Packing for a hospital stay: The 15 things you’ll be glad to have

So you’re about to head off to the hospital, and it looks like you’ll be there for a while. Here’s a list of things you might want to bring with you, to make yourself more comfortable and to help the time pass.

Please note that depending on your circumstances, some of these things may not make the cut — I had three situations in mind when I wrote this list (my own long hospital stay after a bad car accident; my father’s and father-in-law’s stays after heart surgery; and an expecting mom’s very extended bed rest in the antepartum ward), and items that work for my friend (e.g., a craft project) wouldn’t have worked for me, recovering from a broken collarbone (similarly, I survived on books, but my FIL found himself unable to concentrate on reading).

1. Your cell phone — Keeping in touch with friends and family is crucially important, and while hospital rooms typically have a landline phone, it’s also typically huge and on a table or windowsill far out of reach. Remember to bring your power cord, and, if you don’t have one built into your phone (or never got around to figuring out how to use it), your address book.

2. A small notebook and a pen — You’ll think of questions to ask your doctor, or things you’d like your family to bring you — or someone will tell you something in a phone call, and you’ll want to take notes.

3. Comfortable clothing — Those hospital gowns, even the newer ones, are a sad story. Bring a robe for when they let you start walking the halls, and bring comfortable slippers (non-skid bottoms are a bonus — this is no time for a slip-and-fall). My father-in-law, cold except in the tropics, needed a wooly hat to be comfortable, and you might want a thick shirt or a cardigan sweater for a bed jacket (avoid things you have to pull over your head). A throw blanket or a shawl might be helpful, and would add a welcome shot of color to a room that is likely to be all-cream or all-beige.

4. Earphones and a TV substitute — It’s just about impossible to hear the sound on a hospital TV. All too often, it comes out of that same paddle that your nurse call-button is on, and you might as well be listening to a distant group of quacking ducks. In fact, the TV is generally so small, and so far away, that it’s useless too. If your roommate is watching TV at the same time, there’s just no hope at all for you.

Bring a pair of earphones, for sure. Get your hands on a DVD player or an iPad (or your laptop), subscribe to Netflix, and watch shows close up. When you’re choosing movies to bring with you (if you’ve chosen the DVD player option), make them old favorites, or light-hearted summer-type flicks — your attention span and ability to focus won’t be up to a heavy drama, and you may well be more reactive to emotions than usual. Also, there’s every chance in the world your viewing will be interrupted by a blood pressure check (or a meal, or one of a dozen different visits you’ll receive in a given day), so choose films that can be stopped and started repeatedly and still entertain you.

5. A source of music — You already have the earphones, so add in an iPod or a Nano, and load it with your favorite music. If you’ll have a room to yourself, bring a speaker — either one that your device plugs into, or a wireless one like the Jawbone Jambox. Or keep it simple and bring a radio (they usually have an earphone jack).

6. Earplugs — If you have a roommate, there’s a good chance that you’ll have different ideas about what to watch on TV, or listen to on the radio, and when. Even if you don’t have a roommate, hospitals are noisy places. Bring a pair of earplugs, and consider bringing a battery-powered machine that will play you the sound of ocean surf, or white noise (if you prefer).

Photo by Kyle Taylor

7. Books — For me, it was lots of books. A Kindle, or other e-reader, would have been brilliant, because they’re light, easy to hold, and can be refilled with a visit to Amazon.

8. Craft project — Bring your knitting, or your needlepoint. As I mentioned, there are a lot of interruptions during a day in the hospital, so choose a pattern that you can drop easily when they come to take you down for x-rays.

9. Reading light/eye mask — The lighting in every hospital room I’ve seen has been dreadful. Whatever’s not fluorescent is distant and poorly-located for anything but general illumination. Buy yourself a cheap floor lamp from IKEA or Walmart and place it next to your bed (a table lamp isn’t as good an idea because the available tables, a “bedside” one that ends up in a corner and a rolling overbed table, get moved around a lot, and your lamp may end up on the floor).

The flip side of needing light is getting too much light — especially likely if you have a roommate, but there’s a lot of light leakage from the hall during the night, too. Bring an eye mask, like the ones they sell for use on airplanes.

10. Comfortable pillow — Hospital pillows are typically very firm. They’re also wrapped in plastic — for your own good, of course, but the result is unpleasant. Bring a comfortable pillow from home (you might want to add one of those u-shaped travel neck pillows, since you’ll be doing a good deal of sleeping on your back). Know that when you go home, you’ll want to have both professionally cleaned, since hospitals are dirty places. Use colorful pillowcases, so that the nurses who change your bed recognize which pillows are yours.

11. Essential toiletries — You’ll be given a packet of toiletries (toothbrush, toothpaste, mouthwash, shampoo, soap), none of which will be your preferred brand. Bring your own toothbrush from home (there will be a plug for your buzzy toothbrush, if you have one), and your own soap, toothpaste, and shampoo. Bring your own hand lotion and moisturizer (you’ll find that hospital air is drying), and bring, too, at least one of those little bottles of disinfecting gel for your hands. Your hospital room will have a gel dispenser, but it’s usually located by the door.

Remember how I said that hospitals are dirty? Protect yourself with the disinfecting gel, whether you’re sharing a bathroom with a roommate or not. Also helpful: Get one of those plastic canisters of disinfecting wipes, so you or your visitors can wipe down your rolling overbed tabletop and your bed rails from time to time.

12. Nail clippers and file — It is desperately irritating to have long or broken nails, or frayed cuticles, catch on the sheets. Bring basic supplies to keep your nails short and smooth; pack toenail clippers as well, and recruit someone who really loves you to tidy up the bits you can’t reach.

13. A framed picture, or a couple of unframed ones (don’t forget a roll of tape for the unframed ones)

14. A tray you can put on your rolling overbed table, to contain all these small bits — It needs to be shallow, so you can see over its edge even while you’re lying down, and it needs to have a non-skid bottom, so it doesn’t fly off when the table is moved suddenly. A couple of these interlocking ones, available from Amazon, would do the trick (you could tape those unframed photos to the sides of the trays, by the way). Consider, also, a neck chain for your glasses, especially if you, like me, only use them for one distance or another, and frequently remove them.

15. A list of your normal medications, and a small supply of your non-prescription meds — The list will be useful only at the very beginning of your stay, but it’ll be crucially important then. Please note that CareZone Family‘s medications feature does a terrific job of gathering and storing that information, and if you use the app, your list will be on your phone for easy access.

As soon as you’re in the hospital’s hands, your normal list gets replaced by a medication list tailored to your immediate needs. The small supply of your usual non-prescription meds is a resource in case your doctor agrees that you should continue your multi-vitamin or probiotic, for example, but the hospital pharmacy doesn’t happen to carry your preferred brand.

Are there other things that have helped you or someone you were caring for be more comfortable in a hospital room? Please add a comment with your suggestion, so this post can be of even more help to people getting ready for a hospital stay!

Posted July 13, 2013 by m-a