As a first time dad with no particular expertise in regard to pregnancy and exactly zero experience as an actual parent, I was very unsure of myself when the (obviously desperate) editor of this blog asked me to write something. I felt like a fool posting beside parents of 4 kids, while they dropped actual knowledge. I didn’t have any “tips for packing the perfect go-bag” or anything else to share that could actually HELP any of the readers. Now, even as the newbie father of a 3 month old (haven’t even finished “The Baby Whisperer” yet) – I have become well versed in one thing: the extended hospital stay. And I feel like I’ve learned a few things that could even help pretty seasoned parents.
Our daughter decided to join us 5 1/2 weeks early, and was born with a relatively minor heart condition called a Ventricular Septal Defect. It’s a hole in the heart, which most babies effected simply grow out of. However, a small percentage require open heart bypass surgery – and we drew the short straw. So now, out of my daughter’s 13 weeks on earth our family has spent about 5 of them in a hospital.
Here are 5 things every parent should know, if your hospital stay ends up longer than the 3 hour tour you planned for:
1. Ronald McDonald Can Be Your Best Friend
The Ronald McDonald House Charity is a truly wonderful program that I didn’t know much about – before it became my new favorite non-profit last week (and I even used to work for the guy, back in the day). The houses themselves are obviously a great resource, particularly for families in financial need. But it’s more than that – many hospitals have RMHC rooms full of all sorts of essentials, but are restricted to families of patients in ICU situations. Simply being in the company of folks who have an inkling of what you are going through can be a HUGE relief, since they understand sometimes all you want is to be left alone. Be aware – if you are forced to travel for care and want to stay at one of the houses – you need to call EARLY, on the DAY you will be checking in to the hospital. They can’t accept advance reservations due to demand. But if you are lucky enough to be able to select the hospital you’ll be in – check if they have a RMHC room first. [Please note: the rooms are not stocked with food from Mickey D's, which may send you to the cardiac ward one day.]
2. Bring Comfortable Sneakers – AND Workout Clothes To Go With Them
Everybody knows that you need to comfy shoes when you may be standing around – even sitting – for loooooong periods of time. But make sure to bring some workout clothes to go with them – weather appropriate, don’t just toss your gym bag in the car. Exercise is rumored to relieve stress, and hospitals can be the ultimate pressure cooker. Even a short run can keep you from strangling a nurse or family member. Additionally – hospital food tends not to be organic, fat and GMO free – and fresh air is wonderful thing, too. You don’t need to be a runner – just leave the damn hospital and go outside for at least :30 minutes a day. The combination of endorphins and oxygen will help you stay sane.
3. Do Not Be Afraid To Request – or Reject – A Caregiver
This can be touchy – especially if you’re in a smaller facility, rather than a big city hospital. If you have a nurse that rubs you the wrong way, or if the doctor on call is not tending to your needs properly – SPEAK UP. Charge nurses can shuffle rotations, and nurse practitioners can be a fantastic resource if the doctor isn’t helping… But if you just try and “suffer through it” you’ll end up way more stressed out in an already difficult situation. Sometimes personalities don’t jibe well – and a nurse or doc with the right sense of humor, or gentle touch for your child – can make an intolerable situation tolerable. Seek out caregivers from New England or the Tri-State area – they usually have the thickest skins & best senses of humor.
4. Sugar Is Your Enemy
As previously mentioned, hospitals are NOT known for their gourmet cuisine. Additionally, the least expensive options are usually the least nutritious. Sugar will likely make you feel better in the short term; and comfort foods are almost always carbohydrate based: which simply turn to sugar when digested. While it’s virtually impossible to avoid junk food during a hospital stay, know this: they will make you crash. Too much caffeine can be a real problem too – but sugar is the worst culprit. You don’t have to go all “Whole Foods” superfood smoothie – just hit a grocery store deli counter, and pick up some fruit on the way out the store. Stamina and a clear head are what you need most – in literally life-and-death situations, where your family is depending on you. It sounds preachy – and believe me, I am starting a crash diet this weekend – but if you treat your body right it will return the favor.
5. Do Not Let Your Whole Life Stop
Look – being thoroughly engaged with what’s happening when your child is in the hospital is – without question – the most basic trait of a decent parent. However, if you drop everything & spend every-day-all-day obsessed with the doctors & nurses, or researching WebMD, talking to family members or other patients’ families – a number of bad things will begin to happen.
- You will become extraordinarily depressed – because no matter how dire your situation is, somebody else on the floor has it much worse.
- You can put yourself behind the 8-ball with work: between potentially using up all sick/vacation pay, letting tasks snowball (that could be easily maintained if you spend a little time each day dedicated to your job) or or not keeping up on correspondence.
- You will drive the nurses & doctor’s crazy, by nagging – and possibly beginning to second guess them (the internet is full of wonderful information – as well as incredibly crazy and paranoid people). Ask questions, stay informed – but let them do their jobs.
Keep following your favorite sports teams. Buy a new mystery/romance/self-help/biography/espionage novel with short chapters that does not require serious concentration. Start a new TV series on-demand or online – there are plenty of freebies out there, an almost all hospitals have free wi-fi. You MUST get out of your own head for part of every day. Not just for yourself – but so you can be of better service to those around you. But try and focus on something you still do in solitary… Social media can be a dangerous thing, trust me.
I’d like to dedicate this writing to an old friend – also a dad – my college roommate, with whom I am very grateful to have reconnected after almost a decade. Will Alicea – aka IAM Will, aka Will Teez – passed away this week, while our daughter was recovering from her successful heart surgery. I hadn’t spoken to him in the months since he began his treatment for leukemia – but we’d reconnected via Facebook a couple of years ago and kept in touch through messages. We had both made pretty drastic changes in our lives a few years ago – and we rekindled our bond over that. He was one of the hardest-headed dudes I ever met – and absolutely NEVER let ANYONE get away without standing up for themselves, and backing up their words with action. When we met during my freshman year, he instantly saw through the front I was putting up. The scared kid trying to act like I had it all figured out. But instead of JUST punking me (oh, believe me – he had plenty of fun at my expense) he actually helped me learn how to get stronger… and I will miss him dearly. You left us far too soon, Lion. R.I.P. Bill…