(Guest Author: Kylie Knoble)
Ready 2 Go Bag: Hospital Bag Checklist
Why Some People Don’t Plan Unexpected Trips to the Emergency Room
If we plan to go away, even for one night, we pack a bag. We wouldn’t go and stay in a motel, at someone’s house, or any other accommodation without an overnight bag. At the least, we’d have a change of clothes, some toiletries, and other items that we need for our basic comfort. We plan ahead for being away from home all the time, especially if we know we’re going to be outside our normal comfort zone.
People prepare ahead of time for the potential discomfort of long car trips, long flights, or train and bus journeys. They pack backpacks or carry-on luggage with snacks, drinks, books, magazines, and other items to keep them comfortable and distracted. Before leaving home we also make sure we’ve got our essential documentation, tickets, itineraries, money, or passports with us. So why do we arrive at the emergency room with nothing but the clothes on our backs? We arrive without our essential medical information written down too.
Perhaps it’s because of the urgency or unpredictability of the situation. After all, we pack a bag for the hospital when we know that we’re going in for surgery or to have a baby. Perhaps it’s because we’re not expecting a medical emergency to happen to us. Maybe we’re too optimistic and think we’re invulnerable.
Our Optimism Bias Convinces Us That We’re Invulnerable
Researchers have found that human brains are naturally set towards having a positive outlook on the future. Scientists believe that this optimism bias helps to keep us motivated towards achieving our goals and boosts our self-esteem. The downside is that sometimes we don’t plan ahead for the risks we may encounter along the way. And the more infrequently a negative event happens to us, or the more unlikely we perceive it to be, the less likely people are to plan for it. So how many people aged over 65 do unexpectedly go to the emergency department each year?
According to The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare ( 2018), 1.6 million people aged over 65 years went to the emergency department between 2016 and 2017. The over 65 age group made up one-fifth of the total 7.8 million presentations to the emergency department. People aged over 85 made up almost 1 in 4 (23%) of all presentations for people aged 65 and over.
Data released on ambulance usage in Australia also showed that between 2016 and 2021 the percentage of the population that uses the ambulance service grew by 6%. This was in part due to the aging population and the increased demand for ambulance services by older people.
Perhaps it’s time that we start assisting people that are vulnerable in our community to prepare in advance for unexpected trips to the emergency room. By packing a bag with clothing, toiletries, and your essential information, you’ll have everything ready to go with you suddenly have to go to the hospital.
Prepare Your Essential Information
If you call an ambulance because of an urgent medical situation, the ambulance officers will try to find out some key pieces of information to help form part of their assessment. This may include what medications you take, your allergies, and your past and current medical history. Have this information compiled somewhere that’s easy to find in the event of an emergency or in case you’re unable to answer questions when the ambulance arrives at your home.
If you go to the emergency department yourself, you’re going to get asked many questions by the triage nurse, nurses, and doctors. If you’re unprepared, have lost track of some of your information along the way, or are too unwell to be able to think clearly you may struggle to remember all your essential information. Compile your essential information on a single page that you can just refer to or give to the nurse when you arrive. Hospital staff can access your electronic health record, but there are people that opted out of this service. It’s especially important to have your emergency contact information up to date as phone numbers often change from one hospital visit to the next.
Hospital Bag Checklist: Prepare for the Waiting Room
Once you’ve seen the triage nurse, you could wait several hours before you’re brought through to the treatment area depending on the urgency of your case. Pack some items in your bag that’ll help keep you comfortable during the long waiting period. A puzzle book or apps on your phone may help distract you. Waiting rooms are generally cold so pack a small fleecy blanket and a travel pillow.
It’s always advisable to check with the hospital staff as to whether you’re allowed to eat or drink while you’re waiting in case this may interfere with any potential medical procedures. Pack a few snacks and some water, especially if you visit the emergency room at night time because everything’s closed.
Prepare for Sleeping Less in Hospital
If you’ve ever found yourself in a hospital and unable to sleep, it may not be just the noisy hospital environment that’s causing it. Scientists at Brown University discovered that when we sleep in a new environment for the first night, one hemisphere in our brain stays alert. This phenomenon is “ The First Night Effect” and explains why it’s difficult to sleep during your first night in the hospital and if you share a room. One hemisphere of our brain will remain hypervigilant to alert us to sudden or unfamiliar noises in the environment.
To plan for this you may want to include certain items on your hospital bag checcklist. These include a sleeping mask and some earplugs in your hospital bag.
Prepare Any Aids You Need Ahead of Time
If you use hearing aids, then pack some spare batteries in your hospital bag. For those who own a spare pair of reading glasses, put them in your hospital bag in case of an unexpected trip to the hospital. If you use a walking frame or wheelchair, put a name tag on it. That way if you go to the hospital, it’s already labeled, which is important if sharing a room with others.
Prepare for Boredom Some of the Time
Once you’re starting to feel better, you may find the days and nights in the hospital become long. Pack your hospital bag with some items that you can use for entertainment when you’re feeling better. Your phone is an obvious choice but just remember to pack a spare phone charger in your bag. Some hospitals have rules against plugging in appliances if they haven’t gone through testing and tagging. You could also get this done ahead of time.
Whatever you need to pass the time will do (books, magazines, knitting, puzzles). It depends on what you like doing to keep yourself occupied. Just remember to pack something in your bag that’ll help relieve the boredom.
Prepare for Being in an Airconditioned Environment
Being in hospital can cause your lips and skin to become dry after a few days of being in an airconditioned environment. So remember to pack some lip balm and also a good moisturiser that you can apply to your skin if it starts to feel dry.
Prepare Your Bag so it Holds Everything you Need
The easiest way to pack your hospital bag so that everything fits is to pack cubes. It also makes it easier to find your belongings. Packing cubes allow you to separate the contents of your bag into more manageable compartments. You can put all of your underwear, socks, and pyjamas together and separate your clothing and toiletries. Don’t forget to put a name tag on your bag as well. That way, if it gets misplaced in the hospital when you’re transferred to the ward- it’ll be easily found.
Items That you Can’t Prepare in Advance
When you pack your hospital bag based on the hospital bag checklist, there are some items that may not be practical to pack in advance. It’s worth keeping a list of all that you’ll need to come to the hospital if you’re taken by ambulance. The Ready to go bag comes with these instructions on the essential information form. However, these belongings need to be in a place where they’re easily located. So, if you’re able to keep your items packed in your hospital bag, you only have to take last-minute items. Last-minute items include a walking frame, phone, hearing aids, etc. And the ambulance officers will have to be able to find your hospital bag quickly too. So, keep it in an easy-to-find location. The Ready 2 Go Bag comes with a fridge card to notify ambulance officers that you already have a hospital bag and can also hold a copy of your essential information form. Keep your hospital bag checklist handy.
Suggested Basic Hospital Bag Checklist for Emergencies