Treatments & procedures

What should you pack for a hospital stay?

Going to hospital can be stressful. We find out what you can and can’t bring to make your experience as comfortable as possible.

Charmain Yabsley
April 2018

If your stay in hospital is planned, what you pack in your hospital bag can depend on what type of treatment or surgery you’re having, which ward you’ll be staying in and how long your expected length of stay will be. Here are some tips to ensure your time in hospital is as comfortable as possible.

Bathroom essentials     

Elesha Flonn, a theatre and post-anaesthetic care nurse, says it’s best to assume many things won’t be supplied, so you should pack your own.

“For instance, many patients think that there’ll be toiletries in the bathroom and shower, but typically, you’ll need to bring your own hair products, body wash, toothbrush and toothpaste, plus any body care products you usually use.”

“Lip balm is handy, as air conditioning and dehydration can cause your lips to dry out,” she says.

If you’re on medication, remember to bring it in so the hospital staff know everything you’ve been taking and at what dose.

Clothes and keeping cosy

The air conditioning in hospitals may be colder than you’re used to, so ensure you’re going to be warm enough.

“Most hospitals provide a cotton waffle weave blanket, which isn’t particularly warm, so perhaps bring your own doona or blanket. Many patients can feel cold after surgery, and especially during the night. An extra blanket or doona will help you sleep better and you’ll feel well-rested and stronger,” she says.

Alternatively you could pack clothing layers such as warm jumpers and scarves.

Socks can also help keep your feet warm. “I’d recommend packing socks that have rubber dots on the sole, as these can give you a little more friction on the floor and help you avoid slipping,” she says.

If you’re in a shared bathroom, think of ways to look after your own hygiene. “Pack slippers for walking around in, and flip flops are a good idea to wear in the shower too,” she says.

The type of surgery or treatment you’re having may also affect your clothing options. “If you’re having a shoulder operation, you’ll probably be unable to get your arm through a top, so pack an old, large T-shirt with a cut-out sleeve. If you’re having treatment or an operation on your stomach (such as a caesarean), a nightgown or long T-shirt will be much more comfortable then pyjama bottoms.”

Creature comforts

There are also practical issues to consider. “Some hospitals won’t let you plug your phone in, so check before you’re admitted, and bring along a portable recharger instead so that your phone or reading device can be topped up.”

Pack headphones for your devices – if you’re in a shared room, this can prevent you from disturbing those near you.

While you’ll be offered meals during your stay, you may wish to bring your own store of snacks and water. “Keeping your own water bottle topped up can be a good way to stay hydrated,” she says. Be aware, though, that there are constraints on the types of food you can bring in. For example, “there’s usually a restriction on foods that contain peanuts, as some other patients may be allergic,” she says.

And if you have an operation that involves gas, such as a laparoscopy, you may find that you’re in pain afterwards – and pain relief doesn’t alleviate it. To ease the gas pain, she suggests packing peppermint tea bags, or peppermint oil mixed with a carrier oil such as grapeseed or almond, which can be massaged into the body.

“A heat pack may also help reduce this gas-associated pain, although you’ll need to check with the hospital if a microwave is available and if somebody will be available to heat it for you if you’re bed bound. Generally, hospitals don’t like to use heat packs on elderly patients, as they have a decreased awareness of temperature, or their reaction to heat may be affected by medication, and don’t realise their pack is too hot, which can cause skin damage.”

What not to bring

You should leave valuables like jewellery at home, and if you bring devices such as phones and tablets, remember to leave them out of sight when you leave your bed or room.

Many hospitals have bedside tables where your valuables, including money, can be safely stored. You might need cash for snacks or magazines, however, it’s not recommended that you bring large sums of money.

Although visitors may be tempted to bring you flowers, they should check with the hospital first.

“In the surgical and cancer wards, flowers are banned because there’s bacteria in soil,” she says. “Wounds which have been sutured, or closed, are still technically opened as they’re not fully healed, so there’s a chance some type of bacteria can infect or be transmitted to the patient.” 

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