What to pack in your hospital bag

Continued from last week, here’s the last of my list of hospital learnings from a spell before Christmas beside my baby’s bed – including what to pack in your hospital bag

Hospital room layout

A room not of one’s own. Laura Eades 2015

9. Comforting is a skill we need for our life

Can I comfort an ill baby? Singing works its magic. You can sing morning songs, like The Golden Cockerel and Morning Has Broken. Then you can sing nighttimesongs – lullabies. And you can sing We Go Together Like Rammalamalamadadingdidong in the afternoon, out of tune.

Sure, milk comforts. Cuddles. Chat. Bed comforts. The Santas and the fairy lights comfort. The lovely artwork comforts.

So why, when I want to comfort myself, do I generally walk to the fridge? I also like hot water bottles, t-shirty slouchy clothes, pillows, baths and showers, cuddles, conversations, being reminded I have a sense of humour, gorgeous paintings, cosy cafes, talking on the phone, sunbathing, floating, reading children’s books, film, The Apprentice and other series and box sets, making tea that smells nice, doing gentle drawing or crafty activities…

10. Here the friendships aren’t forever

This is definitely something Albert Espinosa talks about – about how the friendships were so intense, but they weren’t meant to be continued on the outside, (or worse, his stories being from a cancer ward, not everyone made it to later life). We had new roommates pretty much daily. You just accept that the people are meant to cross paths with you for as long as they do.

Here in hospital all the stories are intersecting. It’s not a new thought, the producers of Casualty and ER have already milked it.

It’s pretty intense though. All the people I’ve met these days! Seen their squashed-pillow wakeup faces, their pyjamas, heard them cry for help. Lilli and her mum and dad with their strange patterns of attention and indifference; the mum who liked singing and turned our room into a funny musical; the Turkish mum who jiggled her girl to bed in her own bed with her feet like she were doing a bicycle exercise under her; the little girl the age of my elder daughter, upset at suddenly being on a leash of tubes and wires, unable to go outside or leave her bed; and then the staff:- the nurses whose shift patterns feel familiar now; the one who gave me a hard time about the tray who I apologised to cos I cursed at her childishly about it; the doctor who’s like a trendy Viking; the lady who understood my cabin fever… all you people. We shared something. I wish you all well.

11. Embrace the parameters and find freedom within encarceration

I mentioned cabin fever, right?

I can’t go out because I can’t leave her. Our world has a radius the length of an oxygen pipe. I do not know when we’ll be let out again. I’m sure it’ll just be a couple of days, but it takes as long as it takes. I keep thinking we’ll be released and then it’s deferred. We must be patience/patients now. I have to learn to pace myself in a stretch of time with no deadline.

If I poke my head out into the corridor, I’m told “ring the bell and we’ll come to you”. It feels naughty to step beyond the sliding doors into the December open air.

I’m reminded by my friend Tom’s description of being in hospital in Japan, and rallying the whole ward for a wheelchair breakout, a night runaway to the nearest convenience store.

How do carers care for themselves?

We have a tiny room. After the first night, we shared with another baby and mum. We couldn’t swing a cat, but we did sing our babies some songs from Grease. Before they moved in, I was contemplating using the extra strip of space to do some yoga. I thought: Whoa Laura that’s like, prison mentality. I could see myself slightly madly doing pullups on the doorframes.

In my dreams! I couldn’t pull myself up on a doorframe for all the gold in Arthur’s England. When there wasn’t space, I wish I’d had a stab at a sun salutation. Even when they moved on, I lost all shame and folded the bed up; did some moves while the sisters busied around. You’d be surprised how little space you need to do some yoga.

12. Get lost in the details and a tiny walk can be a great adventure

I know my little routes now: the lift from the first floor down to the cafeteria on the ground floor. I know the nearest loos, and the room with the toys where I hunt for books to read my toddler. This corridor, with the plastic christmas trees and fairy lights, I know quite a lot about the individual decorations too: my favourite is a shooting star with a tiny train chugging over the swoop of it.

Downstairs, there’s an enormous lobby, it must be the world’s largest information desk, with a big christmas tree in the middle. It’s way classy. Yesterday my 3-year-old and I discovered that if you stand at the bottom of the tree and look up, you can see loads of fairy-lit tree reflections kaleidoscoped in the high glass ceiling. Beyond the lobby’s sliding doors there is a horizon: sky, and traffic, and a waterless water feature, and an avenue of wintery trees you can see the nests in.

The outside world looks weird already. There’s a massive building site outside the kitchenette, with all the materials laid out messily all over the area. I’m amazed they can walk and work between the stacks of concrete reinforcements and pallettes. Actually it looks like they could just as easily be dismantling something, or clearing up after an explosion, as building something. They have three cranes that move in slow motion, their hook and chain dangling like a horse’s erection. Did I just say a horse’s erection? Sorry, that’s just what it reminds me of, the weight of it swinging around. I’m a country girl in a city body. The cranes lift massive cement funnels,  like giant icing sugar pipers, up into orbit. Stadium lights help the men work after dark. There only seem to be about five workmen, beckoning the cranes and treading between the puddles and the stacks! They can’t possibly make much progress, can they?

13. Nobody gives a monkey’s giblet how you look

When I came, I washed my hair right before we set off for hospital. I know that sounds vain but I knew it’d be a one-way ticket for the forseeable. I put on a jacket, and an earring.

Yesterday I asked Chris to bring leggings. I’m still wearing a belt and a snuggly neckscarf, so I’m not beyond ornament. But the earring hasn’t come out of the washbag since it went in on the first night, and I’m now padding around in socks rucked between my toes to fit into flip-flops, like annoying hooves. Mascara hasn’t been applied. I ran out of clean pants and decided on dirty ones rather than size 4 Pampers. I’m not the patient! I’m not ill! But I’m heading slowly towards perpetual pyjamas, I can feel it. I don’t wanna go there. Need to put the brakes on!

Hospital is no fashion show, and it’s a relief, since not many of those places exist on earth. But with it, comes the tendency to stop doing the things on the outside that make you feel good on the inside. You find the limit, where you dress/put on night cream/comb your hair, just for yourself.

In Albert Espinosa’s brilliant book of life lessons learned from a cancer ward, The Yellow World, he says “another unwritten rule is that a patient doesn’t have to get into pyjamas on the first day”. He talks about how you kind of need to retain your sense of the outside a bit at first, and stare out the window. I can’t imagine what it’s like to be here for a long long stretch, or to go out and come back in: imagining that sense of ‘Here we go again’. You must get your equipment, your hospital bag, pretty streamlined.

14. Your toolkit

My hospital toolkit now includes:

  • Sandals or slippers you can wear with socks
  • Flipflops for the shower
  • Protect and perfect eye serum
  • A comb and hair doobies
  • A yoga mat
  • A headtorch for reading a book under the duvet without waking your roommate or their baby, or your own
  • Decent teabags
  • Phone and charger (how did we survive hospital without smartphones?)
  • Headphones so you can continue your love affair with Jon Kabatt-Zinn
  • Effervescent vitamin C
  • A bag of fruitandnuts, since they are whole foods, and unprocessed foods are hard to come by
  • Some means to write and draw
  • Mazzy
  • A cool belt to make a waist however slouchy your garments
  • And for children: some toys, dangly toys for a baby, or books and puzzles for a little person

15. Wherever you are, take care of yourself by nourishing yourself with whole foods

hospital meal

What does anyone need 18 tinned potatoes for? iphone photo from real life

I’m not a fan of having rations, it sends me into deprivation mode. On my mealticket, certain cheaper items only are allowable (like, you can’t buy salad, only frozen spinach!). On the plus side, here you can eat slowly, since there’s no place you need to be.

You can visit the cafeteria salad bar and pay full price, and put some sunflower seeds on top of some rocket, and it tastes really Wow! like when you’re camping.

I’m shocked once again by how unnourishing hospital food is. It’s kind of astonishingly bad, I mean it really stretches the lower end of the continuum beyond all normal standards. By which I mean, it’s processed beyond recognition; no longer resembles actual food. And the colours depress me – a plate of 18 peeled boiled potatoes with grey ‘champignon’ sauce and an omelette that may or may not be made from actual, let alone farm-laid or free-range egg… let it go.

My husband brings cashew nuts and bean sprouts. Rock on the great bounty of the marriage. Rock on taking care of each other, a big circle of caring.

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Should you read Albert Espinosa’s The Yellow World?

: descriptions of intimate friendships; lists of the important different ways there are to say No; the idea that ‘pain does not exist’; as well as a unique description of a Goodbye party he held for his leg before it was amputated.

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