Before writing this article, I did a quick calculation. Due to her extreme pre-maturity and residual health conditions associated with her prematurity, our daughter at four years old has spent more than 16 percent of her life in the hospital — 249 days to be exact. Hopefully that establishes my credibility to write this article.
Surviving a hospital stay with your child is hard. First, you have the heart-wrenching pain of watching your child struggle. You feel helpless as you watch doctors and nurses do the thing that you’re supposed to be able to do: make your child feel better. Add to that stress and lack of sleep, and you’ve got a pretty terrible combination.
During our most recent hospital stay, I made a mental list of things I’ve learned over the years while our daughter has been in the hospital. It’s a situation I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. But, if you find yourself in this situation, I hope this list is helpful.
Use Hospital Resources
Many people would be shocked at the amount of resources a hospital has for families. These days, it’s not just about getting your child better; it’s about taking care of the whole family. For instance, if your visit to the emergency room turns into a five-night day, they will likely have extra toiletries for you. They may even have a closet with extra clothes, not just for your child but for you too. They have social workers and case managers, who can help out with financial needs related to your child’s hospital stay.
Many hospitals also have what’s called a “child life” department that can provide your child with toys. They may even have playrooms for your child if he or she is not contagious. Our “home” hospital has taken things to a new level with therapy golden retrievers, clowns, resident artists who will do art projects with the kids, and even a dedicated Child Life Zone filled with instruments for children to play, video games, a ping pong table, and a library.
Create a Visitation Schedule
Many people, who either haven’t been in the hospital themselves or haven’t had a child in the hospital, may not understand there is actual etiquette when it comes to visiting someone at the hospital. People often mistakenly assume since you are stuck at the hospital, you are up for visitors at any time. Some even stop by without checking.
My advice? Make sure that all visitors check in with you before visiting, and create a “schedule” of sorts so you can space out your visitors. Two reasons for this: It can be incredibly awkward to have several people who don’t know each other visiting you in the same room. You’re stuck making awkward conversation with people while caring for a sick child. No, thanks. Also, spacing out your visitors makes it easier on you, especially if they are people who can help you entertain your child or even give you a quick break.
And guess what? If you are not up for visitors, you have every right to say so. After all, it’s up to you to do what’s best for you and your child.
Take It One Day at a Time
Hospital stays can be much like a roller coaster. You’ll have good days and bad days. Your child may get worse before he or she gets better. If your child is like mine, she will get worse, better, worse, and then better. Your child’s care team will have a daily plan for your child, so focus on that. And at the end of the day, no matter how bad it may have been, identify positive thing that happened that day.
Obviously, you won’t be going through your typical beauty routine every day. You may not even shower every day. BUT, try and do at least one thing for yourself every day, no matter how small it is. Put on some lipstick. Spray in some dry shampoo. Put on some relaxing smelling lotion.
We’re lucky our home hospital has a hair and nail salon. During the last two hospital stays, I was able to actually have someone massage my head and wash my hair. It’s amazing how such a small thing made me feel like a human again.
Be NICE to the Hospital Staff
Yes, you are stressed. Yes, you want your child better as soon as possible. Guess what? So does the hospital staff. Across the board, hospital staff members are increasingly tasked with more and more to do in the same amount of time. They want your child to get better and in most cases will do everything in their power to do so. Have patience with them — and when you come in contact with a really great nurse, doctor, or other staff member, express your gratitude. Chances are, you may be the only person they hear it from.
One caveat . . . if you DON’T feel like your child is getting what he or she needs, by all means, speak up! There are definitely cases where it takes mama bear getting involved to truly get your child what is needed. After all, you know your child best.
So, there you go. There’s my list. I hope you don’t ever need it — but if you do, I hope my past experiences will help you.
For all of you mamas out there who have also experienced hospital stays with your child, any additions?