Everyday Gear

What to Take to the Hospital

My dad is in the hospital again for the second time in three weeks. It’s not clear what’s going on, so this go-round he will probably undergo more extensive tests in an attempt to pinpoint something that may be treatable.

These last couple of trips to the emergency room have reminded me of the time I spent on the west coast with my dad — lots and lots of it in the ER. Back then, I always had my ER bag packed, and this morning I put a new one together. These visits may be the harbinger of more to come, and having my kit at hand makes life a lot easier.

For those who haven’t had the pleasure recently, a modern ER is, generally, a lot less about ’emergency’ than it is about ‘waiting.’ (Your mileage may vary; trauma centers and lotsa-guns-big-city-ERs excepted, naturally.) We wait for triage, we wait for tests, we wait for results, wait for consultation, wait for admission or discharge . . .

Dad spent just under 30 hours in the ER this go-round before the powers-that-be were finally able to move him to an actual room in the hospital. I spent a whole lot of that time with him, because the ER is just not a good place to be alone.

Here’s what I pack for the ER and for long hospital visits:

  • Several copies of Dad’s medical history, which I keep current in a file on my laptop. I get date-stupid fast when there’s a crisis; this helps, and goes a long way toward keeping errors from creeping into the record. For those with nails stuck into body parts, make sure you know when the last tentanus shot was. Hand copies out freely.
  • A cell phone. You can’t use it in the hospital, but you can use it right outside the door.
  • A charger for the phone. There’s never any charge left on my phone when there’s an emergency. It’s a law or something. Fortunately, one thing ERs are equipped with is a lot of outlets.
  • Moleskine Cahier NotebooksA notebook with blank pages, to write everything in. I like the large (five inches by eight) Moleskine Cahier Notebooks; they’re thin and flexible and have a pocket in the back where I can stash the papers the ER or admissions clerk make me sign.
  • 2 pens. One will run out of ink, or you’ll lose it. Guaranteed.
  • A book. I used to bring old Travis McGee novels, which are consumable much the same way popcorn is, but right now I’m carrying The Best American Short Stories 2006, which is alternately irritating and enjoyable, hence, just about right for the hospital.
  • A bottle of water, essential for clear thinking; easier to bring than to find.
  • A couple of protein bars. Opportunities to eat can be few and far between — you can always duck into the hall and chow down a bar, even if the poor patient still can’t eat.
  • Snow Peak ChopsticksChopsticks. I always carry these with me, even on ordinary days — they’re sleek, beautiful, and unscrew to fit into a small case. You can eat almost anything with chopsticks.
  • Light My Fire SporkA spork. For yogurt, which may be available at the hospital, and is hard to eat with chopsticks. I like the Light My Fire one a lot because it has full-sized fork and spoon ends on a short handle. The fork has a serrated edge that isn’t hard on the tongue. It’s from a Swedish company, but REI carries it.
  • Chapstick. My personal quirk: I can endure almost any physical agony except chapped lips.
  • A small bottle of antibacterial gel. Personally, I hate this stuff, but why share bugs? Why get them?
  • Antibacterial wipes. For cleaning undefined stuff off bars on the bed, a tray table, etc. It happens.
  • Tush wipes. Oh yeah, I’m serious. Carry a slew of these and you’ll never be at the mercy of an empty toilet paper holder again. Great when you encounter said holder; fabulous when you haven’t showered for 24 hours.
  • Cash. $10 for me here on the east coast (parking is free), $30 at Stanford University Hospital, where it notably isn’t.
  • Change. At least $2.50. At our suburban hospital, food (I use the term loosely) may only be available from a vending machine, which will require exact change. Which you won’t have, unless you’ve planned ahead.
  • Tissues, the kind that start with K, which we cannot name. Where there may be no toilet paper, there may be none of these, as well. Best be prepared.
  • OnigiriSupplementary food, as practical. The first night my dad and I were in the ER, my husband was at home making onigiri for me; the next day I ate them in a little side room while dad was having tests done. There is no more perfect portable food, and none more delicious . . . but you could do PB & J if you’d rather.