A Trip to the Hospital – What to Pack

NatashaWhen you have finally made the hard decision to go into hospital you may be overwhelmed by your circumstances, emotions, and the tasks you are expected to complete. The best way to cut down on the number of concerns and tasks at hand is to be prepared. If you have a comprehensive list of items you will need to pack already drawn up it can help you focus on what you need instead of what you don’t. It can also be a wonderful help to friends and family who may need to pack your belongings for you. They will be as unsure of what to send for you as you yourself may be; this just gives them a guide and relieves some of the pressure everyone will be feeling during this time of heightened emotions.

 Some Advice, Hints and Information:

 Every hospital will have their own policies and procedures governing the way they operate their psyche wards on a day-to-day basis. This is just a generalized overview of how I have observed hospital psyche wards to be managed when I was a patient.

When a patient first enters the psyche ward their principle nurse will escort them to their room/bed and examine their belongings. The nurse will go through every inch of the patient’s luggage/bags looking for anything that could be dangerous to the patient themselves or any other person on the ward. These things could be as obviously hazardous as a prescription bottle of sleeping pills or as innocent seeming as a compact case of facial powder with a mirror in it. Both are equally harmful in their own way. The nursing staff will confiscate any object or substance that could possibly pose a threat to a patient on the ward. All these confiscated items are placed in lock up with your name labeled on it for you to claim when you eventually leave the ward. Think about what you are packing, ask yourself if it could possibly be used to harm yourself or someone else, if it can, don’t pack it. Ultimately, anything can be dangerous in the wrong hands. I once attempted to hang myself with a pair of pantyhose in my hospital room. Just try to pack intelligently.

 Here are some items the nurse will be looking to confiscate when first examining your bags:

 Sharps:

One category of items the nurse will be searching for is “sharps”. “Sharps” are anything that can be used to cause injury to a person by cutting or piercing the skin. This can be the obvious example of a knife or a little subtler example could be a picture frame. The glass inside the frame used to encase and protect the photograph can be shattered; the glass pieces can then be used to injure yourself. I know of one patient who not only slashed her arms up with the broken shards of glass from a picture frame, but also ate them hoping to tear her internal organs open and bleed to death from the inside. She was discovered before too much damage was done, but she did manage to do a number on her stomach. These items are strictly forbidden in the private rooms or the public areas of the ward. They will be confiscated if discovered by nursing staff for the personal safety of the patient and the ward population.

 Some Examples of “Sharps”:

– Disposable razors

– Scissors of any kind, even Nail Scissors

– Items Made of Glass: Vases, Picture Frames With Glass Insets, Handheld Mirrors/Compact Mirrors, Glass Drink Bottles, Ceramic Mugs, Glass Ornaments, etc.

– Metal Cutlery- Knives, Forks

– Keys- In some hospitals, depending on the condition of the patient’s mental health, keys are considered a “sharp” and are stored with their purse in lock-up. If determined enough a person could use keys to saw away at their skin and cause themselves injury.

– Safety Pins, Straight Pins, Brooches, Any Kind of Pin

 Medications:

Another group of items the nurse will be looking for is any form of medications or drugs you may be bringing into the ward with you. They want to make sure you are not bringing in any drug unbeknownst to the nursing staff into the facility, which is a pharmaceutically controlled environment. Do not bring any prescription or over-the-counter medications with you to the psyche ward. They will be confiscated and you will not be able to ingest them until you are discharged from the hospital’s care. The confiscated medications will be returned to you upon discharge from the hospital unit. The only medicinal substances allowed on the ward are those prescribed by the hospital’s physicians and administered by the nursing staff. Now, don’t be alarmed, it is not that they will deny you these medications and withhold them from you while you are in hospital. They will provide these medications for you, if you are in need of them and they are prescribed by the hospital physician, from their own in-hospital pharmacy. They just want to ensure that you do not overdose, misjudge dosage, or ingest any drug that may conflict with the pharmaceutical treatment they may be administering to you in hospital.

 Examples of Medications:

– Cough Syrup

– Pain Medications- Prescription or Over-The-Counter, Tylenol, Aspirin, Advil, Motrin, 222’s, Tylenol 3’s, etc.

– Cold & Flu Capsules, Cold & Flu Drinks

– Allergy Medications, Decongestants

– Prescription Medications- All Categories: Anti-Depressants, Anti-psychotics, etc.

 Belts and Ties:

 Another type of item they look for is anything that can be used as a tie, like a belt. Usually a patient has to earn the privilege of being able to have a belt or tie. They have to prove that they are no longer a danger to themselves nor are they susceptible to any suicidal urges. When a patient first enters the ward the nurses typically don’t allow that person to wear clothing with a belt or a tie of any sort. Anything that fastens with a drawstring or a belt, the tie is usually confiscated. The first time I stayed on a psyche ward I took a housecoat with a belt to tie it shut. Well, they took the belt and I had to walk around with the thing hanging open all the time. The next time I was hospitalized I was smart, I took a housecoat that buttoned up instead. Scarves are sometimes held in lock-up as well. I have even heard in extreme cases shoelaces have been withheld. I believe the extent of extremes the nurses go to as to what they take away from the patient in question is based solely on his/her mental state/emotional safety. These items will be returned upon discharge or at the time of an off ward pass if the patient requests.

Some Examples of Belts or Ties:

– Belts

– Drawstrings

– Housecoat Belts/Ties

– Long Purse Handles (Especially Detachable Ones)

– Pantyhose

– Shoelaces

– Scarves

 Questionable Items:

Here is a list of examples of other items that may be confiscated during the initial inspection of your belongings:

– Guitar (It’s use will be controlled because the strings pose a threat and other patients may complain if the instrument is played too loudly or too frequently. It will be placed in lock-up and relinquished to owner upon request.)

– Portable Stereo with Cord ( Noise issues and cord threat)

– Clock Radio with Cord (Noise issues. An alarm is inappropriate on a psyche ward, every patient has different needs, and every one shares a room, to wake up someone at 8:00 am with your alarm, who has just, underwent shock treatment that morning at 6:30 am, and is inexcusable. Besides, what pressing engagement do you have to go to on a psyche ward at 8:00 am in the morning? The nurses usually wake you when breakfast arrives and makes sure you are up and around for your first group session. The cord is a threat.)

– Hair Dryer (Cord threat)

– Curling Iron (Burn and cord threat)

– Electric Razor (Cord threat)

– Hot Rollers for Hair (Cord threat)

– Knitting Needles (Some people do bring their own crafting items on to the ward with them to use to pass the time.)

These items will be kept in safe keeping in lock-up for you by the nursing staff and will be given to you upon request when you wish to use them. You will not be able to have them in your room with you at all times, only long enough to use them and then you will be expected to return them to lock-up. Battery operated small appliances, like stereos, may not be confiscated and are allowed to remain in the room; it all depends on the individual hospital’s policy on the noise issues for the other patients sharing the room.

 Strictly Forbidden Items:

These are items that are absolutely forbidden on the psyche ward.

– Candles

– Matches/Lighters

– Cameras

– Video Cameras

– Audio Recorders

– Alcohol

– Drugs

– Plastic Bags

– Any pamphlets (proselytizing in nature) and literature promoting religious or personal political or lifestyle doctrines.  This is not a forbidden item, or at least I was not made aware it was the last time I was in hospital. It is more a matter of tact. If you are a home based sales representative for a large party sales/catalogue distribution company, in which you make revenue through the sales of their products by means of parties, catalogue orders, and one-on-one consultations, please leave this literature at home. A psyche ward is no place to make a sales quota. People are sick and vulnerable and so are you, you should be concentrating on getting well, not gleaning a few bucks off of a bunch of emotionally impoverished souls.

Valuables:

Valuables are also taken at the time of orientation and placed in lock-up. These items are taken not because they pose a threat to the patient, but to ensure they are not stolen during the patient’s stay in hospital. These items are usually such things as purses, cigarettes (yes, they are considered a valuable), any expensive jewelry the patient wore onto the ward but does not wish to wear during their hospitalization, money, wallets, and any other items of value the patient may have in their possession. The patient may request these items at any time during their hospitalization, but the hospital typically recommends they do not keep these items in their rooms.

Money:

Money is usually locked up with your purse or wallet. You really don’t need more than a few dollars change. You won’t need very much money where you are going and what you do need is usually used for vending machines and the like. Your meals, drinks, and snacks (including condiments), NOT POP OR CANDY, is provided for you. Twenty dollars is all you need and is a safe amount to bring on the ward with you. Remember, if you need anymore you can always get someone to bring you some when they next visit. There are some hospitals that provide ATMs in their lobbies, so if you are really desperate for cash and you are allowed to leave the ward, there is always that avenue. It is a good rule of thumb not to stash large amounts of money in your room. There is a good chance it may be stolen and the hospital is not responsible for its loss. The nursing staff won’t take too much time out of their busy schedule to hunt down the guilty party. Leave it at the nurse’s station in lock-up.

Another reason to not have large amounts of cash at your disposal, and I hate to say anything derogatory about my fellow patients, is that there are many different personalities admitted to a psyche ward. Some are honest good people, some are not so honest, and they will try to scam you. If you are vulnerable to such predators than I would suggest you place yourself beyond their reach by making it extremely difficult for you to access large amounts of your assets while in hospital.

Jewelry:

Jewelry is better left at home. You run the risk of losing it or having it stolen. Patients undergoing procedures, such as ECT, often have to take their jewelry off and leave it with the nursing staff. I have known ECT patients who have just sent all their jewelry home because they didn’t want to be bothered with the worry. A wedding ring and a few sentimental pieces are fine, but lavish displays of wealth are unnecessary. They just invite trouble. And then there is this perspective: You will meet a lot of underprivileged people on the psyche ward. These people are reminded every day of the hardships of their lives and what they have to look forward too when they return home, if they still have one. It isn’t kind or recommended that you remind them of their financial limitations and desperate economic standing with outward displays of wealth during their convalescence. It can hurt their already battered self-esteem.

Cigarettes:

Cigarettes, you will soon discover, are a precious commodity on a psyche ward. You are not allowed to have cigarettes, lighters, or matches in any part of the ward, except in the designated smoking areas. These items must be kept in lock-up and the patient must request them when he/she whishes to use them. The patient is only allowed to use these items with privileges, if they have demonstrated that they do not pose a threat to themselves or a flight risk (since most smoking areas are outside). If you are a smoker make sure you have enough cigarettes to last you until you can get a pass or someone can bring you a carton. Most smokers in this situation bring a carton of cigarettes with them onto the ward. The nurse’s station will mark them as yours and keep them locked up behind the main desk on your behalf. The nurses will dole them out to you whenever you ask. This way, you will always have a supply of cigarettes and no one will be able to pilfer them from you. People will always come up to you and ask you for smokes. You will look really bad if you always refuse, but if you only have one smoke and the pack is behind the nurse’s station, you don’t have to feel bad about saying no and preserving your supply. I give friends smokes, at the nurse’s station, that way I can control how many I actually give away (the nurses help manage the situation by controlling how many cigarettes you give away as well, so that you are not taken advantage of).

Some Further Information:

Do not bring your belongings when you first enter the emergency ward, only have your things brought when you are actually admitted to the psyche ward itself. This way you are not burdened with the worries of where to store your belongings until you are actually placed on the psyche ward, and there is also the sad fact that you may not actually be admitted to the psyche ward. Then you have lugged all your belongings to the hospital for nothing. Pack only the essentials at first, until you have an idea how long you are staying. You can always have someone bring you the nonessential stuff in a day or two. Besides, you may not be allowed to have some of these things right away because you may be a danger to yourself and these items may pose a threat to your health.

When packing your bag I suggest you only pack for a week, even if you are going for an extended period of time. Most hospitals provide their patients with some form of clothing, pajamas or sometimes sweat suits, and always a safe bet, slippers. Sometimes the nurses will keep you in pajamas for as long as you are a danger to yourself. This may only happen in extreme cases. Most patients even prefer the hospital issue garments because of their comfort and they extend the use of their personal clothing items. Some hospitals may even provide their patients laundry facilities and detergents for a fee. In my experience, there is little room to keep more than a week’s worth of clothing in your allotted cupboard space at any given time. So, the best way to manage the clothing issue is to use hospital clothing when needed and have a relative or friend bring new clothing once a week, taking your dirty items home to wash. Or, you may have a weekend pass during which you can launder your own clothes.

The hospital will most likely provide each patient with a body soap that can be used in you hair as well. If you have sensitive skin or wish to use something other than hospital grade soap, bring your own. They do not provide a conditioner. Some hospitals will provide a body moisturizer, Kleenex, cotton balls, Q-tips, feminine hygiene products and toothbrush, other personal hygiene products can be provided by the hospital if you have forgotten them at home (The supply of these products, the exact issue and whether or not there is a small fee for these items, is at the discretion of the particular hospital you are admitted too).

Towels and bed linens are provided by the hospital. If you prefer your own personal linens, bring them from home. The hospital linens are washed regularly, whereas your own personal items are not handled by the hospital laundry, their upkeep is your responsibility. It is up to the patient to have their own personal linens washed by an outside facility, or by the patient in the laundry machines provided for them on the ward. One note: The patients are expected to make their own beds during their stay, strip them when necessary, and bring their dirty bed linens (hospital issue) to the hospital laundry hampers provided for them on the ward. This has been my experience so far. The only time I have seen hospital housekeeping make up a bed is when a patient has been discharged and the bed has been prepared for the admittance of a new patient.

Hospitals can be cold places. It is a good idea to bring nice cozy comforter from home to put on your hospital bed to keep you warm at night. Make sure you have a good pair of slippers and a thick housecoat; believe it or not you will spend a lot of time in them. Pack for comfort and consider what will make you feel at home in the hospital, bring what you need, not what you don’t.

The Checklist

Essentials:

Provided by Hospital marked with * – Put in Lock Up marked with **

ID and Medical Information

Wallet (Remember to pack all forms of I.D. and any pertinent information about your condition)

Medical Bracelet (If you have any underlying medical conditions that may influence your present crisis or treatment of said crisis.)

Medical Insurance Card

Name of General Practitioner and Psychiatrist currently treating you on an ongoing basis.

A comprehensive list of all your medications, dosages, etc. The bottles of what you may have taken to try to O.D. or the names and amounts of the drugs you ingested to attempt to O.D.

Hygiene Products:

Toothbrush *

Dental Floss* (May be in Lock-Up)

Hairbrush

Comb*

Shampoo*

Conditioner*

Body Soap*

Feminine Hygiene Products*

Deodorant/Antiperspirant

Tissues*

Moisterizers*

Electric Razor/Razor**

Toothpaste*

Shaving Cream

Lip Balm

Mouthwash*

Clothing

· Remember this list takes into account you can utilize hospital issue clothing as well.

7 items of Underwear

A Spare Bra

7 pairs Socks

2 Sweaters

1 pair of Nice Pants (for if you leave the ward)

2 pairs of Comfortable Pants

3 Comfortable Tops

1 pair of Pajamas (if you want the comfort of home)*

1 pair of Slippers (if you want the comfort of home)*

Button Front Housecoat

Personal Linens

Hand Towels*

Bath Towels*

Washcloths*

Bed Sheets* (Extremely Unnecessary)

Comforter or Blanket From Home (This is a good idea if you are in hospital for an extended period of time and want something from home to make you feel better and cozy.)

Personal Items:

Cigarettes (If you are looking at an extended stay in hospital it is a good idea if you are a smoker to pack a carton or two for the duration of your hospitalization.)

 Illness Journal

Pictures of Family and Friends

Magazines

Books

Puzzle Books

Stationary

CD Player/Walkman

CD’s/Tapes

Don’t pack any paperwork or other items from your workplace; you’re supposed to convalesce, not stress about your job.

Non-Essential Grooming Items

HairDryer**

Curling Iron**

Hot Roller for Hair**

Hairspray

Hair Gel

Hair Mouse

Tweezers**

Hair bands, Barrettes, Kerchiefs etc.

Manicure Set** (Nail Clippers, Nail File, Nail Polish, Nail Polish Remover, Nail Scissors)

Makeup Products (Foundation, Cover stick, Powder, Lipstick, Lip Liner,

Blush, Lip Gloss, Eye Liner, Eye Shadow, Mascara, Eye Brow Liner) (Some products will be locked up if they are packaged with a mirror.)**

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