coat around.”

Also a grandmother, Driscoll is accustomed to waiting long hours in a hospital for babies to arrive. She keeps a bag packed and ready to go for when the call comes. “The things I was truly glad I had with me,” she says, “were the throw, travel pillow, Tylenol, snacks, water, money, electronic devices (phone, camera, Kindle) and their chargers, tissues, cough drops, eyeglass cleaner and hair brush.”

Having a child in the hospital is always a stressful situation. Taking care of yourself is one of the best ways that you can also take care of them. As they tell you on an aircraft, “If you are traveling with a child, secure your mask on first, and then assist your child.”

Freelance writer Carol has been to the hospital many times with her five boys and only daughter – mostly on an emergency basis.

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