What to bring, and what not to bring, if you have to stay in hospital

The first thing to remember is all your medical documents, next up is a list of your medications

I can still remember the mix of anxiety and excitement that accompanied the packing of my bag before going into hospital to have my first baby. At ante-natal classes we were warned to have everything packed in advance, just in case the baby decided to come early.

As it turned out, the new white PJs, the tiny babygrows, button-down vests and nappies, the carefully chosen soothing creams, the book I never read and other paraphernalia waited in the hall for days after my due date before we made our way to the hospital in the middle of the night for the imminent birth.

Packing your bag for a maternity hospital is a very particular experience which is different to the experience of someone getting ready to go into hospital to have an operation, medical investigations or even turning up at the Emergency Department with the expectation of being kept in.

So, what things should you or shouldn’t you bring into hospital for a short or long stay?

Irish Cancer Society nurse, Donna Spillane says that people are very conscious at the moment to pack what they will need, as visitors are often still not allowed into acute hospitals. “They don’t want to be asking friends or family to be dropping off stuff at hospital reception desks in case they don’t get it,” she says.

The first thing to remember is all your medical documents (referral letter from your GP, appointment letter for the hospital — which will include details of the unit you will be admitted to — and your medical card or health insurance details).

Spillane says that it is also very important to bring the list of medications you are currently on and the medications themselves. “We ask patients to hand over all their medications to us — right down to the paracetamol they might take for pain relief — so that we know what they taking and in case we have to make some changes because chemotherapy drugs for example can interfere with other medications,” she explains.

Most people will remember to bring their mobile phone (topped up for credit if not bill pay) or other devices with them, but some forget to bring chargers for iPads, laptops, Kindles, etc. Chargers with long cables are recommended for hospital use as sockets might not be right next to the bed. These items can usually be stored in locked cabinets next to patients’ beds if they are off the ward for periods of time. Having your own colouring books and crayons or colouring pencils can be a gentle, relaxing way for both children and adults to pass the time during what can seem like very long days in the hospital.

Spillane also advises people not to bring in any valuables (particularly jewellery that they are not wearing all the time such as wedding rings) or bank cards. She also recommends having small amounts of coin money to buy newspapers, drinks, etc, rather than notes.

In terms of toiletries, people are advised to bring their own combs, hairbrushes, toothbrushes, body moisturisers, lip balm (as the hospital atmosphere can dry out your skin), deodorants and razors for men. “If make-up makes you feel better, bring a bit of bronzer or mascara with a small mirror, but don’t bring anything expensive,” she cautions. Generally speaking, hospitals will provide towels, but not always, so it’s important to check and you will need a laundry bag for your dirty laundry to bring your dirty clothes home in to wash.

Little extras such as ear plugs to lessen the noise or eye masks to shield your eyes from bright lights can also be useful and some people like to bring their own special blanket, pillow, or cushion for comfort.

Marie Byrne, a retired infection control nurse who has spent time in hospital for breast cancer treatment says that having your own pillow, cushion or throw can be very comforting. “A lot of patients are isolated without visitors and they can feel scared so having something to hug at times is very comforting,” she says.

In terms of clothes, comfort is more important than fashion and most people in hospital tend to wear slippers or sandals with socks rather than outdoor footwear. “It’s important to bring and wear comfortable loose-fitting casual clothing. Button-down short-sleeved tops are good for ease of access for any intravenous lines. If you wear glasses, dentures and/or hearing aids, bring containers for all of these too,” says Spillane.

A notebook and pen are things many people forget to bring with them for a hospital stay but they can be useful for writing down questions you may wish to ask consultants or for taking notes of your treatment.

Sylvia Thompson

Sylvia Thompson

Sylvia Thompson, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about health, heritage and the environment