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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About Davidicus Wong

I am a family physician. I write a weekly newspaper column, Healthwise for the Vancouver Courier, Burnaby Now, Royal City Record and Richmond News.
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