Over the past few years I have spent close to 300 nights as an inpatient in quite a few hospitals here in Ireland, and even one in London (long story short, my spine should never be trusted to leave the country). Thanks to my spinal condition and more recently a diagnosis of anorexia nervosa, it has kind of become the norm for me to have either a planned or emergency admission in my near future, which is not how I planned on spending my teenage years. But, thanks to this, I have become an expert on the ‘essential survival guide’ for hospital admissions!
Here are my top tips on getting through it and staying positive throughout a hospital admission, whether it's a one night stay or a four month stay! Here we go :
1. Always have an emergency bag ready to go
For my first couple of admissions, I was so unprepared. I never had anything I needed with me so my mum and dad would end up having to throw together the few things they thought I’d need into a bag to bring with them to A&E! So after a few near disaster pyjama problems, I decided that I would always have a bag packed with all my emergency supplies to help me through the first few days of an admission!
In my bag, I always have a pair of pyjamas, a sleeping dress (in case I can’t wear pyjamas due to tubes or catheters), some underwear, a toothbrush and toothpaste, a pouch with hair bands and hair baubles, a list of my medications and dosages, a phone charger and a pair of comfy shoes or slippers! These things will help me get through the first couple of days until I feel well enough to compile a proper list of the things I want someone to get at your house for me.
2. Bring a comfort item such as a blanket or cuddly teddy bear
I always either have my big rag doll Molly with me or a blanket with teddy bears on it that I was given when I was a toddler. Little comfort items like this make hospital stays so much easier!
It’s hard being away from your own bed and home and sometimes for an undetermined length of time, so little cuddles from your teddy bear or snuggling up in your blanket can make you feel like you’ve got a little bit of home with you. Also, if you can bring a pillow from home, I guarantee you will sleep so much better than on the thin, plastic hospital ones!
3. Bring comfortable clothes
Being in hospital isn’t a fashion show, so get out of your jeans, shirts, dresses and get into the unattractive, big sloppy tracksuits, shorts, t-shirts and oversized jumpers. They are a million times more comfortable and make physiotherapy and occupational therapy far easier to do. Who cares if the young, hot McDreamy doctor sees you looking sloppy ?
4. Bring things to keep you entertained
Okay, so we all know hospital days can be super long and boring. I mean an hour can feel like a day in there, am I right ? So why not bring some things along to help you pass the day. Things like books, DvDs, colouring books and crayons are always good for passing a few hours.
When I’m in hospital long-term I always bring my ukulele with me and will happily sit for hours on end strumming away, learning new songs! One ward I was on, didn’t have a TV so I was so thankful when my mam brought my iPad in for me to watch some Netflix! I’d definitely recommend having either a laptop or iPad that you can use while in hospital that you can watch Netflix or YouTube on incase like me, you get stuck on a TV free ward!
5. Bring all your chargers and an extension lead
There is nothing worse than being stuck in hospital and realising that your phone is about to run out of charge and you’ve forgotten your charger! I’ve literally had procedures that scared me less than that because believe me unless you’ve experienced it you will never know the pain (swear I’m not being dramatic).
The only thing worse than that is lying in bed and realising that your charger doesn't stretch from the plug to your bed! That's why I highly suggest having a two plug extension lead or a long phone charger cable. Who wants to have to sit near a plug for an hour while their phone charges, when you could be comfy lying on your bed? Not me anyways.
6. Make sure to always bring some printed photos of happy memories with your family and friends
This may be an odd one but it’s one that I think is so important. I always bring photos of happier times, with the people I love the most in the world, to keep me motivated to get better and stronger so that I can get back to make more happy memories as soon as possible.
They keep me motivated when all I want to do is give up, and they remind me that the people in these photos all love me and are rooting for me every step of the way! As well as keeping me motivated, they also add some brightness and fun too, which will in turn only help keep you in a positive frame of mind!
7. If possible, get involved in activities in the hospital
If like me, you are still attending a Children’s Hospital, then you’ll understand when I say that ‘There is always something going on in the hospital’! So why not get involved ? My longest admission was a four month stay in a Children’s hospital almost five hours from my hometown. Within that time I became involved in lots of the events being organised in the hospital! Whether it was writing a blog post for the fundraising team to post on the hospital website, getting involved in a music video alongside fellow patients or going on day outings to the theatre, the zoo or a meal out in Nando’s. Things like this pass endless hours and you will almost be guaranteed to have some fun !
This may sound very weird, but I actually made lots of good memories in hospital. Of course there are horrible memories that I wish I could forget but there are as many, if not more, positive memories! I made health progress memories such as walking for the first time in nine months, but I also made memories like meeting one of my favourite bands ‘Picture This’. All these memories were made in a hospital! When a hospital is your second home, you sort of have to make the best of a bad situation, make the most of everyday and make as many amazing memories as you can! Every moment counts when you don’t know what’s around the corner!
8. Give everything a go and take all the help you are offered
I remember the first time, I was offered to see a psychologist, I was not happy. I thought that they were claiming that it was all in my head or that they didn’t believe me that I was in so much pain. I was so against the idea of seeing a psychologist that I didn’t even want to listen to the reason as to why they were recommending it but I am so glad my mam persuaded me to listen. They were recommending I see a psychologist purely to support me as I learned about all the ways that my life was about to change.
I can safely say that without the support of my amazing psychologist and psychology nurse, I wouldn’t have been able to cope with all the changes and struggles I’ve had to face, so imagine what would’ve happened if I hadn’t accepted their help ? My psychology nurse has become one of my favourite members of my team! He is the one person that I can share everything with and be guaranteed that nobody else, unless legally necessary, will find out. If you’re being offered help from different teams within the hospital, please at least listen to their reasoning and give it a go to see whether you will benefit from their help. Giving it a go was without a doubt the best thing I’ve ever done!
9. Bring a notebook
I know this may seem really ‘old school’ but bring a notebook and pen to write down how you feel during the stay. Hospital stays can be really stressful and you can get really emotional at times as it all becomes too overwhelming, which is completely understandable, but writing down exactly how I felt has really helped me over the years.
It helps me just to spill exactly how I feel, without actually telling someone because sometimes I just didn’t want to talk. It’s also a nice way to take note and document your journey through the crazy world of your chronic illnesses. I still keep a notebook that I write into when I’m feeling down, but I also love looking back at what I’ve written months ago and seeing how far I’ve coming and realising how much I’ve achieved.
10. Bring dry shampoo and baby wipes
These will be a lifesaver if for some reason you end up unable to get out of bed to shower! There’s nothing worse than the icky feeling you get when you’re stuck in bed unable to get up, connected to IV’s for days and you can just feel your hair getting greasier as every second goes by.
This is where dry shampoo and baby wipes come to the rescue! They make you feel so much fresher and give your hair that little freshen up it needs when it hasn’t been washed in days! While you’re at some self care, why not bring a face mask and cleanser with you for some self care! Honestly you can’t beat the feeling of a little self care! It makes you feel a million dollars!
So there you have it, my top tips for hospital admissions! I know everyone has their own list of essentials to help them through admissions but maybe there’s something on here that you’ve never thought of before, or maybe there’s someone reading this that is about to face their first hospital admission and they have no idea what to bring. If it helps even that one person, then I’ll be delighted!
Living with a chronic illness or mental illness isn’t easy and we all go through things no one should ever have to go through, but in the end it makes us so much stronger and we learn to appreciate even the littlest moments of happiness everyday! As the famous author Victor Hugo once wrote, ‘Even the darkest nights will end and the sun will rise’.