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Caregiving Reality

Preparing for an Emergency Hospital Visit


All caregivers should prepare for the possibility of an emergency hospitalization of the person in our care. Think you don’t need to do this because the person in your care isn’t ill? Don’t be fooled. It makes no difference if the person in your care is perfectly healthy–a fall is all it takes to precipitate an emergency hospital visit for an elderly person. That is just one example.

Every caregiver can benefit from preparing for the unexpected hospitalization of the person in their care. While caring for my grandmother through her long journey of congestive heart failure I had to deal with so many unexpected emergency hospital admissions that they began to feel routine. From the years of my success, and failures, I give you this list:

  1. Prepare for unexpected hospital admissions. Yep, that is the first thing. Everything that comes after is built on this, and taking this first step is surprisingly hard. Nobody wants to envision ending up in the hospital and both the caregiver and the person in our care can be resistant to the sense that preparing makes the possibility inevitable. There is a bad instinct to act as if not thinking about it means it won’t happen, and as a result most people are completely unprepared when the unexpected emergency hospital admission does occur.
  2. Know the wishes of the person in your care. Do they have a healthcare proxy? A living will? A DNR? If there are several hospitals in the area is there one they prefer? (In my situation there were three local hospitals and the ambulance crew would always ask if there was a preference.)
  3. Know the insurance policy protocol for the person in your care. Some insurance companies require notification if someone is admitted to the hospital. When you are dealing with a stressful health crisis you don’t want to be figuring out if this is the case in your situation.
  4. Have all the important phone numbers in your own phone’s address book. Are you able to contact next-of-kin, family friends, doctor, and insurance?
  5. Pack a grab bag for the person in your care. Pajamas, slippers, a change of clothes, and any other small items which would make a stay in the hospital more comfortable. These things can feel very important to someone suddenly thrust into an unexpected hospital stay.
  6. Pack a very small grab bag for yourself–something about the size of a fanny pack that you can easily wear. In this have at minimum: a pen, some paper, small bills or change for using a vending machine, tissues, hard candy or other non-spoiling small food item, and something to read. You might think wi-fi or your phone is enough, but 6 or so hours in the ER can be more than your battery has left (and there might be no place to easily recharge your device). Be prepared for the worst case long wait and you won’t regret it.
  7. In your grab bag also include a current list of medications taken by the person in your care (including natural supplements), along with any health conditions (and allergies) they have. The medical staff will always ask for this information.
  8. Include in your grab bag a paper with the pertinent personal information of the person in your care: Their address, phone number, contact for next of kin, their doctor, their date of birth, their insurance information. This is needed, every time.
  9. Determine in advance who in the family you will contact in the event of an emergency admission. It is best to have one person you will contact with information about the crisis and have that person pass on the information to any other family members and friends with instructions to wait for further updates. You don’t want to be handling a bunch of phone calls in the middle of an emergency trip to the hospital.
  10. Be prepared to wait. A lot. Patience is key.

Don’t forget to tailor this list to fit your own personal needs. Like to listen to music? Make sure you have earbuds and a device (probably your phone) to play the music. Are you diabetic or have other health issues? You might need to pack appropriate supplies for your condition in your grab bag. Whatever your personal situation, imagine that you will have to wait in the ER for six to eight hours with the person in your care. A bit of reflection on this possibility will help clarify what you need for this unexpected event.

It is always stressful to make an unexpected visit to the hospital but with advanced planning you can make it an event which is more manageable and just a little bit less stressful. The person in your care might thank you (especially if you remember their comfy pajamas) and you will certainly thank yourself when you have everything right at hand for the sudden occurrence.

2 comments… add one
  • Cindy May 4, 2016, 3:52 pm

    Hi Rundy, Great list! And congratulations on being the keynote speaker at the Alzheimer’s Associations spring caregiving conference in NY! One helpful thing I created during Mom’s last hospital stay was a hospital patient board information form. Caring for Dad also at home, I couldn’t be with her the whole time, and with her Alzheimer’s, I knew she wouldn’t be able to answer all their questions correctly, so I created this form with basic information they needed to know and posted it next to the patient board in her room so each new rotation of staff would see it first thing. Her nurses were very appreciative of having this information readily accessible. There’s a free printable form on my website caregivers are welcome to use – Blessings!

    • Rundy May 13, 2016, 1:58 am

      That is a great idea, Cindy! Thanks for stopping by to comment.

      (And there are more big events upcoming. Stay tuned!)

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