An Insider’s Guide to Surviving Your Child’s Hospital Stay

By Elizabeth Nelsen, MD, FAAP

young girl in hospital bed with teddy bear

As a pediatrician, I take care of children that sometimes need to go to the hospital. I’m often in a position to explain to them what will happen when they are there. As a parent, I recently experienced what it is like when my daughter was admitted to the hospital after surgery. While we were there, I recognized some points that may be helpful if your own child is admitted to the hospital.

  1. Be an advocate. You know your child better than anyone else. If you recognize that your child needs rest, it’s ok to say no to family members that want to visit. If your child is uncomfortable, ask the nurse and child life specialist what can be done to help (for example, pain medication or a toy or video to help with distraction).
  2. Keep things normal (as best you can). If you have a younger child who takes a regular nap or two at home, try to have them nap at their regular time. Also try to keep the bedtime routine as consistent as you can. You might not be able to do everything you would at home, but ensuring that your little one gets to bed around the same time they do at home will help create a sense of normalcy. If your child has a favorite stuffed animal or toy, consider bringing that with you. If they have a favorite cup they drink from at home, bring that as well. It may help especially if your child is having some difficulty eating and drinking because things are unfamiliar or if they are recovering from something painful.
  3. Rest when you can. It’s hard to sleep in the hospital, even with the pull out chairs and love seats in the patient rooms. Plus, you are very focused on your child and how he or she is doing. It’s crucial that you eat, drink, and get your rest so that you can help to care for your child.
  4. Take notes. You will likely be tired and frazzled during your stay. This can affect your memory and concentration. Writing down questions you have for the nurses or doctors when you think of them will help you to remember what your concerns were when they come back to check on you and your son or daughter. You should also jot down their responses – again, just to help you keep track or if someone else asks you the same question about your child.
  5. Breathe. You’re in the best place possible for your child. Caring for a child that needs to stay in the hospital is not easy. The doctors, nurses, and staff at Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital understand this and go above and beyond every day to provide excellent care for you and your child. Take a deep breath and know you’re in the best hands.

Brief bio: Elizabeth Nelsen, MD, FAAP, is an assistant professor of pediatrics at SUNY Upstate Medical University and Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital. She is also an associate program director for the pediatric residency program.

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