One minute your child is giggling, playing outside like a normal 2-year-old. The next, you’re rushing him to the emergency room due to an allergic reaction to a bee sting.
Worse yet, once at the hospital the doctors tell you they want to observe your child overnight.
Each year, more than 5 million children are hospitalized in this country, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. For some kids, it’s a planned event for testing, surgical procedures or ongoing treatment for a chronic illness. For others, it’s unplanned – and kids are hospitalized due to an allergic reaction, asthma complication, sudden illness like pneumonia, or injuries due to accidents and falls.
But whether it’s a planned or sudden event, there’s nothing worse than your child being hospitalized for even one overnight stay. Watching your child in an emergency situation or enduring invasive procedures is difficult for any parent to bear. But with a little preparation and advice, you can — and will — get through your child’s hospital stay.
Dr. James Nard, pediatric hospitalist and director of the Hospital Medicine Division at Akron Children’s Hospital, offers parents 5 tips to survive their child’s hospital stay, while keeping themselves together.
Try to recreate the comforts of home
Having the comforts of home will help calm your child’s fears. If your child has a favorite blanket, stuffed animal or even sippy cup, be sure to bring it with you to the hospital.
In addition, try to preserve a few familiar routines, such as reading him a bedtime story or following his nap schedule. Also, cuddle, change diapers and bathe as much as you can, even if it’s difficult around tubes and other equipment. Consistency in your child’s routine will help make him feel secure.
Be present as much as you can
You are your child’s advocate, so it’s important to be present with him at the hospital as much as you can. But, don’t put pressure on yourself to be there every minute.
“It’s nice to be here as much as you can, but parents shouldn’t look at that as a realistic expectation,” said Dr. Nard. “Most families are juggling work and family responsibilities.”
Ask your child’s care team when your presence is the most crucial, such as during physician rounds or testing procedures. Then, ask family members or close friends to fill in for you when you’re not there.
Also keep in mind, many children’s hospitals, like Akron Children’s, offer services where families can arrange for volunteers to stay with their child and keep them company while they’re away. Children’s hospitals also are good about keeping patients busy with activities.
At Akron Children’s, for example, volunteers drop in with baking and craft carts, furry friends and more to keep children occupied and distracted from their condition.
Make arrangements for the entire family
Your child’s hospitalization will affect everyone in the household, so keep your other children’s needs in mind. Try to keep their routines as normal as possible, and ask family members to help out at home, if necessary, whether it’s cooking, arranging drop-offs and pickups, or managing school work.
Also, set up times for your other children to make hospital visits, if possible. It’s good for all the siblings to be involved and remain connected.
“Determine who needs you most at any given time because sometimes the kids at home need you more than the child in the hospital,” said Dr. Nard. “It’s OK to leave the hospital. You can remain up to date by calling in to the nurses or setting up a separate meeting with your child’s doctor.”
Ask questions and become an expert on your child’s condition
Your goal as a parent is to understand your child’s diagnosis, the treatment plan and what needs to happen in order for him to return home, such as getting off oxygen or taking antibiotics by mouth.
That’s why it’s important to remain involved and fully participate in the decision-making, so your child can go home as quickly as possible. It’s easy to get intimidated around your child’s care team, but remember, the care team relies on your input, too.
“Families need to be their child’s advocate, so make sure you’re on the same page with the provider,” said Dr. Nard. “We’re a team, and we’re all in this together.”
The easiest way to stay involved in your child’s treatment is to be present when doctor rounds are made. It’s a good time to ask questions and discuss your child’s situation with his care team.
If you miss rounds or you need more time to get your questions answered, don’t worry. You can schedule a meeting with your child’s doctor for further discussion, or you can ask the nurse to update you.
As questions come up, write them down on the whiteboard in your child’s room or in a notebook. That way, you’ll remember everything you want to cover when the doctor comes to visit.
If you don’t understand the treatment plan or the physician is using medical jargon, ask him to translate or where you can go to get further information.
“Everyone can do their job better when the lines of communication are open,” said Dr. Nard. “Remember, we’re here to help. We want to offer your child the best care possible.”
Take care of yourself
It can be so upsetting in a hospital situation that you’re not thinking about your own needs. But if you’re not taking care of yourself, you’re not helping anyone. Try to keep nutritious snacks handy, and ask people to bring you meals. Take breaks whenever possible, even if it’s only for 10 minutes.
“If you’re not taking care of yourself, you won’t be a valuable member of the team,” said Dr. Nard. “Ask for help at home or in the hospital. You’re not a bad parent for taking time to fulfill your own needs.”