The complicated logistics of a child’s hospital stay

I have been a little quiet on the blog of late and part of that has been down to the demands of juggling Ana’s on-going illness with a full time job and the general pressures of family life. Thankfully, Ana has been in much better health recently, but over the Easter weekend she had a slight relapse and we ended up in hospital again.

Now you’d think that, after 6 months of regular hospital stays, I would have mastered the logistical requirements of an unexpected trip to the Children’s Assessment Unit, but the truth is – it is surprisingly hard to be adequately prepared. Over-prepared? Yep: I have managed to attend more than one hospital appointment with two fully loaded bags in the boot ‘just in case’ we had to stay in, only to find we were in and out within half an hour. Moments like that tend to make you feel a little foolish and so on Saturday, as I jumped in the car at 7pm with a poorly Ana, I shrugged off the need to take a ‘just-in-case’ bag and headed out of the door with only the last minute addition of a kindle and Ana’s water bottle as extra provisions.

Six hours later as Ana was being admitted to the ward, I realised too late that it was probably better to be over-prepared than under prepared. We were staying in and I had nothing: no toothbrush, no clean clothes, no slippers (disaster!) and for once – not even my trusty marking. Clearly, when your child is admitted to hospital, there are more important considerations than whether you have packed for the occasion, but when hospital becomes part of your standard routine, then other routines surely follow on?
But does it matter? Surely, – I hear you cry – if you are a parent on a children’s ward people don’t expect you to look your best? Well no, I guess they don’t, but spend a morning talking to a series of medical professionals whilst worrying whether your breath smells after two cups of coffee and no access to toothpaste and tell me it doesn’t matter at all.

And what if you ARE adequately prepared for your stay? Does hospital then feel like a home from home? Well, not quite. I may have got used to sloping round the corridors in my comfy slippers, ignoring the odd looks I get when I head off the ward to spend yet more of my money in the onsite Costa, but I can’t quite get my head round appropriate sleepwear or night-time etiquette. As a patient, it is straightforward: you wear your PJs from dawn ‘til dusk and you don’t feel any compulsion to do anything else. But step into the less familiar role of a parent staying on the ward with their child and the rules become less clear.

Pyjamas at night? A necessity, of course, given my Saturday night reminder that sleeping in jeans really isn’t comfortable, but is it OK to walk round in them? And – to venture into a more delicate area – what about wearing a bra? Naturally, it is not my normal sleeping habit to wear a bra to bed, but it is surprisingly disconcerting to find yourself chatting to the on call consultant in the middle of the night (yes, Jeremy Hunt, consultants do work in the middle of the night!) about your child’s progress, whilst wearing your PJs. No matter how serious the conversation, the knowledge that you are not adequately dressed under the PJs (when you are well past the age of going braless in public) is an unexpected distraction!

Similarly, is it OK just to go to sleep when your child is asleep or should you be alert and ever vigilant? On many occasions, Ana has had half hourly or hourly observations throughout the night and I have found myself unsure what to do. If I wake up when the nurse comes in, I feel duty bound to sit up and watch them whilst they do their observations, nodding wisely (or possibly sleepily) when they tell me the figures. I can’t imagine this helps the nurses: does anyone really want a bleary-eyed parent staring at them through the darkness whilst they carry out their tasks? I’d imagine not, but yet I can’t quite bring myself to turn over and go back to sleep.

I may, however, have gone slightly to the opposite extreme on an earlier stay sometime in January. After a late admittance and a disturbed night, I was dog tired by the time we made it on to the ward: an explanation, but possibly not a good excuse, for my response when Ana woke up in the middle of the night asking for water to be told in my sleep-filled fug – ‘Can’t you get it? It’s nearer you.’ Only after I had come round a little more did I realise that if my parental role in hospital did not include fetching a drink of water for my sick child, then maybe I should re-read the job description!

On a final note, I will add that this hospital-induced parental anxiety is not universal and my husband has yet to show any signs of suffering from this affliction. During a recent hospital stay, I turned up for a midday visit to be told by the nurse that both Ana and ‘daddy’ had slept until 11.30am, with neither party waking during her 6 hourly IV treatments!

Complicated logistics? Maybe they are in my head after all!

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  1. Janet Stuart says:

    I laughed out loud at this, having had similar thoughts on the couple of overnight stays with Amelia. Fortunately it’s never been serious enough for Mark and I to take turns, but I’m sure if we had then it would have been a similar scenario. Whilst I worried about having my bra in my handbag!

  2. International Elf Service says:

    I do love your style of writing! I’m so sorry poor Ana’s been through the mill, but I must assure you this post could have been written about me. Following various admissions, we’ve had many trips to A&E, with over full backpacks with *light provisions* in and funny looks from the medical staff. I too barely slept a wink, while my husband slept through everything… You never get used to it or those bothersome alarms!

    • Helena says:

      thank you! we have had a single room a few times and now I feel hard done by when we are on a ward. There were two snoring dads this time as well as the alarms!

  3. Farenth says:

    Sports kit! I found Tesco did a lovely running outfit with a soft supportive sports bra hidden inside. That and tracksuit bottoms meant I was decent enough to go outside (if girls can wear this to a gym, I can wear it on the ward) and it was comfy enough to sleep in 🙂 A bonus, especially with male drs/nurses xx

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