Surviving Your Child’s Hospital Stay:: Advice from a Seasoned Medical Mom

Surviving Your Child's Hospital Stay:: Advice from a Seasoned Medical Mom

All kids get sick. Having a little one down with the flu, RSV, or any one of a myriad of viruses just plain sucks. Ideally, you’ll ride out your child’s illness at home, with plenty of rest, fluids and snuggles. But sometimes, an illness is nasty enough that your child will need extra medical support and observation and need to be hospitalized. Having a child in the hospital is stressful, but if you are prepared and know what to expect, it makes the whole experience a little more bearable. So, file these tips away {from a seasoned medical mom with lots of hospital stays under her belt} in case you ever need them.

Tip 1:: Know what to Expect {Spoiler- lots of waiting and interruptions}

Surviving Your Child's Hospital Stay:: Advice from a Seasoned Medical Mom

The Emergency Room

If your child has to be admitted to the hospital, they will likely have to go to the emergency room first. It’s important to understand how the ER works. It is NOT “first come first serve.” The ER triages patients and sees them in order of emergent need. That means, your child’s fever and hacking cough isn’t going to come before a child with a head injury. Yes, you’ll probably have to wait, and even after you are seen and admitted, there’s usually more waiting for a room to become available.

Also in the emergency room {and on the floor once you are admitted}, you’ll have to give a detailed description of “the story” of what brought you to the hospital to multiple people- both doctors and nurses. Yes, it’s super annoying to repeat the same story over and over, but it’s really important that everyone treating your child have the correct details of what is going on so they don’t misdiagnose or mistreat.

If your little one has an illness, the ER nurses will take vitals, then place an IV and likely draw blood for labs. Some kids are “hard sticks” and it may take a few tries to get a good vein. Be patient with your nurse, but also don’t hesitate to ask for someone else if need be {NICU and transport nurses are great at placing IVs}. 

The emergency room is uncomfortable, and it’s usually the worst part of a hospital stay. Expect a lot of waiting and wishing for answers. Be patient, and just accept that life is going to suck for a few hours while you’re there. 

The Hospital Room

Surviving Your Child's Hospital Stay:: Advice from a Seasoned Medical Mom
While not a luxury hotel, the hospital room is much more comfortable, quiet and private than the emergency room. When your child arrives at their room, they will be assigned a nurse. Nurses work 12 hour shifts, from 7 am-7 pm or 7 pm- 7 am. Probably the most important tip of all is BE NICE TO YOUR NURSE. Nurses are who actually care for your child during their hospital stay. They will be in and out of your child’s room all day and night, so make friends with them. They are saints. Seriously.

Soon after you get to the room, a resident doctor or medical student will come talk to you. You’ll have to tell them “the story” all over again and answer a bunch of questions about your child’s medical history, medications they take, and your home life. This person is part of a larger team led by an attending doctor who will visit the room during rounds. The team will make decisions together regarding treatment. The entire team usually rounds in the mornings, and then the resident or attending may pop in once or twice more during the day. 

While in the hospital there will be lots of people in an out of the room at all hours. There will be a person who takes your child’s vitals at regular intervals, nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists, child life specialists, housekeepers, etc, etc. It can be frustrating, especially when you’re little one is sick and trying to sleep, but remember these people all are doing their job with the goal of getting your kid well and home.

Tip #2:: Know What to Bring and What to Ask For

What to bring

If you know or think your child might be admitted to the hospital, go ahead and pack an overnight bag. Some hospital must-haves include::

  • Insurance cards, a list of your child’s current medications, diagnoses {if applicable}, pediatrician contact info, and dates of any previous surgeries or procedures.
  • Your own pillow. As a mom, you’ll have to sleep on the “couch” in the room. The hospital will provide sheets and blankets for you, as well as pillows, but the pillows are terrible. Trust me on this- bring your own. 
  • Basic toiletries- face wash and moisturizer, toothbrush and toothpaste, and stuff to take a shower if you think you might be there a few days.
  • Comfy clothes and layers. The hospital is usually cold, and there’s a lot of lounging around, so comfort and warmth is key.
  • Book, iPad, coloring book, etc. to pass the LONG hours laying around.
  • Phone charger {and also, don’t forget to take it home with you. Nurses report that chargers are the most left-behind item}.
  • Bottled water and healthy snacks. Buying food at the hospital is expensive, and in between meals, you’ll want something to nibble on. 
  • Advil and EmergenC {or other immune support supplement}. The hospital is a germy place, and the last thing your family needs at this time is for YOU to get sick. Take care of yourself- and this includes sleeping when you can, washing your hands a lot, and eating as healthily as possible. 

What to ask for

  • An egg crate for the couch. It will make sleeping SO much more comfortable.
  • Toys for your child. A child life specialist should be available to bring toys or activities for your little one when they are up for playing.
  • A list of local restaurants that deliver to the hospital {or try an app like Door Dash}.
  • Clarification. If you don’t understand a treatment or test result, ask. Also, if you don’t feel comfortable about something, speak up. You are your child’s advocate.
  • The laundry room. Most hospitals provide a washer, dryer and detergent for families of patients to use. 
  • Time away. It is not good for your mental health to be stuck in a hospital room 24/7  for several days. It is OK to step away for a few minutes- and if possible GO OUTSIDE. Just let your nurse know you’re leaving, and take a 10 minute walk around the hospital grounds, and/or a 30 minute lunch. Your kid will be fine.

Tip #3:: Know how to say “Yes” to Help

For some people, it’s really difficult to ask for and accept help. But when your child is in the hospital, you need to get over it. Most people who ask really want to help, so if you need something, tell them. 

  • If they want to bring you dinner or coffee, say yes.
  • If they offer to help with childcare for your other children, say yes.
  • If they want to give you money to cover food or parking, say yes. 
  • If they want to come sit with your child in the hospital so you can go home to shower or nap, say yes.

Hospital stays are exhausting and stressful, but there are ways to make them a little more bearable. Remember mom, to take care of yourself as you take care of your little one. 


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