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Preparing for the Unexpected

Getting organized for daily life can be a challenge.  Being prepared for potential unexpected detours — like a trip to the hospital — can feel overwhelming.  But now more than ever, it is helpful to have a plan in place, just in case.  Hospitals are under strain, and so wait times may be longer and stress levels higher.  They also may have stricter rules about having visitors or leaving your room, to reduce risk of COVID transmission.  It is best to have at least some of your ducks in a row before the unexpected happens.

First, talk to your friends and family about who can offer support should any of you get sick.  Who could drive to the hospital, feed pets, care for kids… getting it figured out ahead of time may seem unnecessary and stressful, but you don’t want to be scrambling for babysitters when you feel sick.  Next, think about what and who you will bring with you:


Make sure you have a bag that can carry a day or two of your things.  You will want some snacks, a water bottle, a well-fitted mask or two, and comfortable clothes.  Remember that hospitals can get chilly, so bring an extra warm layer, ideally something that’s easy to slip on and off or wrap around you.  

Think as well about how you want to spend the inevitable down time.  Will you want something to keep your mind occupied?  Will you just want to zone out to some music?  Consider bringing earphones, a book, or puzzles like sudoku or crosswords.  

Whatever you choose to bring, write it down in a list and leave it with your bag.  That way, should the time come and your mind is otherwise full, you can easily pack the items you’ve decided on ahead of time!

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Not all trips to the hospital are 100% smooth.  They may require a bit of assertiveness to get what you need.  It is often difficult to self-advocate when feeling tired and sick.  If possible, ask a couple of people you trust if they would come with you to the hospital.  They can help call in food when you’re too tired to do it yourself, and can take notes for you when doctors are talking.  If you have complex health problems that are often misunderstood by doctors, it can be helpful to have an article or explanation from another doctor printed out for the doctor to reference.  Note: while some doctors find this very helpful, others may balk.  It is crucial that any literature you bring be from a source that the doctor will trust, such as the CDC, NIH, a renowned hospital, or Up To Date.

If you cannot bring someone with you into the hospital, think of other ways they can help you self-advocate.  Asking your primary care doctor ahead of time for a note (as mentioned above) with care considerations that you’ve agreed upon is a good start.  Remember that you can also phone a friend!  When the doctors come in, feel free to call someone on speaker phone to listen, take notes, ask questions, or have your back if needed.

See our tips for self-advocacy here.

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emotional support

Going to the hospital is stressful, scary, and draining.   You will need emotional support, so have systems in place!  This could be a loved one who goes in with you.  It could also mean having friends send you cute pictures of their pets as a way to make you smile.  Ahead of time, you could write down a few affirmations — thoughts and phrases that you know you’ll need to hear in the moment.  Keep them in your go bag.  When things get tough, pull out the note and read it to yourself for a little boost!  If you do end up on your way to the hospital and won’t have anyone there to cheer you up, reach out to someone to set up a time to chat either during or after your visit.  It will help you debrief and detox the difficult emotions, and also give you a sense of connection throughout the experience, knowing someone is thinking of you and waiting to talk.

Check out tips for seeking support here.

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