Activities for a teenager in hospital?
September 8, 2011 2:57 PM   Subscribe

Ideas for keeping a 13-year old girl occupied / distracted while in a lot of pain during a 2 week hospital stay?

After a long and tortuous journey through the Ontario health care system my daughter will be admitted to hospital next week, for at least 1-2 weeks. She has chronic knee pain and they're hoping that an intensive physiotherapy program will get her out of the wheelchair and back on her feet. She'll likely suffer much worse pain before it gets better.

My wife and I are planning for at least one of us to be there with her all the time, and will get friends to visit whenever possible. She'll hopefully be getting counselling to help deal with the pain, but we know that distraction is a big part of that process as well.

What should we buy / bring with us. She has a DS (will get at least one new game) and an iPod. We'll have our laptops there for movies, Skype and internet. The hospital probably has video games that they can bring to her room. While she loves reading, she finds it hard to focus during bad pain.

So, other than the above... what would be good distractions for her? The above are all things she's comfortable with (and that she's been relying on over the past few months), but I'm thinking something new might be good for her to focus on, though her attention span may be limited during times of the worst pain.
posted by valleys to Health & Fitness (38 answers total)
sounds like a good time for a crash course in bridge.
posted by H. Roark at 3:04 PM on September 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

Not on point, but worth considering: Current medical practice at most hospitals is to do all possible to reduce pain. Do not be afraid to ask for pain relief for those times after and between sessions. There are all manner of non-addictive pain relievers that can help and most hospitals are very much in favor of providing them.
posted by Old Geezer at 3:12 PM on September 8, 2011 [4 favorites]

How about whole seasons of TV shows? If this were me, I would want to watch all the Project Runway and Iron Chef episodes I could get my hands on, plus dramas like Buffy or Lost. You daughters mileage and yours may vary, but I think you should think about letting her watch stuff that's either a bit crappier or a bit more scandalous than you would under normal circumstances.
posted by crabintheocean at 3:14 PM on September 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

check your local game shops (it's kind of pricey on - way cheaper on if you have an american friend who can bring it to you) for a card game called killer bunnies. it's a fairly silly, fun game, doesn't take a whole lot of thought, and we once had a 3 person game go for almost 4 hours. there are also multiple expansion packs that add to the game.
posted by koroshiya at 3:15 PM on September 8, 2011

A copy of The Diary of Anne Frank may be inspiring and easily picked up/set aside. Cribbage is a fantastic bedside game. A big handful of magazines to flip through ( I remember liking Seventeen at that age).
posted by valoius at 3:21 PM on September 8, 2011

How about a book she wouldn't normally be allowed to read but really wants to?
posted by By The Grace of God at 3:22 PM on September 8, 2011

Does she have any interest in crafts? Embroidery, cross stitch, crochet, and knitting can all be fun and distracting. Embroidery or cross stitch would be the easiest of those if she hasn't tried them before, and there are non-dorky patterns and kits out there. Or even making simple friendship bracelets could be a fun little tactile distraction that is easy to pick up and put down between physio sessions.

Jewelry making? Before heading to the hospital you could take her to a craft store to pick out some beads and jewelry findings to make simple earrings, bracelets, etc. Could be annoying or messy at the hospital, though, if she has to manage a bunch of beads on her bed.

How about puzzle books for when she doesn't feel like playing games on a screen? I loved logic puzzles and easy crosswords at that age.
posted by dayintoday at 3:22 PM on September 8, 2011

Games you can play together are a good choice. Card games/board games/World of Warcraft... everything is more engaging when you're doing it with someone else.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 3:29 PM on September 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also if you can beg, borrow or steal an iPad for a couple of weeks I highly recommend it as a timesink. Peggle alone will kill three or four days, not to mention Angry Birds.

An iPad is a much different experience than a laptop; It's much easier to lay in bed with for starters.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 3:33 PM on September 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

I was in the hospital for a few week when I was 16. Pain from my operation and recovery fatigue was such that I couldn't focus enough to read or play games. I would play it by ear.

I did appreciate music, tv I didn't need to pay full attention to. The highlights of my day though were people reading to me. I'd recommend audiobooks too.
posted by bonehead at 3:36 PM on September 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

What's your budget? An iPad with 3G (if there's no wifi in the hospital) and a Netflix subscription would be awesome.

On a cheaper note, I'd also load up with a ton of podcasts (are there any geared towards kids?). They're great because you don't need to be actively involved, you can just listen.
posted by cgg at 3:39 PM on September 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Watch Romy and Michele's High School Reunion. It is one of the stupidest movies, possibly ever, but it's great when you're not feeling well. I only watch it when I'm sick, but when I'm sick, it's all I want to watch. YMMV.
posted by phunniemee at 3:46 PM on September 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Audio books are good for times when you're too distracted to read or maybe you don't want your eyes open, or maybe you're a bit lonely and want to hear another voice, so make sure she has a variety of them on her ipod. Maybe all of the Harry Potter books, or something she's already read but a while ago so she won't worry about falling asleep and missing parts.

If she's going to have regular company all the time, I'm a bit loathe to suggest it because it's a serious money sink, but a collectable card game like Magic the Gathering or Yu-Gi-Oh (maybe one of its varietals) can be a good distraction - it's got a level of competition, learning, basic math, and attention to detail that, depending on who she is, she's probably the right age to enjoy.

Definitely want to suggest crafts, too. Crochet is easier to pick up (and to correct one's mistakes) than knitting; they're less demanding than a video game, but in the end of both you have a physical object as testament to your work. If she's in the hospital for a fortnight, even if she's brand new to textile crafts, she could easily have a scarf for winter in her favorite colors all made by the end of it.
posted by Mizu at 3:47 PM on September 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh god, please nothing heavy like Anne Frank unless she really wants to.

If I were thirteen, I'd want to do nothing more than watch all the Degrassi that was ever made. Hell, even at 27 I find myself falling into marathon sessions of it on low key weekends.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 3:56 PM on September 8, 2011 [6 favorites]

Nthing crafts, especially knitting or crochet. I have chronic pain issues, although nothing as serious as your daughter sounds to be going through, and particularly simple/easy/mindless knitting projects help me a lot. The rhythmic nature is very soothing and there's just enough focus needed to be distracting without being difficult or draining. Combines well with podcasts, audiobooks, or music.

If going the CCG/MtG route, I'd definitely reccomend doing it online. Fuck that cardboard noise.

A sketchbook and some basic drawing materials like colored pencils or art markers, but nothing messy like charcoal/pastels/paint.

Teach her to play go or chess, or learn it with her. Both have amazing online communities, plenty of learning/study materials, and lots of solutions for playing online.

Any kind of co-operative or competitive PC games that she could play with you guys or her friends online: Minecraft, Civilization, Starcraft, Diablo.

Being lonely will probably be just bad as boredom, maybe more. If you haven't already made arrangements so her friends and maybe some other relatives can come visit, definitely do that.
posted by sinnaith at 4:08 PM on September 8, 2011

I agree with the suggestion for TV series, like Lost or Buffy or Arrested Development. Another idea, if she has a computer and likes playing video games, might be downloading a game that's immersive and addictive but open-ended (and thus not strategy/super-thinky dependent) like Minecraft.
posted by mothershock at 4:53 PM on September 8, 2011

Origami or just folding paper stars. I find whenever I hurt myself, something completely mindboggling mindless helps a lot. Folding paper stars ends up having a pretty monotonous and addictive rhythm to it.

MMOs as others mentioned may help too in that there's a lot of grinding (if it's an RPG based one) and a more social aspect to her hospital stay, though this may be limited depending on how reliable the hospital's internet connection is. I'd recommend Puzzle Pirates for this because it's really kid friendly, but at the same time, I find has a much older demographic that also plays who will also be able to lend an ear if she needs it.

Getting a kindle may not be a bad idea either. She might not have the attention span to read it when she's in a lot of pain, but at least she'll be able to have hundreds of books at her fingertips if she does feel like reading.
posted by astapasta24 at 5:35 PM on September 8, 2011

I was going to recommend the DS. Maybe something really immersive, like Pokemon or World Ends With You? I remember playing Okami when I as sick, so maybe Okamiden?
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 5:40 PM on September 8, 2011

The best board game I've ever played is Settlers of Catan.
posted by Foam Pants at 6:04 PM on September 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oooh, thanks to those who suggested iPad. Why didn't I think of that? Grandma (my M-I-L) probably has the budget for that. The little detail that I didn't mention is that she's actually 12 at the moment and will turn 13 during the next two weeks, so will likely be in hospital for it. She realised that this evening, and wasn't happy. (Reminded her that she ate all the cake provided by the hospital when I was in the hospital on my birthday a few years ago!) So, an iPad as a joint birthday/hospital gift is a good plan. We could put a TV series on it - she's totally into Phineas and Ferb and iCarly at the moment. (And I could use it while she's doing her treatment haha!)

Audiobooks are a great idea. My wife has a Kindle so we could use that for books as well.

Crafts are a good idea - she recently knitted herself a cool hat using a plastic knitting ring borrowed from a friend, and did find it soothing / distracting and not something that needed much brain power. She wanted a ring for her birthday so we'll make sure one of those appears asap.

Killer Bunnies sounds great - we love silly card games, and her favourite stuffy toy through all this process has been a rabbit, so she loves all things bunny. We'll look at the other card/game ideas as well.

Really appreciate all the suggestions, thanks folks. And yeah - while pain relief is generally a priority, it won't be an option. She has been diagnosed with Amplified Pain Syndrome and the hospital is trying to emulate a treatment program from the US where physio and counselling are used to reprogram the brain to turn off the pain signals. Masking the pain during the process prevents the bran from doing that, so agony for the first few days is the reality, I'm afraid. If this works it should see a swift progression.
posted by valleys at 6:35 PM on September 8, 2011

Nthing the iPad idea. For even more fun, get her an iTunes gift card so she can shop for games and books and music and rent movies on the fly. (Make sure you have headphones for her.) If you already have a Netflix account, you're golden; she can stream movies to the iPad from it.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:06 PM on September 8, 2011

If you already have a Netflix account, you're golden; she can stream movies to the iPad from it.

That may not be possible in a hospital setting. Many hospitals discourage WiFi/3G use.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:36 PM on September 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

We do have Netflix - was going to can it as the selection in Canada is pretty dire, but I'll keep it for another month. The clinic areas of the hospital, with which we are now very well acquainted, have reasonable wifi for browsing, but streaming doesn't generally work well. And my Android phone struggles to get a decent signal in many parts of the hospital. We'll see what it's like when she's admitted but we wouldn't rely on an iPad having net access. When she was last in (for 2 days when she was 7) they brought a TV with DVD player and some form of game console to her room, so that would likely happen this time as well.
posted by valleys at 7:45 PM on September 8, 2011

Regarding iCarly, speaking as someone who has been involved in its fandom in the past, the young actors of the show are all SUPER sweet. You might be able to get a birthday greeting tweet from one of them to your daughter.

Particularly, the girl who plays Sam is totally the sweetest and has experience with sick loved ones; Jennette McCurdy:!/jennettemccurdy
Creator of the show:!/danwarp
posted by Mizu at 8:08 PM on September 8, 2011

Books that a 13 year old will love? Bloody Jack (the first in a 7 book series all very good) by LA Meyer (also available as an audio or kindle book). Movie choice? Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlee, you could even do the books prior to? It will take up a full day if she is dedicated and watches them straight through. IPad is the best ever, totally agree with that one! A small easy to manage drawing kit would go eons toward keeping me entertained... Just a thought but it may spark ideas on something that she is interested in.
posted by Jayed at 9:29 PM on September 8, 2011

A trip to Sassy Bead [noting profile location here] for jewellery-making supplies? Get a bead board and some storage -- the 100ct packs of mini zip-locks sold in dollar stores would do.

Car pools for her friends to visit if they are not easily able to get there on the bus.

Ottawa hospital food quality is all over the map with most of it leaning towards blah; I bet bags of take-away would not go unappreciated. Pizzeria gift card for birthday so she can order in when friends visit?
posted by kmennie at 9:37 PM on September 8, 2011

Our family found Greg the Bunny hilarious, and easy on the brain. Also, Fluxx and Apples to Apples are both good card games where you can still "win" even if you are not all with it. (Both do better if you have three players.) Also, you can check out books of comic strips from the library. (Garfield was popular with my daughter, maybe Calvin and Hobbes.)
posted by metahawk at 9:44 PM on September 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Banangrams for when she needs a break from screen-time. Plus, it's easy for visitors to jump in.
posted by jilliank at 10:11 PM on September 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

It won't buy you a great deal of distraction, but if she hasn't read the graphic novel "Smile" by Raina Telgemeier, I encourage you to grab a copy. It's the story of all the dental drama Raina went through after knocking out her two front teeth around the age of 13. Your daughter may very well relate.

Also, "Astronaut Academy" by Dave Roman is brilliant. Less personally relevant, perhaps, but one of my personal favourite all time graphic novels. It also stands up well to re-reading.
posted by TangoCharlie at 11:29 PM on September 8, 2011

Lot's of good suggestions, but I'd like to take a moment to plug the Penny-Arcade "Child's Play" charity, which has raised over US$7m since 2003 to provide video games for children in hospitals.

Children can loose themselves for hours in games, even if their in pain. Perhaps the hospital she's in is one of the recipients.
posted by kjs3 at 1:03 AM on September 9, 2011

her concentrations levels are likely to be shot so anything to do with learning something new or focusing an a complicated game will not really help.
The iPad is a fantastic suggestion and watching lots of her favorite series, films etc., will help but do make sure she is completely familiar with it and all its fuctions before the programme starts so she is not frustrated when her concentration level declines and associate it negatively with frustration.

You need to ensure both visual and audio distraction rather than audio only (according to my husband the pain specialist) and prepare for a short fuse. It may not be ideal for only family members to be with her constantly and you may want to explore with her the level of clinginess (on your side) she is comfortable with and expect for that to change over the course of the treatment.

In the many discussions he's brought home I remember a nurse specialist worked up an excercise with Paeds patients - a visualisation of pain being a different country, preparations for hospital like getting your passpost, jabs etc., the usual hassles of travel, packing, then when the pain hits viewing it like climbing a foreign mountain knowing that there's an incredible view from the top (the pain-relief period), and accentuating that fanatastic period with a special activity rather than the routine distraction ones, (she worked up something different for each child depending on their likes, the predictability in timing etc., I remember one hilarious example where she took advantage of the 15 year old girls mini-crush on a handsome healthcare Assistant and she would arrange for him to pop-by at particular times to bring a Marvel comic the girl loved!!)

If the treatment is timetabled then the pain is predictable and so having different activities for the climb depending on the severity of the pain would be good.

Emphasise to her the incredible, special and heroic life-skill she is acquiring by dealing with her pain, the advantage she will have over the spolit namby-pamby's at home, like the foreign country analogy she is travelling somewhere her peers may never go and cannot understand. She actually may need to face that depending on how intensive the experience is in her life she may actually leave one or two friends behind and that not a problem, the most important thing is that she feels comfortable is whatever company she keeps during this time.

best of luck to you all
posted by Wilder at 4:18 AM on September 9, 2011 [2 favorites]

When I was stuck in the hospital my friends were totally awesome and pulled together to get me a game boy advance (this was a few years ago...), but I think something that I would have been happy with is some games that take very little concentration and are over quickly or very chunky.

Solitaire, arkanoid clones, probably something like peggle are great. Long games can be quite daunting to get into.

I also had the problem of being left alone one afternoon due to all of my friends (I was in college at the time) having the same exam to take. Being left alone was strangely awful, so having company, while sometimes a little annoying, was really a good thing.
posted by that girl at 4:27 AM on September 9, 2011

We do have Netflix - was going to can it as the selection in Canada is pretty dire, but I'll keep it for another month.

Unblock Us
posted by KathyK at 5:15 AM on September 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

A few portable games that were hits at our house: Yahtzee handheld; scrabble flash cubes; ball of whacks (magnetic puzzle). The key is to withhold them until she needs a new diversion.

Also phone or skype dates with friends, to give her something to anticipate (if her friends are reliable). Good luck!
posted by MichelleinMD at 9:59 AM on September 9, 2011

I'm going to echo Wilder and say her concentration won't be great, probably. Especially if any sort of anethesia or strong pain drugs are involved. During my lengthy hospital stay, movies, TV and visits from friends were the best. I slept a lot - pain is hard work! I really couldn't read very well, even though I love to read usually. Card games are be a great idea, although learning new, complicated ones might not work so well.
posted by backwards compatible at 10:07 AM on September 9, 2011

Wow. Wilder - thank you so much for your post. If we get anything like that kind of insight and support at the hospital, we'll be happy.

I discovered today that the hospital has a large open library which I'm going to guess has a good selection of comic books - she loved the ones mentioned and has reread the few we own many times. They also have an activity room, and various other things that will hopefully provide her with some distraction.

Good point about her sleeping a lot - I suspect that will be the case, so long as we remember to bring her eye shade and earplugs.

I'll get an iPad tomorrow (grandma is making a big contribution to that) so I have time on Sunday to put some content on it. Mom's going to get her a knitting ring and yarn. I'm having a hard time finding Killer Bunnies locally but Chapters online has it cheaper than Amazon so I'll order it for delivery next week. If it's too complicated for her to learn while at the hospital it will give us something to look forward to at home. Appreciate the Sassy Bead recommendation, but while she finds it ok very occasionally, it's not her favourite thing.
posted by valleys at 1:18 PM on September 9, 2011

Sitting in the hospital waiting for final discharge papers to come. My daughter has gone from months of agony in a wheelchair to walking with manageable pain, which we're very happy about. Still a long road ahead to regain full strength and mobility, but great progress so far. Transition back to normal life and school starts tomorrow.

The iPad was a huge hit, and has certainly helped with distraction and time-killing. And she was able to Facetime with friends with other iDevices, which was great if they couldn't come to visit her. (And the iPad kept ME up way too late last night after she was asleep, trying to finish a level on Angry Birds!)

Killer Bunnies we've played at home but not at the hospital, but will definitely be a family game favourite for a long time to come.

We didn't need too much to keep her busy during the day - she spent a lot of time with physiotherapists and other medical staff, and when she wasn't with them, the hospital had a great activity room with crafts, video games etc and good staff / volunteers who keep the kids busy. This wasn't available most evenings but the iPad, books and visitors kept her happy.

I was able to get a Twitter greeting from iCarly's Gibby, as well as emails / letters from assorted musicians I have connections to... all of which really lifted her spirits.

Thanks for all the great suggestions and support.
posted by valleys at 8:21 AM on September 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

i'm glad it worked out well for you, and that you enjoyed killer bunnies. i hope your daughter continues to get better and better every day!
posted by koroshiya at 12:15 PM on September 29, 2011

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