If your Emergency Department visit concludes with admission to the hospital, there are ways to make the best of it. The first eleven days we spent in the hospital felt longer than all the months after. The age and severity of your child’s needs influence how much you can engage in the advice I share with you. I’ll break this post into two parts.
Caring for your child
Caring for your child may be the easy part because your instinct is to put your child first. While it may feel like an incredible loss of control have your child admitted to the hospital, you are still the parent. You know this child best and your input matters.
The greatest gift you can give your child is your bond. Remaining present, helping to create a stimulating environment, and comforting him are your priceless gifts. Your touch, your smell, your voice soothe this child even if it seems like your baby only cries harder when he hears you. The very fact that your baby responds to you differently than others is a good sign to providers of the baby’s overall wellbeing.
You are also capable of seeing the subtle changes in your child that doctors and nurses may not notice as they do not have the history or quantity of time you have with this little one. Share changes you see with the nurse, but even if you have already told the nurse, request to speak to the doctor or resident, particularly if the changes are concerning.
Regarding stimulation, it is possible to request that if you are not in the room, that the television remain off. You can ask if there are toys in the hospital, a playroom, music therapy, volunteer baby-holders to help normalize your child’s day and exposure. Maintaining a schedule like you would at home can be helpful (for your sake as well). The importance of this varies based on how well your child is and his age.
Caring for yourself
The reality is that if you are sleep deprived or burnt out, you will have a difficult time doing the things you want to do for your child. You have to take care of yourself.
How to do that? Consider the various aspects that make up who we are: emotional, volitional, intellectual, physical, social, and spiritual. These parts are all integrated to work in you like a mobile, kept in balance. The maintenance of one helps maintain the others. The neglect of one can throw the others out-of-whack.
Keep an eye on your emotions. You may feel depressed, helpless, angry, or hopeless. Or you may feel numb. Hospitals generally have a social worker on call you can check in with in order to care for your emotions. In this the emotional crisis of your child being in the hospital, focus on other areas can help regulate the deranged emotions.
Volition refers to the will, to making a choice. The situation is out of your hands and so you must decide how you will respond to that. Sit back and let it all unfold, or take an active role? When you take an active role, whether in creating a more nurturing environment for your child, participating in morning rounds, or giving yourself a break and leaving the room, you help move your heart away from the helpless state. Feeling in control of something helps us function better and mitigates the temptation to ask, “what more should I have done?” You will know you did all you could because you see yourself, now, doing all you can.
Maintaining your intellectual side can be difficult, especially in a fancy hospital with a great channel and movie selection. As easy as it is to get caught up in watching the movies and spending all day online, don’t! Cultivate your intellectual side even though you are bedside with your child. This is especially important for long hospital stays. Your life does not stop because of the present crisis. Maintaining intellectual curiosity can help keep you feeling like you are living life and not just surviving.
How to do this? Read. If you have no books, find out if there is a library in the hospital or near by. Read online, but because there will be likely be many hours spent with technology, I would encourage you to unplug and engage with real life paper. Learn new hobbies. There are many little crafts you can try while in the hospital. Explore these. Ask friends to put together kits so you can learn new skills. If you dislike crafts and are more technically minded, learn from your computer, research how hospital equipment works. If you are language oriented, learn a new medical term with each hospital stay. There is something for everyone.
If your child is mostly asleep make a schedule for yourself to keep you grounded.
Get curious about the neighborhood of your hospital. Ask nurses and doctors about safe places to walk and explore during the day when your child naps. Learn the history of your city. Taking a break to get outside will refresh you mentally, especially after a morning spent holding a crying baby.
For other piece in this series, click below:
- How to Survive the ER
- Surviving your child’s hospital admission, Part 1 and Part 2
- Transitioning to life after admission
- Managing a hospitalization with little ones at home