Don't forget to bring _______ when you go to the hospital!
December 17, 2011 9:02 AM   Subscribe

What items did you forget to bring along when you were admitted to the hospital for surgery?

My 75 year old father will be hospitalized for heart surgery in early January. Luckily, his doctors feel that this will be an uneventful procedure and he will make a full recovery. He will probably be in the hospital for about a week after the surgery.
My family has been blessed with excellent health and none of us has ever been hospitalized before. What are some things that he's likely to forget to bring with him when he's admitted? Basic items, or items to keep him occupied when he begins to feel better after the surgery? He's normally pretty active--not really a TV watcher. Any suggestions or hints are appreciated!
posted by bookmammal to Health & Fitness (30 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Haven't been in the hospital, but I am a hospital nurse. People forget their cell phone chargers, either at home or else in the hospital room when they leave, so don't forget to pack it both times. Don't be shy about asking for personal care items if he doesn't care to bring his own. The hospital should have toothbrushes and toothpaste, soap, shampoo, etc. but sometimes they don't bring them into the room if nobody asks for them.
posted by vytae at 9:11 AM on December 17, 2011

Send along a little spiral notebook and a nice pen so he can write down any thoughts, questions, reminders, requests, etc as the thinks of them.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 9:12 AM on December 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

posted by small_ruminant at 9:17 AM on December 17, 2011 [6 favorites]

It's alllllll about snacks. (Within doctors' guidelines, obviously; and he shouldn't have them around if he's pre-surgery or otherwise off food/fluids.) But boxes of fig newtons go A LONG WAY. It's hard when you can't get out of bed in your home in the middle of the night to get a snack; in a hospital, you just have to lay there till they bring you breakfast.

Also, shared rooms (AKA most rooms) are hard with noise; earplugs, headphones, anything like that can also be helpful. Also blinders. (You often can't get up and open or close the curtains, etc.)
posted by RJ Reynolds at 9:19 AM on December 17, 2011

I've never been in the hospital as an adult, but as a kid what I wanted was slippers. And better food.

Because of the risk of MRSA, I'd only bring things I had no intention of bringing back home. Maybe I'm paranoid, but my cell phone and favorite anything would stay home.
posted by bilabial at 9:21 AM on December 17, 2011

Magazines. I wasn't feeling good enough to read a book I had to concentrate on, but reading through some mags was a help.

I also wish I had a way to contact someone for the little things. I did not want to push the nurse call button for things like when I dropped my magazine, or to close the curtain. Not sure how to fix that though.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:22 AM on December 17, 2011

Lip balm. I've had to go get lip balm for hospitalized loved ones more times than I can count. Even if he doesn't normally use it, it may come in very handy due to the tendency for hospitals to have dry air, and especially if he is put on restricted liquids by mouth.
posted by gimli at 9:31 AM on December 17, 2011 [3 favorites]

I also wish I had a way to contact someone for the little things. I did not want to push the nurse call button for things like when I dropped my magazine, or to close the curtain. Not sure how to fix that though.

In response to this: the call light usually doesn't actually go to a nurse. It rings at the desk, and whoever is at the desk (the patient care aide, floor secretary, etc.) will answer. Don't hesitate to ring the call light if you need something an aide can take care of. This includes a dropped personal item you can't reach, needing a water refill, etc. Just specify exactly what you need so they know they won't need to send a nurse in. (And, of course, try not to ring every few minutes - or be prepared for an eye roll or two!).

To the OP: What about a pair of pajamas or a robe? You can wear your own clothes in the hospital. If your father is going to have a chest tube in, he may need to (or want to) wear the hospital gown until that's removed to ensure staff have easy access to the drain. Otherwise, as long as his own clothes don't interfere with dressings/bandages and the staff can easily remove clothes to assess incisions, listen to heart sounds, etc., it's not an issue. I'd bring something he wouldn't mind throwing away or losing - if it goes in hospital laundry, he won't get it back, and he may not want it back if it's been soiled with blood.

Magazines, crossword puzzles, sudoku, and things like that are all good ideas. Keep in mind the first couple of days he will likely be on heavy pain medications and may not have much energy to do anything.

Also, this isn't quite what you were asking about, but is related: if he hasn't already, make sure your father lets the medical team know about all home medications, including over the counter medicines and herbal supplements. A lot of people either forget about these, or bring in a giant bag of pills (with no labels) that the medical team then have to send to the pharmacy to identify one by one. If your father is on daily maintenance medications (for blood pressure, cholesterol, enlarged prostate, etc.), he needs to make sure the medical team is aware of those so they will continue during his hospitalization. Sorry if this is a no-brainer - you might be surprised at how many people don't take care of this before scheduled surgery, then end up missing doses of needed maintenance meds.
posted by pecanpies at 9:31 AM on December 17, 2011

Lip balm. I've had to go get lip balm for hospitalized loved ones more times than I can count. Even if he doesn't normally use it, it may come in very handy due to the tendency for hospitals to have dry air, and especially if he is put on restricted liquids by mouth.

Also: every hospital I've worked in has had lip balm - just ask your nurse or aide. This brings up a great point, though. Often patients who are NPO (nothing by mouth) before surgery get terrible dry mouth/cracked lips. The aides can help with this by providing lip balm as well as mouth swabs your father can use to keep gums and the inside of his mouth from drying out. Don't be shy about asking and letting them know what you need!
posted by pecanpies at 9:34 AM on December 17, 2011

The hospital should have toothbrushes and toothpaste, soap, shampoo, etc. but sometimes they don't bring them into the room if nobody asks for them.

This will vary from hospital to hospital. I wouldn't count on it. (I'm look at you, Mt. Sinai).

I've had a couple of week long stays. I wanted chapstick, beverages and snacks I liked, and socks. I actually ended up watching more TV that I do normally, so pay to have that turned on if it's not free (Mt. Sinai, again).
posted by kimdog at 9:35 AM on December 17, 2011

A sleep mask in addition to the earplugs. A soft cashmere or cotton watch-style hat will also help him sleep.
posted by jgirl at 9:44 AM on December 17, 2011

Just a suggestion, if he wears a wedding ring or any other rings, remove them and leave them at home before checking into the hospital. For some reason when my Dad had heart surgery he either lost a lot of weight or fluid weight or something, and after two days his wedding ring kept falling off his finger (a problem he'd never had before). Mom took it home so that he wouldn't lose it.
posted by Oriole Adams at 9:49 AM on December 17, 2011

A list of all medicines he takes including dosages, include vitamins and other supplements too, this saves a whole bunch of problems later when you are trying to remember doses and exact names of things.
Slippers or non slip bed socks as the blankets there are thin.
Gown or cardigan of some sort so he can walk around in those robes with some dignity.
A note pad and pen, handy for writing down what doctors have said so you don't forget among other things.
Snacks, drinks like bottled water, peppermints, crackers (if allowed)
Magazines or light, as in easy to read, books, puzzle books, pain and pain meds will keep him from doing too much the first few days.
Cell phone if allowed, if not make sure he has contact numbers for anyone he'd like to ring, its amazing how many people don't know phone numbers anymore as all phones seem to have address books.
Coins for vending machines.
Shaving supplies and a hairbrush or comb for when he is feeling human again after the op.
Plastic bag to put dirty underwear etc in to take home

All suggestions based on things I wish I'd had for my 72yo mothers recent hospital stay.
posted by wwax at 9:50 AM on December 17, 2011 [5 favorites]

wwax's list is great. I was in hospital for 10 days in October and I will emphasize a light robe from home, even to drape over shoulders when shuffling to bathroom. A booklight is nice, too, because it's not always easy to reach for the bed light. And any favorite hygiene/grooming products from home, as the hospital stuff is cheap and depressing. A stack of washcloths or personal wipes. Crossword puzzle magazine/books as electronics get tiring. And of course, a Bucky, which I could not have done without!
posted by thinkpiece at 10:45 AM on December 17, 2011

To add to wwax's list: lotion, music/something to play music on. He may be sufficiently out of it to not be able to read or hold a conversation, but having something mild to concentrate on music can help him from being bored. My dad was just in the hospital for a few days, and he said he's never been so bored as he was before I got there to sit with him, and after I got there, listening to music was about all he was up for.

Other entertainment, like puzzle books or a portable DVD player with a stack of movies or TV shows, was more for the people waiting then for the patient. (I did like having them very much for the times when my dad slept.) If they are like most hospitals these days, by the time he can track well enough to read or do a puzzle, he'll be home.

Neither of these threads directly answers your question, but both have useful things to inform it: teenager in hospital and family waiting in ER.
posted by Margalo Epps at 11:00 AM on December 17, 2011

Peppermint or ginger tea: I desperately wished for some after surgery, to soothe the icky stomach queasiness. They're not something that I normally drink, but I knew they would have helped me feel better and the hospital didn't have them.

cough drops, hard candies or throat lozenges, maybe chewing gum: dry mouth and irritated throat are pretty likely.

antiseptic wipes, in case something like the bed rails looks dubious.

small plastic bag to cover the TV remote, cause there's no way that can be really clean.

warm socks
posted by Corvid at 11:40 AM on December 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


A cardigan-type sweater or zip-up sweatshirt. A robe is fine, but it was nice to have something to wear on my top half to keep warm while my bottom half was under the covers and I was sitting up to watch TV.

Definitely magazines or similarly light reading material. I was too loopy/tired to focus very well on reading, so novels were out and magazines were perfect. Interesting enough to keep my attention, but short and not requiring a lot of concentration. I suppose a book of short stories might also serve. (I liked People and US Weekly, but Sports Illustrated, Time or Newsweek, things like that would also hit the sweet spot for me.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:58 AM on December 17, 2011

If I can pipe in with a related answer:

Don't forget about the VISITORS. If you're overnighting with him, make sure YOU bring clean shirts, clean underwear, and toothbrush/paste/rinse. A family friend had a massive heart attack about an hour away from the hospital, and I decided to go visit her. I thought 'What would she not have brought with her that she could REALLY use?' I brought a clean shirt, toothbrush/paste/rinse, and one of my stuffed animals for her to hug. She started crying, because she'd been thinking about those exact things and hadn't had a chance to get back to her house.

Make sure you're taking care of you, too.
posted by Heretical at 1:25 PM on December 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Everything above and oh, lord LOTION. Hospitals are the driest places on earth.
posted by Space Kitty at 2:06 PM on December 17, 2011

Ear plugs and eye mask. Particularly if you are a light sleeper. I shared a semi private room with a woman who refused to turn off the TV. Yes you get woken up a lot ofr meds and checks, but being able to shut out the world would have been a godsend.

Clean underware was also nice.
posted by larthegreat at 2:37 PM on December 17, 2011

A bottle of hand sanitizer. For the patient, for the visitors, maybe even the nurses and doctors.
posted by exphysicist345 at 2:53 PM on December 17, 2011

Nthing the dry air remedies: lip balm, lotion, moisturizing eye drops. Hospitals are desert-dry.

Here's something else: 2 of my recent hospitalizations required a personal check or credit card payment to, yes, activate the television.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 3:11 PM on December 17, 2011

Not to derail- but if you ask for any of these items from the hospital, do they charge you for them? will you find a $10 line item for Chapstick?
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 3:58 PM on December 17, 2011

Something familiar from home - pillow is nice. Something that smells familiar, for me it would be a cologne-scented hankie, or a small bottle of my favorite hand lotion. Magazines, because books can be difficult when recovering from anesthesia/painkillers. A button-front shirt or light jacket/ hoodie, whatever, because real clothes make you feel human, but pulling on a tshirt may be difficult. tv guide. clock. Nothing valuable; stuff gets lost/swiped easily.
posted by theora55 at 4:39 PM on December 17, 2011

I would highly recommend your own pillow (or two) in a brightly coloured pillow case. Its so nice to have your head rest on something that feels and smells like home rather than icky plastic.
posted by saradarlin at 4:48 PM on December 17, 2011

when I was in the hospital for my gall bladder, I went in there with a few things (well, I went to the ER with stuff and ended up staying for two days), and the things that I most was glad to have brought with me was my iPod with some audiobooks on it, and my phone (a Sidekick 3). I could put on an audiobook for HOURS and the time would just slide by, and the phone was great for talking to friends on AIM.

....then I got called by my manager, as something had gone horribly wrong at work and I was the only one who knew the system well enough to even think of how to fix it, but man, that helped me get a good review that year. (He was aware of my hospitalization, and only called me as a last resort, and helped me get all my disability in order after being out with the surgery for two weeks, so I can't complain; he even got me a special internal award for above-and-beyond work for getting stuff done while technically on disability from work.)

So be aware that if you have the phone, some people may call you whether or not you want them to.
posted by mephron at 5:46 PM on December 17, 2011

When I was in the hospital for having a baby and then again for having my gallbladder out, the best thing was a huge, soft towel. The hospital towels are rough and about the size of a postage stamp. Bring one in a non-white color so the custodians don't cart it off with the laundry.
posted by chiababe at 7:25 PM on December 17, 2011

If he wears glasses, lens cleaner (premoistened towelettes are the most convenient) is a good idea, especially if he ends up with any sticky tape residue on his face near his glasses. They'll have alcohol pads, but the nurses can be stingy with those.

I always have problems with my very long hair when I'm in the hospital. It gets dirty and tangled and matted very quickly when I can't get out of bed.

I always wish I had hot sauce when I'm faced with hospital food, but they may frown on that if he's on a low-salt cardiac diet.
posted by WasabiFlux at 11:39 PM on December 17, 2011

A brush/comb.

Nthing earplugs. Bring extra pairs - mine kept on falling out of my ears and getting lost.

Nthing peppermint tea - general anaesthesia sometimes causes stomach ickiness; the tea helps to settle the stomach after, especially if he's prone to nausea and doesn't like the side-effects from OTC anti-emetics. I drank pots and pots of this stuff - ran up the bill terribly, but it helped immensely with the nausea afterwards.

This is maybe a little fancy, but I would've loved having a small electric kettle for hot water. YMMV.

Home-cooked food. Nothing fancy, but something warm and soothing would've been lovely. Maybe a plain version of a soup he likes brought by in a thermos?

And finally, something I really, really wished I had done/known about before: general anaesthesia can sometimes cause mild memory loss. It tends to be more common in older patients, doesn't tend to be serious (no amnesia), and in most cases it doesn't seem to be permanent. So after surgery, he may not remember having conversations with you, doing certain things, or things like passwords. Writing down things like that beforehand would be good, clearly marked. Having photos afterwards was helpful for me - in some cases, I still can't remember the actual event, but it was good to see physical evidence that yes, people weren't just making things up. Keeping a daily journal right after surgery would've been helpful too - for me, I had trouble retaining memory right after, but now I've started journalling (small things - even just what was done or wasn't done) and it's helping to cement in that memory and keep things active.

Good luck and good health to your father (and you and your family)!
posted by zennish at 1:58 AM on December 18, 2011

Not quite what you asked, but important enough that I want to chime in: Your presence, or someone's presence, as close to 24x7 as you can, especially once he's left intensive care.

The medical staff at too many hospitals is just spread too thin. You want someone there to keep an eye on things, to be a (calm, polite) patient ally if need be.

Some reading on this here and here.
posted by jeri at 1:10 PM on December 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

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