If you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, you may very well end up staying in the hospital at some point, whether it’s for surgery or another treatment that requires an overnight stay. For many people, this may be ther fist time you’ve stayed in a hospital since you were born or gave birth! For my husband, he had actually had one other brief hospital stay about 22 years before, but still, it wasn’t for a surgery or a major treatment.
J was all set for a colectomy (resection of the colon and small intestine/ileum) and removal of his ileocecal valve. We had no idea what to expect, and since we were still in a state of shock and were busy rearranging our life in general, we didn’t even try to find out much. Luckily, we have a friend who works in a doctor’s office and who is very comfortable with hospitals and medical procedures. Thankfully, she stepped right in and told us what we needed to know! So my first piece of advice is: have a friend who works in the medical field and can take the day off and baby you! But if you aren’t as lucky as we were, here are some tips to help make your hospital stay go as smoothly as possible!
- Get a ride to the hospital. You’ll both be nervous and being nervous and driving aren’t a good combo. Plus, parking can be a b*tch and then there’s the issue of who’s carrying the bags? Much easier if your ride drops you off in front!
- Arrange for someone to look after your home for a few days so you won’t have to go back and forth just to feed the dog, water the plants, or check the mail. You can go home if you want to, but you don’t want to have to go home.
- Leave a key where a friend or neighbor can find it if you need to have someone check on something in your house.
- Make sure someone is bringing in the newspaper/mail and checking for deliveries at your front door.
- Have a friend sit with you during the surgery. Even if you don’t feel like talking, just being with a friend is comforting.
- Ask your minister or rabbi or priest of iman (etc) to pray with you before the surgery. Our minister came to the hospital both times and prayed with us before the surgery. The surgeon held hands with us as she prayed–a very emotional moment. Another minister-friend visited at the hospital and led us in prayer.
- For the caregiver: Bring a bag to keep you occupied during the surgery. I brought a couple of magazines, the newspaper, my Chromebook and charger, and my phone and charger.
- For the caregiver: Bring a light sweater to wear in the hospital. It can be chilly–especially in the summer!
- For the caregiver: Bring some cash or a credit card for food and drink!
- For the caregiver: Wear super comfy clothes and shoes so you can walk around the hospital (indoors or outdoors) to relieve tension and breather some fresh air. I also did a little yoga in the waiting room…! I may have looked a little crazy, but it sure helped me stay calm.
- Bring a pad of paper (or use your Memo/Notes section of your phone) to jot down questions you have for the doctor/surgeon or to write down things the surgeon says after the surgery.
- For the caregiver: Bring an overnight bag. Even if you think you’ll be going home for the night, you might change your mind. It won’t hurt to bring a change of clothes, some sweat pants you can also sleep in, a toothbrush and any medication your are currently taking. You should also bring a favorite pillow–could come in handy for naps all day long!
- For the patient: You will want to change into clean clothes on departure day. Remember that you may experience swelling if you’ve had intestinal surgery, so plan on loosefitting pants–elastic waisted sweat pants are probably your best bet. You will also need comfy shoes and slippers, a bathrobe, your own toiletries kit, and maybe even a book or magazine.
- You both might enjoy some of your favorite music, so make a couple of different playlists you can enjoy together in the hospital room.
For parents of young children:
- Make sure you have arranged pick-ups, playdates and sleepovers beyond just the first day. You (or your loved one) may be in the hospital for longer than planned, so it’s better to have your back-up plans in place.
- Call your child’s teacher to make sure he or she is aware of what is going on. This should be an ongoing communication that will help your teacher interact with and better understand your child.
- Plan for your child to do some fun activities with friends or relatives, if possible, during the surgery. A movie? Bowling? Pancake House? Anything that will take her mind off the surgery and make her feel the love of those around her.
- Leave your child a sweet note, especially if you leave for surgery early in the morning.
- Tell your child’s friends’ parents what is going on so they will be attuned to your child’s emotions. An email is okay–you don’t have to call everyone. You probably won’t have time even if you want to!
- Help your child tell his friends what is going on. You child will likely have no idea how to talk to friends about a parent with cancer and may want to hide it from everyone. Talk openly about what it means to be or have a friend. Explain that friends might not know what to say, and that’s okay. Cancer is not something to be ashamed of, but that also doesn’t mean you will want to talk about it all the time either. Model this by showing your child that you are willing to talk about it with him whenever or however he wants. It’s not a taboo subject, nor is it a required subject!
- Even if you’re dog-tired as the patient or caretaker, try to muster the energy to talk to your child either on phone or in person as soon as possible, especially right after the surgery. Your child will be relieved to hear that the surgery went well and the patient is already in recovery.
- Plan for your child to visit the hospital as soon as the patient is feeling up to it. In our case, our daughter came by the day after the surgery and even sat on the bed with J. Just seeing him sitting up and smiling made her feel so much better!
- Check in with your child as often as possible during the hospital stay.
- Encourage your child to write notes or draw pictures to help cheer up her parent/loved one!
- Prepare your child for the recovery timeline: anticipated release from hospital, and what restrictions the patient will have for the following days/weeks/months. Children do better when they know what to expect (don’t we all?) Emphasize that things may change, but give a general idea of the timeline so everyone can plan.
- Help your child think of ways she can help the patient feel better and pass time together. Our daughter wanted to do puzzles with her Dad so we bought a puzzle board and a puzzle they could do together on the bed at home. They also played word games and did adult coloring books together. While he was recuperating, they made new fun memories. One of the gifts of cancer!
- If you and your loved one are raising your child in a religious faith, remind him of the power of prayer and pray with him for healing and strength.
I’m sure I’ve left some important details off this list! In fact, here it is: The most important piece of advice I can give you is to ask people for help when you need it. Your whole family will benefit if you all accept that this is a time of your life when you need to receive help. Your turn will come again to be the giver. Sit back and receive and let your friends and family love on you.