The home-to-hospital yo-yo

After the recent disaster of going to London unprepared to stay, and more regular trips now on the cards, I thought it would be a good time to share my experience of being in and out of hospital, and give some tips for anyone in the same situation.

First and foremost, it’s the ultimate Boy Scout rule – always be prepared! Living in and out of hospital can be totally exhausting, so to be as ready as you can be is really important. I keep a bag packed to make the last minute calls in easier to manage; rather than running round like a blue-arsed fly when Hugo takes a turn for the worse, everything is there ready to go. Bit depressing that this is necessary, yes. But necessary it is.

I’ve now perfected my hospital bag. Here is what I’ve found most helpful in way of preparation:

  • Always, always, always have hand cream on you. It’s essential. You wash your hands more times than you’ll think possible, and without a good cream you may get what I call ‘hospital hands’ – dry, cracked and bleeding knuckles. My favourite is Nivea’s staple hand creme.
  • Keep a spare set of essential toiletries packed at all times – toothbrush and toothpaste, deodorant, face wipes and everything you need for a good shower. You don’t want to be rushing around trying to remember what you need as you will, inevitably, forget something.
  • Pack plenty of clean underwear! Socks, too. No explanation needed, really. You don’t want to be caught short here.
  • Always carry pjs. Whether you’re the type to wear pyjamas as standard at home, you will want to (and probably have to) wear them at hospital.
  • Take spare clothes. At the very least, some basic tops and a warm, cosy jumper. Again, pretty self-explanatory, but it took me a few trips to remember to keep some packed in a bag.
  • Something to alleviate the boredom. You will, inevitably, be waiting around for a long time when you visit hospital. Even with the best will in the world, treatments and procedures cannot always run to time, so you need to be ready to amuse yourself. If you are planning on taking devices (or anything of value), I’d check first there is somewhere secure for you to leave things. On Rays, most of the bed spaces (I believe) have a coin-operated locker. Don’t take anything valuable if you can’t lock it away!
  • Chargers, for your phone and any other devices you take. Particularly if they are with you to combat boredom! (And don’t do what I’ve done on several occasions and leave them behind. It becomes expensive, fast.)

I would also urge you to take whatever makes you feel yourself and able to face the day head-on. Being with your poorly baby in hospital can be incredibly difficult and upsetting. Some people are happy wandering around in their pjs, while others need to have their hair done and full face of slap on to feel ready to face the world. Just go with whatever you feel you need to do to make the best of being in that environment. Don’t worry about other people, or what they think. They don’t matter – your sanity does. I’m a bit middle-of-the-road here; I take my make-up and GHD’s with me so I can make myself feel and look a bit better, but I also tend to live in my pjs from the moment we’re admitted (and yes, that includes going to the shop or the canteen. I’m not fussed; I have nice pjs). There’s no right or wrong.

It’s harder to keep a bag ready and waiting for Hugo, as he uses everything on a daily basis – milk, dummies, meds (we’ve previously made the mistake of turning up at hospital without his meds, thinking they would provide them. They can, but it can take hours as they need new prescriptions. So always, always take the full set of meds. We don’t worry about the syringes though; they always provide them). We keep some spares packed (vests, baby grows, a blanket, nappies and wipes), but most of what we take has to be gathered up on the day. I would suggest that, even if you’re not expecting to stay overnight, be prepared to anyway. Especially if your child relies on a certain comforter to sleep – you don’t want to be without it! As annoying as it is to have to keep packing and unpacking, it is better to do that than the alternative of having to try and settle a crying baby (in my case, one who just wants Mickey Mouse’s bum on his head).

If you do end up staying in hospital for a few days, particularly if it’s a new hospital or a new ward, make sure you go out of your way to find out what the amenities provided are. We have stayed on the wards at both King’s (Rays of Sunshine) and QEQM (Rainbow), and our experiences were vastly different.

On our admission to Rays we were given a pretty decent overview of what was provided and where to find it. So we knew we had to provide our own breakfast; that tea and coffee was provided; where the extra blankets were. The only thing we didn’t know to start with was that there was a washing and drying facility on the ward.

On Rainbow, it was slightly different. We were shown where the tea and coffee was straight away, but that was it. Our first stay on the ward (in January) was for seven days, Friday to Friday. It wasn’t until the Thursday morning, after I’d had a bit of an emotional breakdown the previous day, that the nurse came in to see how we were and asked if we’d found everything ok. It transpired that the ward provides breakfast for parents; I’d gone for six days with just breakfast bars and tea for sustenance until my husband or mum arrived later in the morning to give me a chance to run to the canteen to buy something. And it was only on our latest stay (at the end of February) that we were told there is a parent’s room round the corner, with a fridge and facilities to provide your own meals. Considering we’ve stayed there for around three weeks in total, it was a bit annoying that we didn’t know this – we would have saved a lot of money and calories had we known and been able to avoid the canteen every day.

So, ask questions. If you’re in overnight, ask about breakfast, cooking facilities or whether there is a parents room (or even fridge). Don’t assume they will tell you; often, these wards are busy and it isn’t on their radar to tell you unless you ask.

It’s also worth establishing what provisions they have for baby’s food. Hugo is on special milk, so we have to take the formula with us when we’re at the local, but they provide disposable sterile bottles and teats so we don’t have to fuss with washing and sterilising his bottles as we do at home. At King’s, they provide both the bottles and the milk.

Finally, it is important to go to hospital with the expectation of waiting around fixed firmly in your mind. Timings change in hospitals. Emergencies happen. I must have made a dozen trips to Margate just for routine bloods, which can be done within ten minutes, only to be waiting for three or more hours for the doctor to get to us. It can be frustrating, but it’s the nature of hospitals. The staff at Rainbow now know we like being kept in the loop, so they tend to be pretty good at letting us know whether there are delays. You have to learn to be ok with it; it’s no good being anything else (and trust me, I’m not known for my patience. If I can do it, so can you).

So those are my top tips for surviving the home-to-hospital yo-yo. This is, of course, just from my experience, but having these preparations (both practical and mental) have really helped us deal with our trips.

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