Tips and Tricks for What to Pack for a Planned Hospital Stay


The following things are items that I or my friends have personally tried and found to be very helpful while in the hospital to make things much more bearable and enjoyable.

* Pajamas or NIGHT CLOTHES for each day. You spend all day and night in your PJ’s and tend to sweat more in the hospital,(especially with those plastic coated mattresses,) so you can usually only wear PJ’s for one day. Also don’t go for skimpy items. I have seen patients in hospital PJ’s or other clothing made of nylon and they tend to make you perspire and become uncomfortable, when in bed for any length of time.
* BABY WIPES/ WET WIPES for cleaning up hands, face and bottoms and for overall “freshening up,” especially if you can’t shower as often as you like.
* TOOTHPASTE and MOUTHWASH – for those yucky hospital tastes from medications.
* 2 in 1 SHAMPOO and CONDITIONER – this saves time washing your hair when you feel awful.
* DRY (NO RINSE/ WATERLESS) SHAMPOO – for freshening your hair when you are unable to wash it yourself. This is a product that you apply to your hair and it cleans it, without water. With most of them you seem to apply it, comb your hair and then towel dry, or towel dry and then comb. It removes oil and dirt and gives a fresh smell. While not as good as a real hair wash, if you are unable to get out of bed or wash your hair as much as you would like, then this can be a good alternative.
* TISSUES – Some hospitals supply tissues, but I personally prefer the Aloe Vera ones, and so I take my own (the “normal” ones make my nose sore.) If you are having ANY kind of facial surgery, then I recommend the aloe ones, as they are so much softer.
* MOISTURIZER – Some hospital atmospheres can be very drying on the skin, especially if it has air conditioning or you are having bed baths. (Yep, even for the guys.)
* LOLLIES/ CANDIES TO SUCK ON – to get rid of any horrible tastes from medications, procedures or some hospital food .
* BOOKS AND/OR MAGAZINES – to fill in empty times without visitors and those long lonely nights.
* PUZZLES AND PENS/ HIGHLIGHTERS – to fill them out. Any kind or multiple kinds of puzzle books, depending on your favorites. For my shoulder surgeries I have found that word search books and a highlighter are the easiest, as the highlighter is easier to hold and use with the “wrong” hand and you can still see the letters through the highlighter to finish the puzzle.
* NAIL POLISH, LIPSTICK, COLOURED LIP GLOSS, ETC. – to pamper yourself when feeling up to it (well, maybe not for the guys )
* LIP BALM – is essential as the atmosphere in most hospitals is a bit dry and can crack you lips.
* WALKMAN/ CD PLAYER/ MP3-4 PLAYER – to help combat those boring times between visitors, at night, or when there is nothing good on TV (If you are lucky enough to have or be able to see one.)
* PERFUME/ AFTERSHAVE – this can have an amazing effect on your morale, as it can really lift your mood, to simply apply a little pleasant smell.
* CHOCOLATE – Need I Say More.
* LITTLE CHOCOLATE BARS OR OTHER TREATS – (like chocolate coated fruit and nuts, nuts, cookies, lollipops, sweets, etc.) to give to nurses and other hospital staff. It NEVER hurts to butter up the people looking after you, so simply get a bowl or bag to put them in for easy access.
* A FEW GOOD MAGAZINES AND A TV GUIDE – You know what you like. I also suggest that you take a TV Guide magazine/ pull out, so that you know what is on TV while you are in the hospital.
* PHONE/ ADDRESS BOOK/ NUMBERS – Nothing is worse than trying to remember a phone number while you are groggy, or trying to remember an address when addressing a letter. Don’t forget phone numbers of family and friends. You will need to communicate with them during your stay, especially to bring you some good food.
* A MOBILE/ CELL PHONE -so you can make long distance calls without it costing a fortune for hospital call rates. Just remember that you cannot use mobile phones in some hospitals or parts of hospitals, as they can interfere with equipment.
* A PHONE CARD – which can be used on ANY phone, ANYwhere, and the cost comes off the amount on the card. Look for one you can also refill on the card with a credit card. To use it you just dial the number on the back of the card and then the special PIN number on the card. This makes it so much easier, as you don’t have the awful hospital charges for phone calls when you are discharged from the hospital, and can still make all of the calls you like from any phone.
* A LAPTOP COMPUTER – if you are up to using one and it is “safe” to do so. If you aren’t going to be away from your room very often (you should be able to get the nurses to lock it away for you, if you ask nicely). Also you could add DVDs, Cd’s, Games, a modem and local ISP number (if you wish to access the Internet while in the hospital.)
* STATIONARY ITEMS – so that you can write to others and fill out puzzle books, menus and anything else (things like notepaper, notepad, envelopes, stamps, note cards, pens, pencils, highlighters, scissors, sticky tape, pencil sharpener, eraser, string, etc. All come in very handy for the strangest of things sometimes.
* MINI FACIAL KIT – with things like cleanser, toner, moisturizer in small/ sample sizes, as they are more convenient. Giving yourself a facial, or having a friend give you one, can really make you feel a lot better about yourself and make your skin feel refreshed. Again this will depend on the reason you are in hospital. If you have or are having anything done to your face, then you won’t want this, and if you are having upper limb surgery, then you may not be able to do this yourself, but you can probably talk a friend into it.
* SPORTS DRINKS – like Gatorade/ Powerade. My massage therapist got me on to this one, as you can get headaches from being dehydrated from normal means and also from some medications. So what you do is mix ½ water with ½ sports drink, as the 1st step when you get a headache or a few times a day to prevent headaches. That is, provided of course that you are allowed to eat and drink what you like, otherwise ask the hospital staff if it is permitted. This can be hard to find in some hospital cafeterias/ shops too, so you may want to get someone to bring it to you. This really works, I got my Mum onto it while she was going through Chemotherapy, as she was getting headaches from the treatment, which was causing some dehydration as does the vomiting and this really helped her. She would actually make this up into a bottle and take it with her, when she went for her Chemo and also before and after.
* ANY SNACKS OR TREATS – that you are particularly partial to, whether naughty or good for you. Whatever you like.
* ANY SPECIAL MEDICAL INFORMATION – about you and any conditions you have. I personally take a list of ALL operations I have had in the past, (if you are having surgery they ALWAYS ask you this, and they can be hard to think of), ALL medication I take, including those I only take sometimes (generic name, actual drug number, strength and the dose you are on, as well as why you take it), ALL medical conditions that I have and how they affect me, basic information on the rare conditions I have, any dietary restrictions (so that you can talk to the dietitian at the hospital and the kitchen staff as well), any nutritional supplements you are taking currently (as they can interfere with other medications and the hospital staff really need to know if you are taking any vitamins/ minerals etc), general information (like contact details for next of kin, medical insurance details, Medicare number, Medic Alert Number (if you have one), ANY Compensation details (if appropriate) etc).
* A COUPLE OF NICE ZIP OR BUTTON FRONT TOPS – cardigans or vests, etc. so you can use these to go over your PJ’s while sitting in bed. If you get cold this can look nicer (especially if your PJ’s are a little brief or see through.)
* HOSPITAL WRAP – I have also made a “wrap” out of polar fleece, which I find even better than the zip/ button up tops, as this can be put on even if you have an IV in, without needing a nurse to unhook the bag and thread it through the sleeve of your top. This is tedious and it is too hard to take it on and off, depending on how you feel, or to slip it on one arm only and leave it over the arm with the IV in it. The pattern is VERY simple, you need some polar fleece (at least 2 meters, but more depending on how far you want it to come down the front and back and if you want to wear it sitting in bed or as a dressing gown substitute or as both, personally mine is 2.4m.) You will also need some ribbon, button or other closure to help keep it on.
Now all you do is lay the material down on a table and fold in half lengthwise, measure down halfway along the material on the folded side and mark with a pin. At the pin mark measure in 15cm from the fold again, marking with a pin. Cut in the 15cm from the first mark to the second, now cut on an angle back to the fold, then straight down the fold line to the edge (ON ONE SIDE ONLY,) leaving the piece behind the pins intact. To make the wrap shorter, trim equal amounts from the front and back. If you wish you can trim around the side and button edges, then sew a button/ toggle/ ribbon to the front. To wear simply slide it on with the “whole” piece in the back and the “split” piece in the front.
* SOME CASH AND LOOSE CHANGE – for the paper/ snack trolley that comes around in some hospitals or for the cafeteria/ store, so that you can buy some treats, magazines, the paper, etc.
* THE PHONE NUMBERS OF LOCAL FAST FOOD DELIVERY COMPANIES – (pizza, Chinese shops and the like). Most will deliver to the hospital provided you give the full name and address of the hospital, as well as your floor/ ward and room number. I have personally done this when the food was particularly nasty on that night, and if it is too much for one person then you can share with the nurses or invite a nurse to dinner to share with you.
* A TORCH/ HEAD LAMP – so that you can read without disturbing others in your room. It’s also helpful so that you can find the bathroom without having to turn the main lights on and blind yourself. Although the head lamp is GREAT also, as you don’t need one hand to hold the torch, and if having upper limb surgery you still have the other hand free.
* ANY MEDICATIONS, VITAMINS – that you normally take, even if you only take them occasionally As buying/ getting meds from the hospital if not related to your condition of admittance can be very expensive and difficult.
* ANY AIDS OR APPLIANCES – that you normally use (except those that will become obsolete for any surgery you are having), such as wrist splints, knee braces, crutches, or anything for other body parts that you need or use.
Including anything you will need post operatively if having surgery.
* A TRAVEL OR SMALL ALARM CLOCK – as for some reason most hospital rooms do NOT have clocks.
* A NICE PERFUMED BODY SPRAY – good for getting rid of hospital smells, great if you can’t bathe as often and you would like, nice to pick you up with a pretty smell and most hospitals don’t have air freshener in the toilets (PHEW) and some medications can play havoc with those bodily functions (yes even for the guys – choose a more masculine scent).
* EAR PLUGS – for that awful snorer in the next bed (if you are sharing a room), or to stop the noises of any noisy machinery in your room. For some reason some IV pumps are VERY noisy and make sleep very difficult.
* EYE MASK – in case your room mate is a late night reader or night owl, or to stop any light from the corridor as hospitals are not usually “dark” at night and the nurses patrol the ward, to see if you are asleep or need anything.
* SPARE BATTERIES – for anything you take with you, as it is inevitable that anything that uses batteries will go flat when you most need or want it, or in the middle of the night. So change the batteries just before you go in, take spares and for items that are rechargeable take the chargers for them with you (things like mobile phones, PDA’s, Some MP3 players, etc)
* A LAUNDRY BAG – so that you can give your laundry to family/ friends to wash for you, especially if you end up in the hospital longer than planned. Also, this is a great way of keeping track of how many clean sets of PJ’s/ undies etc. you have left, and also for separating dirty from clean clothes.
* A CRAFT/ HOBBY PROJECT – providing you can still do it with your injury/ surgery/ illness etc. If having upper limb surgery or an injury, then it may be very hard to do a craft/ hobby project with only one hand. Something like knitting, needlepoint, model making, etc.
* SLIPPERS (that slip on) are easier post -surgery as you won’t have to bend over to put them on, or lift your legs Bending forward can make you dizzy post-op and depending on the surgery/ illness you have, then this may not be possible anyway, but make sure they have non-slip soles.
* NICE SMELLING/ SPECIAL TOILETRIES – like shower gels, loofah gloves, body butter, and other fancy skin care items, etc.
* ZIP LOCK BAGS – are another great idea. They have 100+ uses, putting snacks away for later, storing leaking bottles,etc.
* FOOTWEAR – Any closed back, flat shoe or slipper with a non-skid sole is appropriate for the post-op period. Tennis shoes are ideal and inexpensive.
* EQUIPMENT – Any crutches, walkers, braces or other equipment you will use post-operatively should be brought on the day of admission so that they are readily available when you start therapy.
* DOCUMENTS AND PAPERWORK – Ideally, you should bring all the necessary paperwork in one folder, preferably the kind with a tie or snap closure to guarantee that important documents will not be lost. Don’t forget insurance cards, a list of all the medications you are currently taking, and a list of telephone numbers of family and friends. If you have a written power of attorney or living will, always bring those along with you too, or any form of advanced directives. Do NOT forget this, even if you are not terminally ill, as it is best if it is known before hand.
* CLOTHING – You may want to bring comfortable pajamas or lounging clothes, if you’ll be able to wear your own clothing. Bring a supply of loose-fitting underwear and comfortable socks. Short-sleeved PJ’s or Nightie tops are best to accommodate any intravenous (IV) lines you may require. A cardigan-style sweater or bed jacket can help ward off the chill. A pair of regular shoes (flat and something like sneakers is perfect in case you’re allowed to walk outside, and you’ll need them for the trip home anyway).
Sweat pants, flannel pajama bottoms and boxer shorts are great hospital clothes.
* BOXER SHORTS – For all, bring a pair (or more) of boxers to wear when you need to wear a hospital gown. No one wants their bare butt hanging out of a gown.
* JOURNAL – A pad and pen or journal is also good to have for writing things down. If you have a journal, bring it. If you don’t, this may be a good time to start one! It will allow you to write about your feelings and help reduce your stress! Notepaper/ pad is great for general writing, questions or anything else and a pen is a MUST for filling out paperwork/ menus etc.
* Sanitary Products – for some reason surgeries and such can put your menstrual cycle out of whack and having these items on hand (even just a couple to get you out of trouble, until someone can bring you in more, just in case) can make life a LOT easier. The ones that the hospital supplies are archaic – huge, bulky and uncomfortable.

These are ways that I and friends of mine have tried and have found to make life in the hospital more bearable and fun. They are also items that are essential for a hospital stay that you might not think of (like a clock, pen, ear plugs, eye mask, etc).
Article submitted by: “Shazzinoz” on the message boards, ©2008

  • Maryfrances Gambino Botkin

    Unless you will be in a private room, leave the perfume at home!

  • Corey Smith

    Wow, this sure is a long and very detailed list for planning a hospital stay. I know that my last hospital stay was pretty quick but also there was very little for me to pack. Mostly because it all just happened real quick and the only thing that I had was an extra shirt and several papers to present to the doctor.—medical

  • Lizz Pugh Lmt

    I have asthma and allergies; if my roommate had a perfume/scent it would be a nightmare. I’ve seen that same advice over and over, but honestly I think it would be terrible.

    An alternative: Adult baby wipes and spare deodorant (one for wiping the armpit area and the other for reapplying) can help you feel fresh and reduce your perception of your own BO, as well as help in the bathroom and any other areas you feel stinky.

  • lawclerkbeenthere

    All our hospitals, public buildings and most private buildings have a “no scents” policy. Anything like a plug-in would be confiscated.

  • Rashida S. Restaino

    I bring a scented plug-in for my hospital stays. Everyone complements it, no one complains.

  • grommy

    I wanted ideas for a kit to take to a young woman who is staying in the hospital w/her very ill daughter. She does not leave unless she has to so I wanted something that would make her burden a little easier to bare. I found some wonderful ideas and I appreciate you posting this list. I got my own brain juices flowing! Lets see…hand cream, lip balm, cards, roll of quarters for the vending machines, cash for the cafeteria, soft socks and house shoes…I could go on and on. Thank you for this post!

  • lawclerkbeenthere

    I am going into the hospital for about a week and checked each “list of things you need” site because there are a few different things on each site. Your site mentions cologne, perfume and body spray for the bathroom. No hospital I know permits scents (most offices don’t permit employees to have anything with scent on it either as mine does not). You need to amend your site.

  • Tom Johnson

    I just bought a travel power strip and a 2 spot USB charger with 2 10 ft cords. Seems like the rooms never have enough plugs and they are always too far away

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  • reesunicorns

    Thank you for this list! Very helpful as im having my operation tomorrow and will be staying I hospital for over a week 🙁 thank you though, but im having lower limb surgery so I wont be able to wak :((

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  • Rita

    Thanks! That list really helped as I did my last-minute-mad-panic-packing. The only thing I couldn’t see on it was ‘glasses’. I need several pairs with me, as even in the vicinity of a hospital bed I can eaily lose three. Last time, my final pair was only found just before I was discharged and the nurses were stripping the bed!

  • Marissa

    Thank you so much for this list! My mom recently had back surgery and I spent five days in the hospital with her. This list really helped me prepare, which made our stay less stressful.

    The notepad was especially helpful for writing down her food orders, since the hospital provided food, but you had to order all three meals in the morning. It helped to have her entire order written down the night before, as we were both groggy in the morning. It also came in handy for jotting down notes from the doctors and for keeping track of her next pain medication dose times. Sometimes, the nurses forget.

    For the sanitary pads, they are also a MUST for anyone with a weak bladder. The combination of pain meds and the IV fluids will make you urinate more than usual, with little or NO warning. My mom would wake up with about a 30-second window to get to the toilet. With back surgery, this was impossible. We were lucky enough to have her own underwear and pads on hand, so this saved the day (and lots of messy cleanups).

    I would suggest bringing a few small or medium binder clips or clothespins. They can be used to clip the morphine drip button or the nurse call/TV remote to a pillow or to the sheet. I also used one on the curtain around her pre-op bed because it was split right in the center, so everyone could see in while she was dressing.

  • Thank you”

  • Ari Amour

    Thank you Elizabeth for the idea about bedding! I will be having surgery & a 4 day stay soon and I will bring my own bedding & pillow! Brilliant!

  • swapna

    Thanks for the great list. When an emergency happened, this list helped to organise thoughts and start somewhere.

  • When I get admitted into the hospital, I’ve found bringing your own sheets or blanket is helpful. Not only do they tend to smell like home, they brighten up the room a bit. I’ve seen so many other kids do that. And (Perhaps it’s just my age, as I’m a teenager), I tend to bring a lot of random things: Rubics cubes, cards, cameras. Sometimes I just like to do something, rather than stare at the television or zone out to music.

  • AKAseemedfine

    Another thought about the Journal Idea;
    I recently re-read a journal i kept during a hospital stay last March…and Wow, had I forgotten a lot of what i had been through! many tests even a small additional surgury had been forgotten because of the Ton of pain medication i was on the entire stay. I am very glad I wrote it all down as it was happening. It was great to have all my nurses and caregivers names and even descriptions as well; I am sure to return soon and it will be great to pull up names from my foggy memory to go with the faces!

  • I just want to second the warning against bringing scented items to the hospital. Not only could it be hazardous to other ill people if you have a roommate or are in a ward with multiple people, but many nurses, doctors, technicians, etc., also have allergies or sensitivities to scented products.
    In fact, I recommend that even visitors to hospitals or doctor offices refrain from wearing scented products like perfumes or bath wash. I’ve had horrible asthma attacks after being trapped in an elevator with someone wearing too much cologne.
    I love many of the other ideas listed here, but please, please refrain from the scented products!!

  • Zoann Murphy

    One word of caution from a frequent patient: be careful about bringing and applying scented products in the hospital. Many hospitals are now scent-free, which I, as an asthmatic, particularly appreciate. A roommate with scented products could kill a sensitive asthmatic, so check before you spray your perfume or air freshener. Thanks!

  • Thought of it… the one thing not on the list that I wished I had when I was in for surgery. Skimming over your list seeing all the grooming aids, and the cosmetics women use made me think of it. The one thing guys need that isn’t on your list.
    An Electric Shaver.
    Even if you usually like shaving with a blade better because it’s cheaper and easier, an electric shaver can be run with one hand and done in bed. Shaving the usual way I do with shaving mug and razor takes standing up in a bathroom. I’m not always up to that and it would’ve been messy with my off hand.
    But it’s not that hard to rub a machine on your chin and get rid of the itchy stubble. Not relevant for guys with full beards, but anyone else probably wants this. Ladies may want to do their legs or armpits if they can reach them.

  • Wow. You have compiled one great list here. You have me thinking back with almost every item on that list how much I missed it when I had my surgery and wished I had it.
    What I did bring that helped me stay sane was a good collection of art supplies and journal notebooks. There’s an added bennie to doing small crafts or art in hospitals. You can give small projects to the nurses and aides when they’re nice to you. If you can’t afford candy treats and stuff, something like a quick sketch or crocheted doodad or something is still appreciation.
    I did portraits and sketches for all the staff that were gracious and helpful. I wasn’t moved to do so with the torturers, but I kept notes.
    I have not one thing to add to this list. I’m serious. My extra pillows so I don’t throw my back fall under “appliances” and are as important in a hotel stay as a hospital. Things to do, edible food, conveniences and grooming aids, money to get the little extras and bribes for the crew — this list rules.
    I’ll bet if I hadn’t been that broke and had brought bribes some of them would’ve been less draconian. I would get woken up by aides rearranging my pillows because “You didn’t look comfortable” and fixing me up so that I was in agony and could not move.

  • Very good list, although you would need a forklift to bring it all with you! I am wondering if anyone else has found that when they are prepared for a hospital stay, the staff seem to almost resent it, like you are happy to be there or something? I try to always bring my portable DVD player and I get a lot of flack from doctors and nurses about it, like why did you think to bring THAT? As you said, you need these things to get you through, and why not be as comfortable as you can be until you get home?
    Thanks for an informative and helpful post.