This post may contain affiliate links, view our disclosure policy for details.
This post may contain affiliate links, view our disclosure policy for details.
As a caregiver, hospitals can sometimes feel like our second home. It’s hard to know how a caregiver should prepare for their caree’s hospital stay. While the staff at the hospital are usually helpful and generally accommodating, your comfort is not their top priority. With these hospital tips for caregivers you will be able to make your stay in the hospital comfortable so you can be more focused on getting your caree the help they need and get you both home to life as you know it.
Should I Stay or Should I Go?
One of the first questions you will ask yourself is whether or not you’re required to stay in the hospital with your caree. Well, that depends.
If your caree is mentally capable then your presence is merely for their comfort. If your caree is mentally compromised in any way then your presence becomes more necessary. As a general rule, you should go planning to stay at least one night.
You will also need to consider doctors making their rounds either quite early in the day or very late in the evening and very rarely do you know when they might show up. Even the nurses don’t usually know and can at best ballpark the doctor’s arrival time. You will not want to miss your chance to talk to the doctor. Sometimes it’s easier to stay then try and guess the doctor’s schedule.
What Caregivers Should Bring to the Hospital
When hospital situations arise, our focus as caregivers is typically on our caree which means we’re usually throwing a few things into a bag on our way out the door and hoping we remembered to pack clean underwear.
Hospitals are inevitable for caregivers. It’s also a given that you are going to be emotionally and physically exhausted, constantly under some level of stress, and burnt out by the time you leave. But, there are ways you can make the stay less traumatic for you as the caregiver.
One of those ways is to make sure to be prepared for yourself. As a caregiver for my MIL, I never knew when I might be spending a night or two in a hospital or if I’d even needed to stay at all.
What kind of hospital bag do you need?
Really, you’re not going on vacation. You just need ESSENTIALS to get you through the stay. A small overnight case or backpack will do for your needs.
Even if you don’t need to stay the night, you’ll want to pack a bag. You just never know what might happen in a hospital. My special needs son went into the hospital for a very routine test but his anxiety got so high that he vomited all over me. This test was at a hospital over 2 hours away from our home. If I had not planned ahead and brought my hospital bag, I would have been forced to wear vomit-covered clothing for the rest of the day. Ew.
What do I need to pack?
You will want to pack one or two complete changes of clothes – tops, bottoms, and underwear. Pack comfortably but also clothes that make you feel confident. You’ll also want to pack a pajama set that covers you fully, top to bottom. You never know what situations might arise in the night and no one wants to see your bare chest or naked bottom. A good rule of thumb when packing for hospital stays is to bring one extra.
Yes, socks are technically clothes but they’re so often overlooked. Most hospitals insist you keep something on your feet but wearing shoes 24/7 is terribly uncomfortable. Your lack of movement while in the hospital also increases water retention and might cause your feet to swell and become uncomfortable. Wearing a long, well-fitting pair of socks will help keep you comfortable during your caree’s hospital stay.
You’ll want to pack some travel cloths that have some kind of soap in them to wipe yourself down. Showers are usually available but privacy is almost non-existent. Being able to wipe yourself down will help you feel refreshed.
If you have longer hair, bring something to pull it back. Even if it’s not a normal practice for you, you’ll want something to get it out of your way. I hardly ever put my hair up at home but I’ve never been in the hospital where I haven’t wished for a hair tie.
Bring a hairbrush or comb and some dry shampoo. Don’t worry about other hair tools as they will get in the way and you likely won’t have the energy to use them. If you anticipate a longer stay, bring soap and shampoo.
You’ll also want to bring:
- Toothbrush and toothpaste, floss
- Hand lotion
Snacks and Drinks
Unless you want to pay $6 for a bag of nuts, make sure you bring some snack foods for yourself. I pack a small lunch bag that has a soda, a few travel snacks, and some Mini Moos for my coffee (I hate powdered creamer). Also remember that hospitals have changed their cafeteria policies since the pandemic and most of them no longer have fountain drinks or much by way of coffee. If it’s important to you, bring it.
Of course, you will want to take any normal medications that you are on with you but you will also want to be sure you have any over-the-counter remedies with you as well. Bring medicine for headache, allergies, stomach, and cough. Anytime I’m in the hospital for more than a few hours I start to get a tickle in the back of my throat. Cough drops are one of the first things I pack in my bag. I also take antacid, ibuprofen, and nose spray for allergies.
“But, it’s a hospital,” you say, “Won’t they already have those things?”
Unfortunately for caregivers, the hospital is not really concerned about you and while they are typically as helpful as they can be, you will need to see to your own health needs while they tend to those of your caree. Yes, they likely sell medications for guests, they will be exponentially more expensive then if you were to bring them from home.
No matter what your stance on mask wearing, all hospitals now require you to wear a mask. A lot of hospitals will provide you with a paper mask but I find those terribly uncomfortable and soon wish for my cloth mask. So, if you want more comfort or protection then the paper mask provided by the hospital, I highly suggest bring your own.
There are things you might not be able to pack ahead that you will want to include in your hospital bag. These include:
- Chargers for any electronics
- Headphones or earbuds
- A tablet/laptop
- Reading material or “busy bag”
- Bag for dirty laundry
What NOT to bring to the hospital
Don’t fool yourself. You might feel like you’re going to have a bunch of extra time during your caree’s hospital stay but your time will be spent tending to your caree’s needs and advocating for their care. You’re going to be too exhausted for those big projects, so leave your tax papers at home and bring instead light reading and simple word puzzles.
You’ll want to leave any unnecessary jewelry at home. For me, I wear my watch and my wedding ring. They never come off. Everything else is left behind.
I love my essential oils and perfumes but they don’t belong in a hospital. Light fragrances from lotions and soaps are usually ok but those heavier scents need to be left at home.
Maximize the Doctor’s Rounds
I don’t know about you but I tend to think of a bunch of questions throughout the day that I want to ask my caree’s doctor but when the doctor actually gets in the room and starts talking, I’m suddenly stricken by a temporary amnesia and can’t seem to remember any of my questions or concerns.
In hospital situations, you have one chance every day to see a doctor. You’ll want to make sure the visit is profitable and moving toward the goal of getting out of the hospital.
No matter how small, if it’s not normal, you should consult the doctor or nurse. Keep a paper and pen or notes on your phone close by so you can document any questions that may arise.
Be An Advocate
Your primary job while your caree is in the hospital is to put the pieces of their treatment and care plan together and act as an advocate on behalf of your caree.
In a recent hospital stay for my special needs son, we were seen by no less than six different specialists. Each of them played an important role in my son’s care and while there was some discussion among them, they were each primarily concerned with their speciality.
As his mom and caregiver, I know him best and in order to see that my son received the best care for him, I had to take each of the specialists treatments and suggestions and put it together into a care plan which I then communicated to everyone involved. We all stayed on the same page and worked to the goal of stabilizing him so he could go home.
Advocating for Your Caree
You’re in the hospital with your caree. You’re already tired from your day to day requirements as a caregiver. Every hospital stay is stressful, uncomfortable, and exhausting. Even with everything working against you, you will still need to have a clear head and calm demeanor.
- Keep notes on all discussions. I keep my laptop open to my hospital notes in my son’s care manual. After every consultation with a medical professional, I make a few notes on the discussion and document any questions I may have.
- Ask questions. In these situations there truly are no dumb questions when it comes to the health and well-being of your caree. Even if it doesn’t particularly pertain to their speciality, if you have a question, ask it and don’t be afraid to revisit it later if you don’t feel that it’s resolved.
- Keep an open mind. Not every solution is going to be mainstream. Caregiving is all about experimenting and finding what works for your caree.
- Remember, doctors and nurses are advisors. They are educated experts in their field but at the end of the day, you know your caree best. If you are certain a treatment is not going to work for them, turn it down! You have that authority.
My MIL broke her hip and was put in the hospital. While there, her dementia became worse. It turned out she was on a pain medication that she had a history of a poor reaction. I immediately demanded the stop that medication and find another.
In this same stay, the doctors were heavily advocating for rehab in a facility. I knew my MIL would not do well in rehab. She was not self motivated and was too strong willed for a non-family member to get results. I successfully advocated for home health and rehab and we saw a rapid recovery.
Ask for Printouts
You know those nice discharge papers hospitals give you about general care at home and a basic summary of your visit. Well, there’s a lot more that goes on that could have an impact on your caree’s future care and even their daily life. Ask the nurse for a detailed summary including any medications given. Always remember, every medical professional you encounter is responsible for just a tiny piece of your caree’s health. It’s up to you to put it all together.
Medications and treatments received in the hospital can have a long-term effect on your caree’s health and well-being. Having detailed notes of your caree’s hospital stay will help you should any unusual symptoms or challenges arise later on.
You will also want to update your caree’s general practice physician and any regular specialists on the details of their hospital stay. Don’t depend on doctors and nurses to communicate. Be proactive and bring the information to them.
Your Goal is Discharge
Caregiver, you are already tired and stressed enough. Hospital stays are inevitable and because they are outside of your normal day-to-day, have the potential to be largely traumatic to both you and your caree. But with a little preparation and by following these basic tips, you can reduce your stress and be a better advocate for your caree so you can go home quickly.