There and Back Again: What I Pack for my Hospital Stays

I don’t want this blog to turn into a showcase of my ailments, but I did want to share that I’m going back in for yet another operation on Wednesday the 20th… in case anyone’s keeping track.

It also occurred to me, while I was writing a list of things to pack, that it might make sense to share that, too, in case anyone might make use of it either for themselves or for choosing useful hospital gifts.

I’ve had five operations and five recoveries (You really want those to match up, btw). Most of my recoveries were at least a month long, if not longer, so I pretty much know what I need, what I like, and what I can leave behind.*

Here goes:**

Essentials:

Purple GlassesGlasses.  I don’t bother with contacts in the hospital.  I can’t wear them into surgery and they’re a pain in the tuchus to deal with afterward—I won’t be able to get to a sink at first and my hand-eye coordination (pun intended) will be shot anyway.

Robe. Nurses and PT staff will most likely want you to move around, bless their sadistic hearts, unless it’s contraindicated by your condition.  I can’t stress how much easier and less exposed it feels to walk around in a long, comfy robe, rather than in a second thin hospital gown worn like an inadequate jacket. Plus, vinyl-covered chairs, (wheeled or stationary) can be flippin’ cold or dangerously adhesive.

Lost SocksSocks-with-treads or soled slippers. See above, re: “blessed sadistic hearts”: hospital floors are cold and slick.  The hospital does usually provide socks, but if you’re vertically challenged like me, hospital toilets and commodes can be too tall without thick-soled slippers… just saying.

Q-tips. I know it’s weird, but ears don’t stop producing wax when you’re recovering and you can’t get regular cotton swabs for love or money in a hospital.  And when you want one, you want one. All the staff can give you are those swabs on long wooden skewers, which frankly scare me to death.

Lip balm.  Hospitals don’t supply this, either, and my lips get really dry, especially if I’m put on liquid restriction.  I like Hurraw! lip balm the best; I use mint, because tooth brushing in the wards can be sporadic.  I also like Glamour Dolls lip jelly; it doesn’t wear off easily.

Hand cream and/ or body lotions. Hospitals make me itch and they smell funny; or is that just me? Either way, I’m bringing my second favorite  Crabtree & Evelyn magic to brighten up my aura.***

pencilpaperhand1-w640h480Pen and notepad. There’s always things to write down–phone numbers, test dates and times, things I keep forgetting to ask my doctor—and never anything to write it down with. This time, I’m going in armed.

Phone and extra, extra long charger cord. I use my phone for reading, music, calling my parents, texting friends, playing games, etc., and being hospitalized doesn’t change that.  So I’m not kidding about the length of the cord: my phone is my mental health lifeline, so I get antsy if it has to charge outside of my reach, just because I’m not allowed to pull the plug on my nearby wound vac or feeding pump. Nurses also hate being called into your room just to fetch a phone. Trust me.

My fairy godmother.  Because love and hope (and dear friends who send fairy godmothers) are the very best medicine.

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Thanks, ‘mausi!

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Good-to-haves

hair-brush-clip-art-29Comb or brush. The hospital can usually find one of those cheapo plastic barber combs, but I like my brush better and it doesn’t take up much room. My hair is short, but I might still toss in some headbands, and/or hairpins, if you’ll be staying a few weeks; like ears, hair has its own agenda.^

Toothpaste. I’d only bother if you need special toothpaste, like Sensodyne. Otherwise, the hospital will give you a tube of the basic stuff. Same with a toothbrush—leave the electric one at home; it’s too high maintenance and the vibrations won’t be kind.

DeodorantDeodorant. Your condition may vary, but I’m usually not allowed an actual shower more than once a week, if that, depending on my medical baggage. Sponge baths are okay, but sometimes, it just doesn’t  cut the pit funk. The hospital will provide a roller ball deodorant but it might as well be sticky water for what it does. I’m bringing my industrial strength spray Dove.

Dry shampoo. Sponge baths come with the option of a sort of showercap shampoo; they wet the inside of a lined, soap-infused showercap thing and massage it on your head.  It…works?  Sort of?  I’m bringing my Ouai dry shampoo foam as an alternative, though they’re still welcome to massage my scalp!

Micellar water and cotton pads.  The hospital does provide baby wipes on request, but when it comes to cleaning my face or behind my ears, I prefer micellar water to plain water or regular soap.

14055372411033652634crutch_Jh.svg.hiMoisturizer and eye cream. So, so extra. But again, I get dry and itchy—and if I’m going to use micellar water, anyway, what harm is a little, light skin care? Give the aging, sick woman her crutches…

Shower stuff. In the event that I’m actually allowed a Real Shower™, the first thing I want is a razor and the second is a decent bath gel that rinses well. So I bring my own.  If your personal hair care products aren’t optional for you, bring travel bottles (I suggest leave-in, mist conditioner). Oddly for someone who has Opinions about dry shampoo, I don’t usually bother.  The hospital stuff is good enough for me.

Nail file and clippers. Because I can’t bring painted nails to my surgery  (something to do with oxygen monitors, I think), these really aren’t optional for me, not the way my nails shred.  The tube of cuticle oil might be, but I don’t care.

Glass nail file

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Optional/Entertainment

I already have my phone, and the TV in my hospital has some serious premium channels, but I’m adding my headphones, in case I want an audiobook or to play something at a weird hour. I’m also bringing a print book I’ve been desperate to finish (if I can hold it) and my knitting, because it wads up small and my hands stiffen up if I don’t exercise ’em.

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I could bring my coloring books and pencils, Sudoku, puzzle books, etc., but I know I’m going to have trouble sitting up enough to use my tray table at first. If I want them, I’ll ask my husband later.

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Forget Thems

1basic-iv-gown_smStreet Clothes. Gowns are provided. Underwear, in my case, can get in the way of bandages and drainworks.  I’ll be staying a week or more and I could change rooms at any time, so why bother cluttering up the place? My husband will bring me clothes when he comes to take me home.

Makeup. Nope.  Don’t want or need to bother. Nurses and loved ones don’t care. And honestly, if I’m well enough to want to struggle with eyeliner,  I’m well enough to go home.

comic-book-swearing_3421243Work. I always think I’m going to write or edit but I’m usually too tired—or in such pain, I just keep hitting that morphine button. If I do come up with an idea, that’s what the pen and pad are for. I refuse to beat myself up about it.

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If there’s anything you think I missed, let me know–quickly, please!

I obviously won’t be posting for a bit, unless my recovery is a lot quicker than anticipated.  But I promise to be quicker about it, this time!

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*Until I give in and beg my husband for whatever it is I thought I wouldn’t need. It happens.

*Please note that this list is how I roll with my own recoveries from my own particular condition, which centers mostly on my lower front torso.  Take what makes sense to you and leave the rest at home.

***My first favorite is Gardeners Hand Therapy. It’s heaven, but unscented.

^I lost a lot of hair last year (lord, 2016 righteously sucked) because of a med or two, paired with a pretty heinous weight loss.  The hairpins helped me cover up the thinning patches until it grew back.

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So. That happened…

It’s been a while since I last posted… a year and nearly ten months, holy cow…but I have one hell of an excuse.

I think.  You be the judge:

If you haven’t read my last post or you don’t remember it, you might do that now.  I’ll wait.

Yeah, so it turns out that the pancreatitis thing wasn’t over yet. In fact, at my very next checkup, the doctor took one look at me and ordered me directly to the nearest ER. Who had me airlifted for emergency surgery to a hospital an hour away.

The surgeon, the incredible Dr. S, did her best to piece my insides back together–from what I was told later, it was a bit like tatting lace.  Things had melted to other things and had to be pried…well, never mind.

That was September 4th.

Since then, I’ve had five major surgeries (only three planned), about twelve procedures under general anesthesia, and countless adjustments, stitches, rebagging (think ileostomies and colostomies) and retubings. At one point, I was sporting approximately eight drains around my waist, a hula skirt from hell.

Coincidentally, my torso looks a bit like target practice for a small, hungry shark packing a twenty-two.

I spent around eight months in various hospitals, under various levels of sedation and the really good painkillers.* Not to mention various Dante-like circles of PT, learning to sit up and maybe do a little walking, as someone followed me with a wheelchair, just in case.

When I left the first hospital, for a specialty one nearer to home, the nurses and staff lined the corridor and gave me a standing ovation… because (i was told much later) most of them weren’t sure I would make it.

That changes a person, knowing that kind of thing, even more than the 140 pound weight loss (I didn’t eat anything by mouth for a long time), or my new 4-inch belly button. Or having to resign from my beloved job (who am I, if I’m not a librarian?)

I couldn’t write for the longest time, either, even after I came home, this time possibly for good, two months ago.  I was tired and empty and in quite a bit of pain.

But bit by bit, I’m getting stronger. I walk a little every day, sometimes without my walker.  20170202_090039I no longer have a stomach tube and am down to six medications, only one of which is longer than my thumbnail.

Money and insurance are worrisome, buy I’m working on applying for Medicaid and Social Security.  I’m also looking for a stay-at-home job that doesn’t involve stuffing envelopes or fraudulent practices.

And better yet, I have incredibly supportive friends who have stuck with me through all this mess (including those of you who keep asking me when I’ll be blogging again–this is all your fault!)

And I’m writing again. Maybe not well, but there are words now, and sentences, and maybe stories, too, however rusty and convoluted.

And I am here. Battered and bruised but not beaten.

How have y’all been?

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*It is a terrible thing to put someone with a fraught imagination on heavy drugs when they have no outlet.  At one point, and I’m not kidding, I refused to wear my socks because I was convinced they were pregnant…and when they died in childbirth (because they aren’t built for it, obviously), I tried to convince the nurse to call a funeral home so they could have a decent burial.  She’ll be telling that story for decades; I should be getting royalties.