What to pack . . . for your hospital stay

what to pack

In my last column, I wrote of the inevitability of you landing in the strange place we call Hospitaland and the curious customs of its inhabitants. To prepare you for a potentially unexpected visit and to reduce the chance of a misadventure, I’ll review the essential things you should pack.

Without being anxious or fatalistic, we have to expect that anything can happen anytime. It helps us not to take health, life and loved ones for granted, but rather to appreciate what we have when we have it. We can also be prepared.

My parents ingrained in us good hygiene that included daily bathing and clean socks and underwear. I’m glad they didn’t give us the traditional rationale that “we should wear clean underwear every day in case we’re in an accident.”

That never made sense to me. If you were surprised by a bad accident, would you have the composure not to poop or pee in your pants?

Better advice would be, “Never miss an opportunity to use a toilet.”

And I suggest that you neither wear or pack your best Victoria Secret lingerie or Calvin Klein underwear. They are likely to be cut away with utility scissors for emergency procedures. The same goes for your favourite Superman or Sponge Bob undershirt.

If you’re planning to be admitted for an elective procedure, consider using a Sharpie felt pen on yourself to leave advanced directives when you are unconscious in the OR. “Not this leg, the other one.” “I’m here for my gall bladder not a hysterectomy (or a vasectomy).” “I signed up for a left hernia not a bilateral orchidectomy (castration).”

Your “travel documents” are essential. I don’t mean your passport and boarding pass but rather the essential information that another doctor will need to give you the best care. This includes a one-page summary of your medical history, including allergies, previous operations and hospitalizations, family history, and both chronic and past illnesses.

If you don’t have this information at your fingertips, you’re family doctor will be able to provide this to you. Look into this now, rather than waiting until you urgently need it.

You should also carry a complete list of any medication you are taking, including nonprescription vitamins or drugs. This should include a prescription drug’s brand name and generic (or chemical) name, dosage (i.e. in mg) and directions (i.e. twice daily).

Another essential document is an advanced medical directive, that some call a living will. This states what you would or would not like done to your body should you not be able to make medical decisions at the time. For example, if you had a stroke and couldn’t speak, would you want to have CPR (chest compressions and assisted breathing)? Would you want IV fluids? Tube feeding if you couldn’t swallow? Machines to assist breathing? Blood tranfusions?

Sorry you don’t get to choose the colour of your hospital gown.

You should also indicate whom you would want to make decisions on your behalf. This should be someone you trust to respect your wishes. Talk to this person ahead of time so that your values and preferences are known.

What you should not bring with you to the hospital are things that could be lost or stolen. This includes valuable watches, jewelry, smartphones, electronics, credit cards and money. Your old cassette or CD player is okay.

Because you don’t have a choice of roommates, room temperature or lighting, bring earplugs, headphones, an eye mask for sleeping, warm socks, a supply of clean underwear, a sweater and an extra blanket.

Of course, as with any other trip, bring your toothbrush and toothpaste but don’t bother with makeup (even if your nurses or doctors are really good looking). Definitively, do not wear any cologne or perfume that may be harmful to other patients with allergies or respiratory problems.

Bring something to keep you occupied when you are lying or sitting around for hours at a time: puzzle books, magazines and books. Always have a pad of paper and a pen. This is helpful for you to take notes of what your healthcare providers discuss with you and to write down messages or questions for your attending physician. If healthcare providers use unfamiliar medical words, ask for clarification and have them write things out for you. In the case of doctors, ask them to print.

On Friday, March 27th at 7 pm, I’ll be speaking on “How to Survive Your Hospital Stay” at the Confederation Community Centre at 4585 Albert Street in North Burnaby (near the McGill Public Library and Eileen Daily Pool). I’ll tell you everything you need to know to have the healthiest, least eventful hospital stay possible. On April 7th, I’ll be speaking at the Bonsor Recreation Complex on a topic relevant to your healthcare both in and out of the hospital, “What You Should Know About Medical Ethics.” How can you ensure your wishes are respected? What is the essential information you need to make informed decisions? Who is looking at your medical records?

These free public talks are part of the Burnaby Division of Family Practice’s Empowering Patients education series For more information, call Leona Cullen at (604) 259-4450 or register online at lcullen@divisionsbc.ca.

Dr. Davidicus Wong is a family physician. For more information on the Burnaby Division of Family Practice’s public health education series, check our website at divisionsbc.ca/burnaby. 

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Are you prepared for a visit to the hospital?

Davidicus Wong's Black Bag

The odds are in favour you’ll one day find yourself in a hospital, and the older you get, the greater the odds that you will. You might as well pack your bag today because being a patient is a lot like taking a trip to a very foreign country.

If I were to write a guidebook for hospital patients, I’d call it “The Lonely Patient’s Guide to Hospitaland.”

The inhabitants dress differently – usually in greens and white coats, and it’s hard to tell who’s who.

Doctors wear nametags with their first and last names. Almost all the rest of the staff shows only first names. You however have to wear a wrist band with your full name, birth date, PHN and the name of some doctor you may not recall meeting.

If you have allergies, you earn an extra brightly coloured wristband, but don’t mistake this for an all-inclusive resort. The closest thing you’ll get to a massage might be a sponge bath.

In the summer time if your semiprivate room is too hot, you might hallucinate that you are in a sauna since you and the other guests are all nearly naked beneath your very thin hospital gowns.

And like the pool deck, you’ll see more than you wish of the scantily clad guest strolling by where gowns don’t quite cover up.

While you’ve heard that in some countries a five star resort is really four stars in quality, when you start complaining that the food is only two stars, doctors take this as a sign that you’re getting better or at least nearly normal and ready for discharge.

The inhabitants of Hospitaland speak a different language. Instead of “aloha”, we have other multipurpose, ill-defined words like “rounds.” When a doctor visits patients at the bedside, we call this doing rounds. When a bunch of doctors gather to talk about one patient, we call that department rounds. When doctors gather for group education, it’s called grand rounds. When doctors and nurses meet to talk about the patients on the ward, we call it team rounds. When I can’t find anyone to help me read a CT scan, all the radiologists are on brown rounds (that is a coffee break).

They also speak in CODE. Code Blue is a cardiac or respiratory arrest. Code Pink is a maternity emergency. Code White is a psychiatric emergency. Code Yellow is pee on the floor and a potential WorkSafe hazard. Every hospital has its own code.

The inhabitants have odd customs. Everyone who talks to you will write in a big binder with your name on it, but don’t dare try to look into that binder yourself. A stern and scary nurse will tell you that you are not allowed to do this without medical supervision – unless you care to fill out a bit of paperwork and wait (until you are discharged from the hospital). If you hadn’t been diagnosed with paranoia on admission, you might be before discharge (but don’t take my word for it. Just try to look in that binder).

On Friday, March 27th at 7 pm, I’ll be speaking on “How to Survive Your Hospital Stay” at the Confederation Community Centre at 4585 Albert Street in North Burnaby (near the McGill Public Library and Eileen Daily Pool). This free public talk is part of the Burnaby Division of Family Practice’s Empowering Patients education series. I’ll tell you everything you need to know to have the healthiest, least eventful hospital stay possible. For more information, call Leona Cullen at (604) 259-4450 or register online at lcullen@divisionsbc.ca. In my next column, I’ll tell you what to pack for your inevitable trip to Hospitaland.

Dr. Davidicus Wong is a family physician. For more information on the Burnaby Division of Family Practice’s public health education series, check our website at divisionsbc.ca/burnaby.  

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#36 The ABCs of Health and Happiness

Leftover Happy Face Cookie

The ABCs of Health and Happiness Davidicus Wong

Accept responsibility for your own health. Be active. Create happiness for yourself and others. Don’t drink to excess. Eat a healthy diet. Follow your bliss. Greet each day with gratitude. Help yourself to happiness by helping others. Identify your strengths. Jump at every opportunity to make someone else’s day. Kickstart each day by counting your blessings. Love unconditionally; we are all human and worthy of being loved. Mind your thoughts; they shape your moods. Nurture healthy relationships. Open your heart and mind. Project inner peace. Quit smoking. Respect your body. Smile and see the beauty in your world, in others and in yourself. Transform every problem into a positive goal. Understand that it takes a village to care for a village; everyone matters. Visualize your goals. When feeling rushed, wait for your mind and body to move together. Exude passion. Yield to your better and wiser self. Zestfully embrace this day.

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7 Mantras (Davidicus Wong)

7 Mantras (Davidicus Wong)


  1. Be active. Make physical activity part of each day.
  2. Get a good night’s sleep.
  3. Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables.
  4. Avoid saturated and trans fats in butter, hard margarine, lard and shortening.
  5. Limit salt and alcohol.
  6. If you smoke, stop.
  7. Let every strong emotion be your meditation gong, reminding you to ask, “What am I feeling, thinking, saying and doing?”
  8. Choose your thoughts. Abandon thoughts that foster negative feelings and behaviour.
  9. Actively manage stress. Accept what you cannot change; take responsibility for what you can.
  10. Be kind to others and yourself.
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#34 What’s on your list of favourite things to do?

Stanley Park - Davidicus Wong

In the final year of med school, some nights on call were hard to get through. As medical students commonly referred to as scut monkeys, we were at the bottom of the hospital totem pole.  Though we were there to learn and to care, we were an unpaid labour force assigned to the more onerous, time-consuming tasks. In the O.R., we could be holding retractors for hours without seeing much of what the surgeon and residents were doing. We would be the first to be paged to the E.R. for new hospital admissions or to the wards for distressed or confused patients.

To make it through those long nights, I would bring a list of my favourite things – what I looked forward to doing when I was no longer on call: licking a Dole Whip cone from the hospital cafeteria, riding my bike along the Stanley Park seawall or through the streets of North Burnaby, playing my parents’ piano, hanging out with my friends, having tea and chatting with my sister, going out with my girlfriend, enjoying dinner with Mom and Dad, or getting a full night’s sleep in my own bed.

This was no bucket list. None of these activities were really momentous or unusual, but they were related to comforting, enjoyable sensations and feelings. They reconnected me with life and the people I was closest to.

Now, each of my days is filled with meaningful work and experiences, and I feel connected to others and life virtually all of the time.

I still keep a list. When I’m feeling overwhelmed with the endless tasks associated with my work or the competing demands of my roles in life, I choose at least one of those simple joys.

Of course my list has changed. It includes going for a swim; calling my sister or dad; enjoying dinner with my family; reading a good book; writing, drawing or playing my piano, Skyping with friends, and just being around my wife and kids.

Your happiness exercise for today: Write your personal list of favourite activities. What can you do today to feel refreshed and reconnected to the people that matter most to you? What brings you joy? Do at least one of your favourite things today (and every day).

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A Hundred Days to Happiness #33: Happiness is being in the presence of a child


Happiness is being in the presence of a child.

I loved the days that I got to drive my daughter to elementary school. I’d rush home from my morning swim to make her favourite breakfast and wake her up with a hug and kiss on the cheek.

Her smile still makes me smile.

My kids always had a way to bring me more fully into the present, and because of that, my memories – of days at the zoo, towing them in my bicycle trailer, teaching them to skate, to swim and ride without training wheels, pushing them on swings and catching them at the bottom of slides – remain vividly real to me.

These experiences in my children’s presence remain in my heart and remind me of the joy of living.

I loved chatting with my daughter en route to school. No matter what wisdom I tried to impart, she was always teaching me something new . . . or reminding me of something I once knew but had forgotten.

One morning, thinking of my busy day ahead, I said to her, “You’re so lucky to be a kid!”

“What do you mean?” she asked from the back seat. “You’re a grownup! You get to drive a car, and you can go wherever you want.”

I couldn’t help but smile and laugh. She was right again.

“You can eat whatever you want” she added, “and go shopping all by yourself.”

After I dropped her off, she thanked me and wished me a happy day. Knowing I could drive wherever I wanted, I chose to go to work anyway, and I did have a happy day!

Your happiness exercise: be in the presence of a child, be fully present and see your world from a child’s perspective.

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#32 Happiness is being in the presence of friends

Dr. Pooh & Tigger

I could be totally healthy, physically fit, wealthy and successful, but if I did not have one true friend, I would not be happy.

My friends have helped me through the darkest times in my life – with illness and accidents, failures and breakups, tragedy and grief. No matter what life presents, my friends bring me hope and happiness.

We all mean different things when we call someone a friend just as we feel different things when we say, “I love you.”

Do you define friends as the people you like to hang out with? Your drinking buddies? Your shopping pals? Your partners in crime? Are friends the people you small talk with? Are they just people that are fun to have around?

Sometimes we have friends who justify our bad behaviour and bad habits. In their company, we may drink more and abuse our bodies more. These are our travelling companions on the road to self-destruction.

But I recognize true friends as people who are better together than apart. Real friends bring out the best in one another. We help each other achieve our potentials. We can do more together than we could alone.

My best friends know the real me. They sometimes see me better than I see myself. They recognize the best in me, remind me of my dreams and push me to be my best.  They recognize the worst in me, call me on it but love me nonetheless.

My best friends tell me the truth – even if I don’t want to hear it – because I need to know.

What best friends give is the purest form of love, and that love is omniconditional; at every stage in life, at any age and in every circumstance, we are loved, accepted and forgiven just as we are.

Love is the flower of friendship in full bloom; it never withers and never dies.

Happiness is being in the presence of a friend.

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