BY KATHERINE WALCOT
My Dad had to suddenly go in to hospital recently in an ambulance and my mum wanted to quickly pack him a hospital bag. “Stand aside” I said “This is a job for me” because, like many liver patients, I’ve spent quite a lot of time in hospitals and I know what needs to be in that bag. So, a bit like a celebrity model talking you through her make up bag (but much more useful I promise), let’s delve into that hospital bag and see what’s there.
Obviously you need your basics: pyjamas, underwear, dressing gown, slippers, toothbrush, toothpaste and any other toiletries you require. My advice is to make sure all the clothing items are built for comfort and practicality but are also nice. I once bought some new pjs for a planned admission but had never actually tried them on. They turned out to be too small and made of quite an itchy material. I also tend not to take the T-shirts that are one wash away from being relegated to the rag box, just makes you feel slightly nicer during ward round when your pjs are nice! Underwear also needs to be comfortable and practical and a nice warm fluffy dressing gown is a good comfort, as are comfy socks. I take slip-on slippers with a good grip to the sole. They need to be easy to put on (i.e. without bending down) and non-slip. I never like the hospital slipper socks! It’s always good to put a new toothbrush in and some nice smelling deodorant. Face wipes, moisturiser and lip balm are good for making you feel more human plus whatever you like to use for your hair.
I always put in my latest medical notes as well as all my meds. I have a typed document that I update regularly with all my conditions on and all the medication I’m on plus what I’ve had in the past and what I’ve had reactions too. It also has all my hospital numbers and emergency next of kin contacts on it. I take several copies for hospital staff. Meds are so important to take to hospital. You may think “But I’m going to hospital, this is the place where they have all the meds! Surely this would be like taking ice to the Arctic!” But meds aren’t always available in the pharmacy at every hour and the hospital won’t have your prescription so you may not actually get access to what you need at the right time. So taking your own meds with you, even if like me you need a separate bag, is very important.
All of that sounds fairly intuitive, what else is in this bag then? Earphones and a sleep mask! We all know that it’s very hard to sleep in hospital, but it’s the time that you need lots of rest. So make the conditions for rest yourself. A comfortable dark coloured sleep mask will keep the light out of your eyes, day or night, and either some good ear plugs or earphones will keep away the hospital noise. I’m not a fan of ear plugs so I use a fleecy headband which contains flat earphones. They can be plugged into a phone or other device and I listen to music or audio books on them. A great escape from hospital noise and easy to buy online.
Lots of practical things are in the bag too – phone and charger, pens and paper, a reading book and puzzle book, a bit of cash just in case, some edible treats and a long electrical lead in case electrical sockets are too far away. The last few items are a little odd but I find very useful. A metal straw is great for drinking water through while lying down without spilling so you don’t need to sit up which sometimes is just way too much effort! Peppermint teabags are great to settle the stomach just before sleep. Sore throat sweets are great if you’ve had a tube down your throat just as lip balm will help chapped lips which can get dry in hospital. You also need to pack the all important ‘leaving hospital’ outfit. Don’t just bank on wearing the same clothes you went in with, you’ll want something cleaner but again very comfortable. After putting all that in I can just about close the case!
I hope you found something useful in my suitcase, I’d love to hear more useful ideas as it’s great to pool our patient expertise. Let us know your top tips for hospital packing and hopefully we can make all our stays slightly more comfortable.
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