Without a doubt, one of the most stressful situations you can face as a parent is the hospitalization of your child. Whether it is a planned stay, like a surgery, or an unplanned event, parents are bombarded with a huge number of shifts in their day-to-day life and priorities. Parents are also expected to step in and provide a lot of the care a child receives in the hospital once they are back home and that can be extremely overwhelming. While the purpose of this article is for families with a child who is medically fragile or has a life-threatening diagnosis, it is also meant to offer ideas for the unexpected and planned hospitalizations that can occur in all our families. Hospitalization and Emergency Room (ER) visits for many families with a child who is medically fragile or has life-threatening diagnosis is an ever-present possibility. The hope is to provide some tool kit examples and some ideas to ease the transition back home.
As a parent who has spent a lot of time in ERs, Intensive care units, and the medical floor during hospital stays, I have found that I was better prepared for what was going on and the transition back home when I asked questions and shared what home was like with the doctors, nurses, and therapists. I also found that the hospital social workers were my best friends when it came to asking about support for me as a parent. Even before you talk with the discharge planner check in with the social workers. They often have information about support groups, outside therapists/home help, vouchers, and financial supports that you don’t have the time to think about while your child is hospitalized.
Building relationships and the supports for you with the staff caring for your child can help ease some of the overwhelming confusion. Especially when there is an extended medical emergency or complex surgery with a long recovery. Keep a small notebook to write down and track what doctors and nurses do, and record the answers to your questions when you ask them. If you have a smart phone, there are multiple apps for this on both iPhone and android platforms. Most important of all is making sure you take time for you and self-care. This is often the hardest part and frequently we know it’s what we need to do and focus on other pressing priorities. Remember, when you take time to renew it helps you be there for your family. While your child is hospitalized, the nurses are there to take care of them, so find ways to re-charge. Take breaks and find quiet time for yourself because once you get back home you are often the nurse and parent.
Three vital links to help you, your family and your child:
- This first link is from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) and takes you to a website that gives some good basic information and links to checklists. After clicking on the link below this text, go to the middle of the page. There will be a link to the “Be Prepared to Go Home Checklist and Booklet” is a good general tool to use. https://www.ahrq.gov/professionals/systems/hospital/engagingfamilies/strategy4/index.html
- The second link for a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) babies or Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) babies and is really targeted to supporting parents of infants. https://www.ahrq.gov/professionals/systems/hospital/nicu_toolkit/nicu-packet.html
- The last link is a great way for families of children with complex medical needs to prepare ahead of time just in case. This link is for the Family Voices collaborative care notebook template that has places for all of the information that goes with the care of your child. This tool can be used to provide information to the hospital and ER. Some families have used the child sheets or the emergency information sheets as a one pager to take with them to the ER or for extended hospitalization. This sheet provides the multiple doctors and staff that you see with consistent accurate information. There are also schedules that a child might need in their care and they can be used to record care needs in the home. http://www.fv-ncfpp.org/files/5813/0721/3621/Care_Notebook_-_entry_enabled1_reduced.pdf
These tools have been a great help in supporting my family with multiple hospitalizations and it is my hope they will be useful for you too!