Five things for a fun trip to the hospital (okay, not ‘fun’; maybe ‘less terrible’)

May 1, 2013 | 21 comments

It seemed like such a good idea to change every single thing about our children’s diet right after we finished our tour of local hospitals and smack in the midst of end-of-school-year madness, but, ALAS, it’s turning out to be the straw that made the camel’s head explode.

I spent two hours last night that I could have been relaxing or blogging or reading books about people who have to use ice for toilet paper cooking and storing a massive veggies and rice dish so that we could have some non-processed food on hand, which was doubly insane since my awesome friends already hooked me up with tons of great food. I spent the rest of the night debating whether I was more angry or exhausted, with the latter winning out by just a hair. Anyway, I think the lesson to be learned here is that one should never try to prepare healthful meals when one could be blogging.

I am feeling particularly low on brain cells today, so luckily Hallie has provided me with an easy post idea with her Five Favorites blog carnival. For this round I thought I’d list five things that made my various recent hospital stays more bearable. These would be handy things to acquire of you’re planning to get very sick any time soon, and would also make great gifts for anyone you know who’s hospital-bound (the ones that are legal to give as gifts, anyway).

1. An extra cell phone charger

I can’t believe it took me so long to think of this. I was living my life with a mere two device chargers, one by my bed and one in the kitchen, both of which I use regularly. I would take the one from the kitchen whenever I traveled, and invariably I’d lose it in the bottom of some bag or leave it plugged in at the NICU, and then I would have to walk all the way upstairs when I needed to plug my phone in at home. Doesn’t sound like too big of a deal, right? I thought the same thing until the time I returned downstairs to find our 20-month-old standing in the center of the kitchen table, holding two now-empty cereal boxes whose contents were all over the floor. Extremely helpful to have a separate charger just dedicated to travel (and if you’re giving it as a gift, you could get a cute one like this).

2. A tablet

I thought I knew what it was to love my Google Nexus, but I didn’t know what tablet-love was until I found myself stuck in the hospital. I used my Nexus to watch Netflix, read books, surf the web, check email, and pray the Liturgy of the Hours. Best of all, I used it to do video calls with Joe and the kids via Skype — it was surprisingly helpful for us all to be able to see each other. I have a basic Nexus 7, which is small (about the size of a large paperback book), and one of the least expensive tablets on the market. I don’t know what I would have done without it!

3. The Relax and Sleep app

When I was in the hospital in January, I hardly got any sleep. Every time I was about to drift off there would be ambulance sirens outside my window, someone standing right outside my door and using her cell phone to speak to someone who was evidently very hard of hearing (seriously, what is with people shouting into their cell phones in hospital hallways?), or an announcement over the intercom saying “Attention: Code Blue” which sent my mind into overdrive wondering what terrible thing Code Blue might mean. I downloaded this Relax and Sleep app, and it was a life-saver. It gives you dozens of different sound options, and you can play multiple sounds at once (I usually did fountain + ocean + rain). I also used it all the time to block out the sounds of beeping monitors and crying babies when I’d try to read in the NICU. Best app ever.

4. A fabulous travel bag

This bag is so amazing. It is perfect in every way. I got it as a gift a while back, and it’s hard to describe how much I love it. The leather is strong yet as soft as melted butter, the interior lining is silky smooth, and it has just the right number and type of compartments. This sounds unbelievably shallow, but it was a significant source of pleasure for me in my long days of running back and forth to the NICU. When I was feeling exhausted and stressed and utterly overwhelmed, it always boosted my spirits to see this beautiful and stylish bag, and to know that everything I needed was tucked inside.

5. A cute oversized sweater

I wore the same sassy expression on my face the whole time I wore the sweater.

My long, black maternity sweater ended up being the Swiss Army Knife of my wardrobe for hospital stays (I can’t find it anywhere on line, but it’s similar to this one). I used it to keep warm, obviously, but also put it to work as a pillow, a nursing cover, and a blanket. The cotton/polyester blend is durable and doesn’t wrinkle easily, so I could stuff it into a bag or throw it into the back of the car without worrying about it. Also, it’s stylish enough that I felt good about wearing it, and it did a great job of disguising whatever stained, mismatched outfit I’d thrown on that morning.


When I was discharged from the hospital after having the baby, I asked the on-call OB if she’d give me a prescription for a low dose of the sleeping aid Ambien. Since I’m not used to asking doctors for drugs and am also really neurotic I half expected her to gasp, glare at me like the druggie I obviously am, and open a secret panel on the wall to trigger an alarm to let everyone in the hospital know that they had a crazed addict on their hands. (Like I said: neurotic.) Anyway, as it turned out she said that that was a good idea and wrote me a prescription for a low dose. I knew that having a baby in intensive care with five other kids at home was going to lead to schedule insanity, and I’d need to grab sleep whenever I could; there wouldn’t be a lot of margin for lying awake for hours at a time thinking up new and worse things that could go wrong. I only took the Ambien on a few occasions (I was careful not to rely on it too much, since we really did not need “mommy’s sleeping pill addiction” to be added to the list of our problems), but it was a huge help in getting me through those two weeks.

* * *

Hopefully you and everyone you know are in great health and will have no use for this list — and hopefully I won’t need it again either. Maybe 2014 will be entirely different over here, and my Five Favorites a year from now will be a list of essential items you need when taking a weeklong vacation to Tahiti.

Happy Wednesday!


  1. Bridget N

    I was not at the hospital due to my illness but because of my daughter’s extended stay (total of over 5mos before she passed away). It was extremely helpful to receive food gift cards for use at the various fast food places located within the hospital (Subway, Starbucks, etc.). I was at an out-of-town hospital, so I couldn’t just run home to make a meal, nor would I have wanted to if it meant leaving Ella’s side for too long during the day. Even eating on the cheap can get expensive after a while, so the gift cards were very helpful. I could really make them last, too, by not ordering too extravagantly.

    Another thing for which my husband and I were extremely grateful was the birthday gift my sister’s family gave us – money paid directly to the Ronald McDonald House for our stay there. They ended up paying for almost two weeks worth of my stay there. Very generous, very needed, and very much appreciated.

  2. Simcha Fisher

    Ah ha, now I don’t feel bad about sharing my go-to recipe for when things get hairy at our house. It’s called “chip salad.” You just empty your cabinets of everything you can find that is in two or more of the following categories: yellow, orange, salt and vinegar, wavy, kettle cooked, and x-treme flavored. Place all ingredients in a bowl, and toss lightly to avoid getting salt in your wounded pride. For a crunchy topping, you take the side of your hand and wipe it from front to back of the cabinet while holding the salad underneath. Fingers crossed for Froot Loops!

    But seriously. Improve life later, when living is possible again.

  3. Bethany Blanchard

    Bonus tablet benefit: If your baby is in the NICU at one hospital and you are bedridden in another hospital, you can Skype in to his baptism and not miss the most important moment of what may be his very short life (which later turns out to be longer than you feared when he gets better and comes home)! Also totally second the gift cards. Food/grocery gift cards were incredibly useful; coffee shop gift cards restored the soul. Another great idea is a gas station gift card (do they make those??)/gas money.

      • Bethany Blanchard

        I do! And it was scary, although not always in the ways I expected, and he was there long enough that it even became kind of normal. One the things it made me super thankful for was technology: human connection, reasons to laugh, prayers, ways to enrich my mind–all much better ways to spend my time than simply letting my worries run through my head all day. Good stuff.

  4. Kira

    Okay, so here you are, sharing the small joys that buoyed you during your turbulent days, and I’m consumed with envy over your bag. That is lovely.
    This is the second time I’ve failed today (HA! That I’m remembering at the moment!), because this morning I hopped on Facebook to whine and kvetch mightily about the snow! Snow! In May!
    And then right after I posted I noticed a post from a friend, saying, “JESUS sent snow and I LOVE JESUS so I LOVE THIS SNOW.”
    Dangit. Can I change my answer?

  5. Andi at Bringing the Sunshine

    My husband has one more book to add to your list – “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand. And even better, it’s a true story!

  6. Adam

    It’s also good to smuggle your own little coffee maker into the hospital since, in my experience, hospital coffee shops and cafeterias are always closed when you need them most.

    • Mary

      As a hospital employee, I second this. I’d also like to mention that hospital coffee usually isn’t very good. Oh, and in case anyone’s wondering, Code Blue means a patient’s gone into cardiac arrest.

  7. Julie Culshaw

    I don’t know if you have any control over your ads or not, but the one with Michael J Fox for Parkinsons is not so good on your site. He is always talking about stem cell procedures and he has had several, using embryonic stem cells of course.

  8. Ashley Anderson @ The Narrative Heiress

    Jen, I’m holding my breath for likely time in the NICU with my twins. #3 might come in very helpful for me there or elsewhere, especially if my mind is worried. Thanks for sharing!

    My question for you is: Did you write one of those ten reviews on Amazon for the fabulous bag? You don’t seem to have your hands full. Maybe you should write up something snazzy. 😉

  9. Kris, in New England

    Having just had my 2nd hip replacement a few months ago I can attest to the extra charger – with a longer than normal cord if you can find one. Since I was woken up every 1-2 hours for blood tests and vitals checks, I wanted my iPhone near me so I could use it while I tried to fall back to sleep. The cord to the charger was quite short and the nearest plug was “just that” far away…

    The Ambien – oh yes please.

    Glad you are up and around and able to blog. So amazing.

  10. Jenna@CallHerHappy

    I’m so glad you’re all home and I hope you never have use for that list again!

  11. Laura

    The relax & sleep app sounds 🙂 great! I’m going to recommend it to my pregnant friends. I think it would be really useful for a kid-filled hotel room too.

  12. Lorelei

    This is a great list. I am thankful that I haven’t spent much time at a hospital – but the time I have, a cell phone charger would have been a small blessing.

  13. Karen

    Am I the only one who felt a need to use the restroom after reading #3? I am not sure if that combination would work for me. 😉

  14. Monika

    This is unrelated to this post, but on your right sidebar, there is a giant ad reading: “Help Emily’s List elect a woman president.” (or something close) The woman president part is not the problem, but the Emily’s List is.

    God Bless you and your family,

    • Jennifer Fulwiler

      UGH! Thank you for letting me know. Will make sure that gets taken down.

  15. Amy in SC

    De-lurking just to laugh. Ambien makes me hallucinate. I entertained my husband and mother all night while in the hospital. Not relaxing at all. Too bad she didn’t save the crazy-funny message I left on her answering machine. We could have sold tickets and entertained everybody to pay for the hospital stay.

    Amy in SC

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