How To Ease Your Transition Home From The Hospital
Dear Nurse Kathy,
My son, Kyle, had a rough start to life and we’ve been in the NICU for the last 4 weeks. The doctors are telling us that we may be able to go home soon. The staff has been wonderful about getting us to this point, and has also spent a lot of time explaining how to care for Kyle at home. Still we feel like there is more we could be doing to make sure we are ready as a family. Do you have any advice for us?
Ally (AKA First-time NICU mom)
Congratulations on the birth of your son and on reaching this important milestone! It sounds like you have a great medical team, and you are fortunate that they have taken the time to make sure you understand your medical discharge instructions. But you are right to be thinking ahead to all the pieces that should be put into place for you to have a “soft landing”. Here are some things to think about in the days ahead.
1. Set aside some time to review your home’s physical environment
The best time to figure out if you need to add or rearrange things for comfort or safety is before you bring your son home. Do a walk through yourself and then with other members of your family. Look for any “safety or trip hazards” to be moved, like throw rugs. Ask yourself if you have a good and convenient place to store medications and equipment?
Consider setting aside a shelf or cabinet and organizing and labeling for the placement of items. This way, you will be able to see in advance if you are running low on something before you run out!
If some of the medications need to be refrigerated, is there a designated spot (or bin) for them in the fridge so they are always easy to locate? Consider having a stash of diapers, wipes and other frequently needed (or emergency) supplies handy in a bunch of centrally located spots around the house. A utensil holder with handle works great for medications and syringes, etc.
Also, make sure to organize and order any equipment (like a breathing/heart rate monitor, kangaroo with a stand, and car seat) ahead of time.
2. Make sure you are well stocked with over the counter first aid supplies and gadgets
Sometimes when the focus is on prescription medications and complex medical conditions, we forget the simple things. Baby friendly thermometers, diaper rash cream, band-aids and batteries (for medical equipment) are essentials that you will want to have at your fingertips and should be stocked now.
3. Stock a supply of nutritious and easy to prepare foods
Some families may be fortunate enough to have friends, neighbors or family nearby to bring them meals and other necessities. But keep in mind that you have waited a long time to have some alone time as a family. So, have a plan to be as self-sufficient as possible to give you that privacy.
4. Make advance contact lists of people you can rely on
You have come this far relying on teams of people in the hospital and, hopefully, in your family and the wider community. Don’t underestimate how emotionally and physically exhausting this journey has been, and make sure you have paper or electronic lists of how to contact the people you can rely on for the next days and weeks – on your own terms.
You may want to arrange your own “support staff” whether it’s family, friends, a night nurse, nanny, or babysitter to come help. Be ready to accept help when offered, and reach out if they don’t.
5. Contact your outpatient medical staff
Make sure your child’s outpatient medical professionals know about his discharge and are ready to care for him. Set up follow-up appointments now and make sure they get a copy of the hospital discharge records in advance of any appointments you may set up. Also, make sure to identify your main pharmacy and confirm they have whatever medications you may need in the days ahead.
6. Prepare now to be on the go
When you are getting ready to come home, the last thing you may want to think about is going out again. But whether you need to leave the house for a scheduled appointment or for an unexpected reason, you should plan now for a “to go” bag of items you will/may need to have with you at all times. You will rest more easily and be better prepared if you make that list now and set aside a bag to be ready and filled at all times.
As importantly, whether you live near the hospital or far away, you never know how long it will take you to get home. Having that bag with you for the ride home is an important step in making for a smooth transition. And don’t forget an extra outfit!
7. Take some time for yourself and your other family members
Things are going to be very busy for the next days and weeks, so while you know Kyle is well cared for, consider taking some time for yourself (and your other children/family members). You’ve been through quite a lot already and may still have work with your family’s transition ahead. Try to rest up while you can still rely on the hospital staff.
I wish you only smooth sailing from here on, and am here if you ever need to chat.
Best of luck,
CareNav Nurse Kathy