How to ease the strain of a hospital stay
Caroleen Keegan has spent a lot of time in the hospital with her 5-year-old son Tyler who has been diagnosed with severe epilepsy. Tyler has had two brain surgeries and spent countless days and nights at Ste. Justine Hospital.
Along the way, Keegan has learned how to make the hospital stays easier on her son. She keeps a stash of books and hand puppets to be used during the inevitable waiting periods to see doctors or get test results. A portable DVD player and a stack of Tyler’s favourite films have been a lifesaver, she adds.
Bertrand Dupuis, a child life specialist at the Montreal Children’s Hospital, says a key part of preparing a child for a hospital stay is talking about why they have to be admitted. He sees too many parents who are afraid to tackle this topic, so their children arrive at the hospital confused and afraid. Some parents will actually lie to their kids about where they are going and then show up at the hospital with them. This is not the right approach.
Instead, Dupuis suggests using simple, clear language to talk about what happens at a hospital. “Tell them, ‘we need to check in your body, you’re not feeling well and we have to know why,’” Dupuis says.
When explaining hospital procedures, Dupuis suggests using child-friendly phrases like “going to sleep” rather than anesthesia. Parents should also avoid making false claims such as assuring kids that everything will be pain-free, he adds.
Parents should never bribe or threaten children, says Dupuis, who too often hears a parent say something like, “If you don’t stop crying, mommy will go away.” Those kinds of statements are very stressful for kids.
Dupuis adds that parents may need to confront their own fears and anxieties if they wish to provide calm, loving support to their kids. Adults can turn to family or friends and can ask the hospital staff to answer questions about the procedures or tests.
What to pack
When it comes to packing, Dupuis suggests including a special photo to help kids deal with the separation of leaving home. Bringing a favourite pair of pyjamas and slippers is also a good idea (most times children do not need to wear hospital gowns unless going into surgery). A “transitional object” such as a blankie or favourite stuffed animal can also be of comfort.
Depending on the length of the stay, you may need to pack washcloths, towels, toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner and soap. If your baby has to be hospitalized, make sure you bring plenty of diapers and wipes. Hospitals do not provide these items. Since it can get cold in hospital, parents should also bring sweaters.
Keep your child’s Medicare card and hospital card close at hand — you may be asked for them frequently. In addition, make sure to keep the following information with you: any private health insurance information, immunization records, doctor referrals or important medical information from a doctor, along with your doctor’s name, address, phone and fax number.
Dupuis urges parents to ask as many questions as possible, especially if they don’t understand the reasons for a particular test or procedure. Parents might want to keep a notebook or paper handy for writing down questions as they occur — it’s easy to forget things when you’re facing the stress of a hospital stay.
Finally, remember that you, the parent, truly are the expert when it comes to your children, Dupuis says. “Don’t be shy about advocating for them and speak up about any concerns.”
Getting Ready for A Hospital Stay
Kids of all ages can feel anxious before a planned hospital stay. For more suggestions about how to discuss the visit with a child, check out these websites:
Montreal Children’s Hospital
Click on the section “Patients and Families” and then look under “Hospital Visit.” You will find information specifically targeted to different ages.
Ste. Justine Hospital
Look under the section “Family” for information on hospital stays. You can also download and print a short guide for parents whose children will be staying at the hospital.
Family Resource Room
When your child is sick or facing a hospital stay, you might not have the time or energy to do research on the illness or medical procedures. But the Montreal Children’s Hospital provides a special place where families can get the information they need. Called the Family Resource Library, this is more than just a collection of documents.
“It’s a place for parents and staff to get information not just about disease education, but about resiliency in children, sibling support and what to tell siblings,” said Bertrand Dupuis, child life specialist at the hospital.
Located in Room C-542, the facility has more than 1,700 videos, pamphlets and books on medical information. There is a librarian who can help parents with research.
The library also includes a toy and book lending service, a lifesaver if kids get bored with the items brought from home. There are two computer workstations where parents can check emails and send updates to family and friends.
The library’s resource section is listed online and books can be reserved in advance.