Just last night, there were Christmas cookies in the oven, a nice holiday special on television – and a strange ringing noise in the background. What was it? Oh, yeah, the phone. At nearly midnight. This didn’t exactly complete the picture of a quiet seasonal evening.
As it turned out, a relative had a blood clot and all her closest kin were out of town. So I grabbed my coat and rushed over. Once there,it became clear that a trip to the emergency room was necessary. So were two nights in the hospital – and now I’m writing this while it is fresh in my memory.
I spent one night in the emergency room, trying to sleep on a couple of hard plastic chairs and then on a chair in her hospital room. The blankets provided by the hospital were very thin (thin blankets are lightweight and reduce bedsores).But those thin blankets and an unreliable room thermostat left me shivering all night.
Admittedly, the priority wasn’t about my comfort but I was left groggy and semi-alert, not the best shape for a patient advocate. Thinking ahead could have helped me be a better advocate for my relative.
The odds that you’ll face this situation – or a similar one – actually go up during the holiday season. Not only is the weather likely to be icy and cold in many parts of the United States, making driving hazardous, but Christmas-related injuries and illnesses (from improper wiring of Christmas trees to food poisoning or indigestion) rise significantly during the holiday season.
Need proof? Here’s a link which indicates that the holidays are among the most stressful and dangerous of the year, as people climb onto roofs to sting Christmas lights and saw the bottoms off of Christmas trees to get them to fit into stands: www.nsc.org/seasonal_safety.htm
According to that info from the National Safety Council, hospital emergency rooms treat about 12,500 people annually for falls, cuts, shocks and burns from faulty holiday lights, other decorations and dried-out Christmas trees. Traffic accidents rise when people combine a few too many cups of eggnog with driving on icy streets. So it makes sense to have a game plan in case you have to rush off to the emergency room.
Here’s some helpful information and items to have on hand if you need to deal with an unexpected health crisis or trip to the ER during Christmas season:
1. Find out who will be in town and who is planning to travel.
Why? Because you could be the back-up person for any relatives or friends of those who are normally in town. I was.
2. A pre-packed bag to take to the hospital.
You don’t need much in it. A change of clothes, an inflatable pillow and a warm blanket or (even better) a warm blanket and robe. Throw in some classic reading material (not magazines that are likely to be out of date) if you are stuck in a waiting room between doctor visits, perhaps a favorite book of short stories or inspirational material.
Some light reading could help distract the patient, too, if he or she isn’t too uncomfortable or in pain.Include a pillowcase because our hospital was short-staffed and the pillowcases weren’t available, giving me a choice of sleeping on a bare pillow – or nothing.. A new toothbrush, travel size container of toothpaste and some antibacterial cleanser, the kind that dries by itself, could make life much easier as well. Whatever you’d use in a 24-48 hour time frame should be in that bag. Just stick to the bare essentials, including some socks or slippers.
Why you need these things: The blankets in many hospitals are nearly tissue paper thin so that they can be washed and kept sterile. Temperatures in hospital rooms vary.Don’t count on getting a cot or warm blankets immediately. Your own pillowcase will provide extra comfort and layer of hygiene if you get a bare pillow in the hospital. I had to sleep on a chair that “converted” to a bed, barely. Those blankets from home would have helped cushion the rock hard chair bed.
3. A list of basic medicines, contact numbers and basic medical info for members of your family and close relatives who will be in town – especially if their usual support group won’t be.
Why? You won’t necessarily have time to write everything down before you rush out the door and the patient may be too dazed to provide accurate info.
Trust me on this. You don’t want to try and find this info while stuck in the emergency room. My relative was too groggy to recall her doctor’s name or phone number at first. I now have all basic info in that pre-packed bag. I intend to update it regularly. Luckily, the nurses could access the info by computer but only around their busy schedules. After all, we weren’t the only patients there!
4. Snacks and water or instant coffee.
Why? Hospital cafeterias often have set hours. Ours was not open late at night. The vending machines were sold out of nearly everything except super sugary soda. If you bring your own, you won’t have to pay as much as $1.50 for one soda or bottled water. Of course, you could just use the drinking fountain.
5. A roll of quarters or some change.
Why: These come in handy for the vending machines or the cafeteria, when it finally opens. It also comes in handy to buy newspapers which are available daily in the gift shop or other areas. With some change on hand, you have access to snacks that are sold in gift shops, cafeterias or vending machines but don’t run the risk of having a wallet or purse stolen. Take more change than you think you’ll need. At my local hospital, a coke cost $1.50 from the vending machine!
6. Contact numbers for insurance companies.
Why: Depending on your comfort level, you may not want to have copies of insurance cards in a packed bag but at least have the contact info.
So plan ahead and be prepared if you have to go to the ER during Christmas season – or any time!