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When Your Baby is Sick: What a Normal Hospital Day is Like

Visiting a hospital when someone is sick is a lot different than mostly living there with your baby. I thought I had an idea of what hospital life was like, but really, I had no clue. Our international adoption doctor did an excellent job of explaining what it would like to have Elvie in a teaching hospital, but the day to day rhythm was something we had to figure out for ourselves. It’s not that it’s incredibly complicated; it’s just that, like most things, you never think to figure out how it all works until you really have to. At that point, you need to know as much as possible so you can figure out how to make some sort of a life for your baby at the hospital. It will also help you plan for getting your own needs met. I say this a lot, but it always bears repeating: if your needs are not satisfactorily met, you will not do as well caring for your baby. This is especially true with the stress of hospital life. You need to make sure that you are eating enough and getting rest when you can. Use your knowledge of pattern of your days to plan to get out and get whatever it is you need.

In every hospital, they do vital signs at certain times of the day. In general, vitals are taken four times a day, and that was what happened for Elvie. Her vitals were taken at eight and two, both morning and night. Yes, that means that someone came in at 2am to check Elvie’s vital signs. They checked her pulse, respirations, blood pressure, and hemoglobin by way of pulse oximeter. When she was first checked in, she was hooked up to all sorts of monitors, so all but blood pressure were constantly being monitored. When the nurse came in for vitals while the monitors were on, the only extra thing they had to do was blood pressure. Sometimes they could do it without waking Elvie, which was the best possible scenario for the 2am vitals check.

Every morning shortly after shift change at 7am, a doctor would check in with us, and then the team of doctors would come back during rounds between 9:30am and 11am. Usually between the first visit from the doctor and rounds, someone would be in to weigh Elvie and I would have a brief chance to dash out for coffee and some sort of breakfast. Finding out when rounds are is key to planning your breakfast. Many things that are done first thing in the morning can be done without you present, or you can ask your nurse to wait until you return. In addition to being weighed, Elvie had her usual vital signs check and oral medication.

After rounds is when the day would really start to ramp up. The doctors would put in orders for what needed to be done that day, and people would start to show up to take care of those tasks. If there was an order for blood or urine, those usually happened pretty quickly. Other things would come later, and things that needed to be done in another area of the hospital were often done by complete surprise. The key word for the hours between rounds and evening shift change is flexibility. The hospital staff will do what they can when they can do it. There was more than one time that I was about to go out to grab lunch, and Elvie’s nurse would pop in to say that transport was on the way to take us somewhere for a procedure. This is how snacks became my best hospital friend.

In addition to things like blood draws and other procedures, if your child is on IV medication, there will be someone in to flush the IV on a regular basis and to administer the medication when it is scheduled. Medications are often started as soon as they are available, so if a doctor orders medication late, and it arrives at 1am, you are then locked in a rhythm in which someone will be in to administer IV medications to your child at 1am every single night. This is one thing that I found to be really challenging about hospital life. Between the check of vitals and the IV medication, it was very hard to give Elvie good rest, both at night and during the day. Even when there weren’t other procedures being done (and there were a lot of othe procedures being done), it felt like someone was always coming in to wake her up yet again.

That said, the nights were always quieter than the days. Jarod and Zinashi usually showed up around evening shift change, and we could eat together as a family without interruption. Most of the more complex things that had to be done were done during the day shift, so at night at least we only had a few things to wake us up. There were some nurses that were really excellent at getting things done without keeping either of us awake for long, and for that I am grateful. I owe my sanity to those nurses who gave Elvie the quietest night possible.

Hospital life can be challenging, but it is doable. You’ll do it because you have to, and by the time your child is well enough to go home, you will have things figured out well enough to feel more comfortable. Hopefully, most people will not have a repeat visit like we did, and your new expertise won’t get to be proved during a second stay. Because even when you get hospital life as manageable as possible, it still won’t hold a candle to living life at home. Hang in there during your stay, and your home life will seem all the sweeter when you return to it.

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Read the rest of the When Your Baby is Sick series on Babble:
When Your Baby is Sick: The Practicalities of Hospital Life
When Your Baby is Sick: 12 Things to Bring to the Hospital For Your Baby
When Your Baby is Sick: 10 Things to Bring to the Hospital for Yourself

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