Public service announcement: what to pack in your Baby ER bag

Five years ago I was living utterly alone in Chicago – no friends, coworkers lived an hour away, no family. I came down with the worst case of food poisoning I’ve ever had and had to take care of myself for the first time.

“Missy, what are you DOING?” boomed the door man as I shuffled pathetically across the building’s lobby in my pajamas.

“Need soup… Convenience store…” I mumbled.

He sent me back to bed, grabbed a couple of cans of soup from the store conveniently located on the ground floor of my building, and dropped them off at my apartment, where I’d been laying on the floor just inside the door so I wouldn’t have to summon the energy to get up to answer it when he arrived.

Lessons learned: even when you think you are utterly alone, you are not. Also: be prepared, for heaven’s sake.

So, let’s talk about an Emergency Room bag.

Oh, you don’t have one? Neither did I, and then my infant’s normal respiratory virus turned into too-fast breathing and a trip to the UT Children’s Hospital ER… which turned into a four day inpatient stay.

[Update: my kiddo is completely fine, save for a daily breathing treatment that is probably quite optional at this point, and a newfound ability to whine like it’s his job. He is a star at that job. Way to go, child o’ mine. If you’re going to do it, do it really well!]

So to turn this experience into something of a lesson learned for the future, I thought I’d share what I will now be packing in our “just in case” bag.

First, stuff for mama (because when the time comes, you’ll not be thinking about yourself, then you’ll find yourself about to eat your own hand because you’ve been there for five hours longer than you thought and haven’t eaten anything all day):

  • Protein bars. They last forever and will give you what you need in a pinch: something that will keep you functioning and can be eaten with one hand while trying valiantly to soothe your crying, miserable baby with the rest of your body.
  • Extra clothes (specifically, tank tops and clean undies). I was thoughtful enough to change clothes when I decided to head to the ER and chose a great outfit: two tank tops (take the top one off if you get puked on or find yourself on day two in the same clothes) with a mama sweater (long, comfy, with extra flaps to double as a blanket or puke cloth in a pinch) and jeans. Next time, I’d probably go straight for the gray yoga pants.
  • A notebook and pen. I recommend this to family members of hospitalized people all the time: write everything down. Note the date at the top of the page, time for each entry, and to whom you were speaking. It will come in handy when you insist that if your baby’s IV has to be redone, you NEED LOIS THE PHLEBOTOMIST WHO STARTS HER NEXT SHIFT IN ONE HOUR. (After three very horrible and nightmare-inducing attempts to get an IV into my little dude’s pudgy arms, legs and head, the nurses got one in the top of a foot but couldn’t pull enough blood for labs. Lois from Lab came in, did one poke and was all done before we had time to brace ourselves. This is the stuff you write down: Lois from Lab is a bad ass.)
  • Hair ties.
  • Extra socks.
  • A travel blanket/ pillow thing.
  • Kleenex. The good kind.
  • Chapstick.
  • Face lotion. You can wash makeup and tears and germs off with regular soap but then you have to walk around with too-tight skin.
  • A spare phone charger.
  • Change. You can survive a surprising number of days on vending machine replenishments.
  • Coffee packets (yes, like Starbucks Via) and pain killer for the grown-ups. You might be surprised at how you react to having your kid all monitored up and in a hospital bed while crying miserably and in pain. I am a champ in an emergency, but once things were under control, I just felt so bad. Nothing like a crying jag to give you a head ache, ya know?

Next, for baby. We live about 15 minutes from the hospital – and there were two of us available – so we made multiple trips home for stuff, but I’d rather prepare for a situation when one of us has to get through it all alone.

  • My own brand (and flavor) of pain killer. After too many hours of having things shoved in him against his will, my kid rebelled against the bright pink too-sweet Tylenol, just the thing he needed to help him with the aches and pains of ER testing and traumatizing. After a quick run home, we confirmed that he was willing to take the grape stuff we usually use, a big win when everything else was so horrible for him. I know, yes, we could have forced the pink stuff down him (and did, once), but if we can avoid that, we will.
  • A day’s worth of diapers. We ultimately used the hospital-provided Huggies after we were admitted (they know what they weigh so measuring his urine output is easier) but it was nice to have him in his usual stuff as much as possible in the ER.
  • Our own wipes. Some wipes make his face and hands break out in hives (luckily, never his booty) so it’s just better to have our own around.
  • Yeast infection cream. Our ped recommends Lotrimin, and while I did finally get it through the hospital, it took a call to the on-call doc and some waiting time when I could have just pulled it out of my diaper bag (if I’d thought to pack it). Good gawd, yeast grows fast when a six-month old is given a bomb-sized dose of antibiotics. Yuck.
  • OUR OWN FORMULA. They had our brand of formula but it came premixed and Jav was totally against it. Yes, we could have forced him, but why?
  • A wash cloth and mini bottle of baby wash. By day two, I convinced a nice (night-shift – they’re always the ones willing to fudge the rules a little) nurse to let him off the pulse ox monitor for 15 minutes so I could bathe the stinker.
  • Dish soap. After just a day in the hospital, all of the toys we brought and every single bottle just felt yucky. I ended up soaking them all in the tub with super hot water and some of Javi’s body soap, but a tiny bottle of dish soap would have been better.
  • Disinfectable toys. Lots of them. If you are against toys that use batteries, this is the time to drop that goal and buy one or two to throw in the bad. After a few hours with a miserable kid, you will be willing to throw out every principle you’ve ever held to make things a little better for him.

Okay, that’s long enough for now. I’ll do another post with tips and tricks gleaned from years working in hospitals (I’m IT, not clinical, but you learn things) and an ER nurse oldest best friend.

This is my sweet, good, awesomest toughest baby after hours of misery, finding a break to smile just for his mama:

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13 thoughts on “Public service announcement: what to pack in your Baby ER bag

  1. I’m glad he is ok! Also that is a great list and a wonderful idea. We are about 45 mins from a decent hospital and so having the bag ready would be a great idea!

  2. Wow! Great lists for both mama and baby, what a great idea to put those together – but so sorry you had to go through that with the little man 😦 Very glad that he is doing better.

  3. Oh no! I am so sorry you (and he) had to go through that. I spent alot of time in hospital after my daughter was born (NICU 9 days) and when she had surgery at 2 months (PICU 2 days). It was for her nasal passage so I don’t even like hearing pulse ox. My poor little thing was attached to that for 2.5 months before we got to send the home version on its way finally!

    It’s so tough to watch your little baby be hooked up to things. Hope your son is doing ok now!

  4. This post – especially the picture of his sweet smiling chubby self at the end – made me cry. We had to endure multiple rounds of attempted blood-drawing trauma when our little guy was less than two days old, and I still want to throw up when I remember it… I can’t believe they tried to get an IV into Jav’s HEAD. Pure horror for all of you, I’m sure.

    I’m so, so glad he’s doing better and you’re all home and on the mend.

    And hey, thanks for the bag ideas – best to be prepared for the worst and hope we never need it.

  5. I am so sorry you guys went through such an ordeal. 😦 Having your child be sick, even if it’s just some sniffles, is just the worst feeling and I can’t imagine the range of emotions, as well as the physical exhaustion that must come with an experience like the one you went through. I’m glad your little man is doing better, and I hope you guys are well on your way to full recovery (if not by now)!

  6. So glad he’s better and what a cutie!
    We were actually stuck in the hospital this week with a sick baby who had to have tummy surgery. The only things I would add to your list are blankets, onesies, and spit up cloths from home. Those rough towels, blankets, and hospital gowns they have just aren’t soft enough for my boy!

    • @Cacey, Oh, I’m so sorry. How is he doing now?

      Funny you mention it, I realized I forgot a bunch of stuff and scheduled a “part II” post to go up Monday.

      • @Marisa, He’s great! Thanks for asking. The surgery was a breeze and he’s recovering like a champ. I think it was harder on me than on him. The whole IV thing was terrible (ended up with it in his scalp after 15 or so tries)and I felt awful when we had to not feed him for 36 hours while waiting on an OR to open up but he barely cried!
        Did you guys have to do all that fun stuff too?

  7. Glad he’s better now. What a horrible ordeal to go through. Thanks for the awesome list. You are one tough Mama and Jaci is just soo stinking cute.

  8. What a smiley trooper that guy is! I love this list & will be packing a bag in the next week in case, God forbid, we end up back in the ER at some point. It’s *such* a scary thing; this kind of preparation would make things feel more under control. Thanks!

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