No one ever wants to go through having their child in the hospital. Last year, our daughter spent a week in the hospital, and we are lucky to have a great hospital near us that made our stay as positive as it could have been, but I am sharing some things we learned from our experience, for making the best of a hospital stay.
~ If this is a planned hospital stay, you can try to prepare your child so they have an idea as far as what to expect. There are books geared towards preparing kids for surgery or a hospital stay, or you can also play doctor. For instance, my kids have a real stethoscope at home that they play with, so they know what it does, and it helped to alleviate any fears for my daughter anytime someone needed to listen to her heart.
~ Bring a blanket and/or other comfort items from home. For my six year old, this was one of her favorite blankets. Not her absolute favorite, especially just in case anything happened to it, but a cute pink blanket with her name and a princess embroidered on it. She also brought “Katie”, her favorite stuffed animal. It made her feel more at home and also gave doctors a chance to connect with her since it was something they could talk to her about and break the ice.
~ PJs and changes of clothing. My daughter was happy to be able to wear her own nightgown in the hospital. Although this may not always be possible, I know that my daughter was much more comfortable wearing one of her own nightgowns. We also bought her a new one as a gift while she was there.
~ DVDs, crafts, etc. Our hospital room came equipped with a DVD player, and there was a small DVD library available to patients, but we also treated our daughter to a few new DVDs that were her favorite and some from our own collection at home to help pass the time. We also did a lot of coloring, activity pages, and small crafts (like making beaded bracelets). The pediatric wing of the hospital had volunteers making rounds and bringing stuff to the kids, such as crayons and coloring pages, which was a great way to get us started until one of us could get home to grab some more.
~ White noise app. My kids are used to some kind of white noise when they go to bed at home (a fan, relaxing music, etc), and so we have apps for this on our phones when we travel. I found this extremely useful for the hospital, since there is so much noise at nighttime. Between roommates, nurses checking vitals every 4 hours, noise from the hallway, etc., it was extremely difficult to sleep. I found that we both slept better when there was some background noise. The app I have on my phone is free, and I chose a combination of rain and relaxing orchestral music to help us get some rest.
~ Make the hospital room comfortable. A balloon or taping a family photo where your child can see it helps to make the room feel a little more inviting.
~ Include siblings. Sometimes they may not be able to visit, but they can participate in other ways. Our 3 year old picked out a stuffed animal for her big sister, and was also allowed to get one for herself. We made a “Welcome Home” sign when it was time to welcome her sister back home. And the grandparents spent some special time with her so that she had some attention.
~ Ask the hospital staff. Our hospital has a lot of amenities for families that have a child in the hospital, from a play room to a nutrition room, to a Ronald McDonald House in an adjoining building. We were unprepared for our hospital stay and were checked into our room late at night, and it was a relief to be able to grab a toothbrush and toothpaste before trying to get some rest.
~ Make sure you take care of yourself too. It is very easy to get emotionally and physically drained in a short amount of time. It is important to rest when you can and also make sure you eat and drink. If possible, trade off with a spouse to make a trip home for supplies, or have someone bring you things you may need (toiletries, change of clothing, etc.). I felt a lot better when I was able to grab some healthy nutritional bars and get hydrated with a few cups of hot tea after not eating all day.
~ It is difficult for me to ask people for help, but people really do want to help – so reach out to your support network and accept help if you need it. I don’t know how I would have gotten through my daughter’s week in the hospital without the help of others – from someone staying in the hospital room with my daughter while I grabbed something from the cafeteria, to trading off with my husband so I could get a hot shower at home, or even just a friend returning a bag of library books so I had one less thing to think about.
Having a child in the hospital is a tough experience, but it helps to prepare yourself when possible and take advantage of all the resources you can.