I’m one of those loyal customers, the kind who likes to stay at the same place over and over again. The rewards program is pretty good – I get a few benefits. Perks include upgraded rooms, no waiting in lines and special treatment, like extra linens, free coffee and being allowed to stay in the room during change-of-shift. Wait, what?

You guessed it. We get points with every hospital stay. Both our children are diagnosed with congenital heart defects #CHD (among other diagnoses). We’ve had more open-heart surgeries and heart procedures than we can count. Our baby girl stayed in the NICU for several months after her birth; she stayed three months after just one of her surgeries. Once, she stayed so long, I had to call AAA to get my car battery jumped when she was discharged. I’m not going to lie: it sucks having a child in the hospital (no matter how minor or serious the diagnosis.) It doesn’t matter the age, most children loathe the hospital. Being a frequent flier, we’ve learned a few things along the way. There may not be a pool or spa, but there is room service and turn-down service at the push of a button. Here’s what to bring to  make the most of your child’s hospital stay:

1. Personal electronics (cell phone, tablet, laptop, e-reader)

Anything and everything that allows you to communicate with the outside world. Most hospitals have free WiFi so be sure to utilize it rather than using your own data. It’s a good idea to have a good virus protection software as well because the WiFi is public (i.e.: probably not the best time to do your online banking). You also need these devices to keep your child busy, entertained and/or relaxed as the hours tick.

2. An extension cord

For real. There’s nothing more aggravating than having to stop in the middle of a movie to plug in your laptop wayyyyyy over there, by the window in the corner of the room, when your child is stuck in bed wayyyyy over here. Be sure to plug electronics into the right outlet. Don’t plug things into red outlets. Save those for hospital stuff. Also, be sure to bring a household cord and not one of those humongous orange commercial ones. It’s a good idea to pick one with a couple of outlets, because – ya know – you need to check Facebook on your phone when your child is watching Frozen for the 347th time.

3. The right apps (already downloaded)

WHITE NOISE! Find a good white noise app and load it to everything (darn batteries). Hospitals are NOT quiet at night. Whether it’s the staff talking (and laughing and calling out to each other) or it’s the machines beeping in your room or the rooms next door, white noise cranked up will help drown out unwanted sounds. Rain, fan, vacuum… anything plain works awesome. Other apps include voice command (like when you need information fast because you’re snooping and listening to the doctors as they round near the door), games for your child that don’t take too much space, a medical dictionary, a voice recorder in case you need to take notes on something, a flashlight, and your e-mail app.

4. THE list

The list of medications, if any, your child is currently taking. Not only the names, but the doses and concentrations. We have a sheet of paper that has our daughter’s diagnoses (simplified), some of her main surgeries, the names and phone numbers of her main physicians, my husband and my name and phone number, and our medical insurance information. Below this is her schedule of medications so the nurses/physicians know EXACTLY what and when she takes every day. And do everyone a favor – when you list a medication, give the trade name and generic name, the dosage units (which is usually the number after the name and in milligrams or grams or some measure), the administration units (how much your child is supposed to take – like 1 tablet), and any concentration/dosage strength. This is really important.

For example: Furosemide – Lasix, 20mg Tablet, Give 1/2 tablet by mouth 3 times a day. 7am, 1pm, 7pm  (Doctors will want to know this child takes 20 mg Lasix three times a day, whereas you probably say your child takes Lasix three times a day) See the difference?

Seriously. This is SUPER HELPFUL. Make copies and keep it updated with every change.

5. Second favorite toy/blanket/lovie

I say second because… things get lost. You switch rooms. Bed linens get changed regularly. Emergencies happen. It would be a tragedy if the FAVE lovie went into the trash outside the hospital or into the big washers on the bottom floor (and then in the trash.) If you absolutely have to, then go ahead and bring the numero uno. Just put a piece of tape on it with child’s name. If your child is younger, use a Band Aid and a sharpie and pretend the toy has an owie, too.

6. Personal toiletries

For you and your child. Whatever you both use on your face, your teeth, your hair and your hands, bring it. Baby wipes/face wipes are amazing. Zip Lock those bad boys and label the bag with your child’s name. If you are going to have a long stay and showers are involved, bring a set of cheap flip-flops for the shower. I’m not kidding.

Tip: Ask for a BIG stack of wash cloths and a few extra towels the minute you get settled in the room. You’ll use wash cloths for everything. If the nurse won’t bring them, ask the support staff. We always make friends with the people who clean the room and thank them when they provide us with linens every day without even asking.

7. Books, movies, head phones/ear buds (2 sets) and activities to do in bed

Books are great, but you will probably be reading more than your child. Hospital kids don’t feel well and it takes brain power to read. Most of the time, movies are entertaining and don’t require energy. Even my read-a-holic son prefers movies in the hospital. The hospital has a great collection of DVDs (ask the Child Life Services dept where to find them), but if your child has a favorite (Jurassic World!!!), be sure to bring it along. Headphones are great. Ear buds work as well, but they always break for us and then we’re stuck without them so I always bring a few sets. Note: Hospitals have DVD players, sometimes in the rooms, but in our experience, they’re broken more often than not so we bring a laptop.

Things like clay kits, old-school card/domino houses, nail design, bracelet-making kits, etc. work well. Anything that can be done on a tray table while sitting in bed. Warning: be careful with projects that contain tiny items like beads because IV and monitor wires/leads will knock things over. 10 million plastic beads in your child’s bed is no fun!

8. Treats/Thank You’s for the staff

A little goes a long way. We bring thank you cards and fancy pens and write notes when someone does something super helpful or goes out of her way. We give them when we’re being discharged. We have “hospital friends” who bring bags of candy to offer the nurses. Hey, if you’re going to Starbucks, ask your nurse if he/she wants something. You’ll get special treatment for life!! It’s your choice, but even a nice note or picture from your child is nice.

9. Pictures (printed)

It’s important your child feel like he or she is still part of the real world. Pictures of family, friends and pets are important. Use a scrapbook, tape them to the side of the bed (if allowed) or the walls or just go through the loose photos. Share stories. Some kids feel sad and homesick, as if the world is going on without them. Pictures help keep them grounded in their worlds.

10. Anything that provides comfort

This applies to you and your child. Loose, comfortable clothing because you’ll be sitting around, kicking up your feet and getting into strange positions on those awful hospital chairs. Sweaters or cozy sweatshirts because hospitals are cold! If your child is allowed to wear regular clothes instead of a hospital gown, make sure the clothes are loose enough for all the stickers, leads, monitor wires and IV lines have room to move. Slippers are great for short walks, trips to the bathroom or lazy walks to the cafeteria when it’s been so many days you don’t care what people think anymore.

For nighttime, many parents like to bring a cot mat or piece of foam to lie on when sleeping on the chair-fold-into-bed thing. Some people bring their own pillows.

Snacks or homemade food, but ONLY if it’s approved by your child’s doctor. It’s very helpful, though, to have snacks or food on hand for you. You’ll save money, it’s healthier (you don’t keep running to the vending machine) and you don’t have to leave the room to go somewhere (because some days are worse than others and you can’t leave.)

Bonus: Bring your sense of humor. You will need to laugh when things get rough. Bring your strength. You’ll need it and so will your child. Bring your courage. Sometimes you need to be an advocate. Sometimes YOU know better and you’ll need to speak up. Bring your patience. Hospitals are busy. Nurses are human. Most of all, bring all your love and attention. Your child is scared, even if he/she doesn’t show it.

Featured photo credit: Tiberiu Ana via flickr.com

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