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As many of you know, Sapphire and I spent 8 days – 8 lonnnnng days – in the hospital right before Christmas. We went to the ER because her migraine was just god awful and would not go away, no matter what. Usually they just give her some IV meds, and send us on our way. This time, though, they kept her because we had just been there 24 hours before with the same problem and they released us way too quickly.
So anyway, long story short, I learned a lot during our hospital stay. I wasn't prepared at all, because I just figured we'd be sent home after the IV meds, and I didn't pack anything – not even my laptop! We ended up staying there for three days, with them saying we could go home “tomorrow” every single day, before I realized I should go home and get some stuff.
How to prepare your child …
Hospitals can be scary, but obviously they're a necessity sometimes. If your child has an upcoming surgery or hospital visit – or even if it's an emergency room visit you weren't expecting – there are several ways you can prepare yourself (and your child!) to make the trip more tolerable. If you've had several ER visits in the past, it's best to keep a bag packed with some of the items listed below, because there's no way to remember all of these things when you're rushing to get dressed for a hospital visit.
Talk to them about what it might be like. Don't make any promises, because you never know what their room will be like, how the nurses will act, etc – but reassure them that it shouldn't be scary. Increasing your child's confidence about their hospital stay will help reduce anxiety (for you, and for them), and will make the visit more pleasant.
It's important to be honest when your child asks questions about the hospital stay. Obviously you don't need to give them the gory details if they're going in for surgery and will be sedated, but if they ask a question you should answer it the best you can. Lying or avoiding questions can increase their anxiety, and very easily lose their trust.
It is difficult to know ahead of time which procedures will take place, but discussing the possibility of shots, MRIs, etc is a call you have to make on an individual basis. Sapphire had to have an MRI, and the dumb ass nurses kept talking about how “AWFUL” the MRIs were and how they had to be sedated (as adults!). So, she was a bit freaked out. I looked a video up on YouTube and explained exactly what happens during an MRI. Saff was a freakin' CHAMP… she didn't even cry.
Some kids will experience anxiety if you simply mention needles, so if that's the case, it's better to wait until you're at the hospital to talk about it. Other kids like to know exactly what's going on before it happens, so it might be worth mentioning to them. You know your child best.
If you have any anxiety about your child's upcoming hospital stay, talk to your partner or provider about it – you need to be cool, calm, and collected for your child during this time. When children see that their parents are anxious or upset, they tend to follow suit.
Last but not least, remember to be patient. This is easier said than done, bruh. Trust me. If you've been living on hospital food for a week, and sleeping on a sofa that barely fits a toddler, you're probably feeling pretty darn cranky. Remember that your child is, too, and they need your help in staying positive. Feeling frustrated? Let your kiddo know that you're going for a walk (or wait until they're asleep), and get some fresh air outside for a few minutes.
What to bring…
If your child is still an infant or toddler, it's important to pack comfort items from home. Whether they have a favorite blanket, toy, or stuffed animal, bring a few things to make it feel more like “home” when they're in the hospital room.
Preschoolers can usually bring a small blanket and stuffed animal, though you should warn them that they might have to leave those items in their hospital room if they go for tests. You know your child best, so if you think they're going to freak out over being separated from their “lovies”, warn them ahead of time that it might happen. If they won't freak out, there's no need to mention it.
Kids in elementary school are able to understand things a little better, but that also means they most likely have the fear or anxiety that goes along with knowledge. Like I said earlier, it's best not to make promises (such as “it won't hurt”), because you don't know exactly what's going to happen. The last thing you want to do is ruin their trust, especially during what can be an extremely difficult time. Just because they're older doesn't mean they can't bring a stuffed animal or one of their favorite toys – just make sure it's not noisy, in case they have a roommate.
No matter your child's age, be sure to pack comfortable pajamas, socks or slippers, and a change of clothes (or more, if you know the stay could be longer than a day or two). Bring a few books and/or magazines, coloring books and crayons, and electronics such as an iPod or laptop, though some circumstances will not allow use of them. It's better to be prepared! If you're sitting in a hospital room for twelve hours waiting for the doctor to let you know if you're able to go home or not, it's going to feel like twelve years if you don't have something to occupy your child (and yourself!).
I also like to pack a few surprises – items from the dollar store – that they can open during their stay. Our most recent stay was actually the best experience she's had in a hospital before – Saff got a new toy every time she got poked with a needle, so we ended up coming home with two huge bags full of goodies. It was like Christmas, before Christmas!
P.S. Don't forget to pack an extra set of clothes for yourself, along with some reading material and all necessary paperwork and insurance cards!