Hospital 101: What to Pack

Brandon and I have spent a combined total of over 7 months inpatient since he was diagnosed with leukemia in August of 2015. We’ve moved in and out of the hospital more times than I can count. At this point, we’re hospital pros. As much as it sucks to have an extended stay, there are things that you can do to make the time a little easier and more enjoyable. We’ve learned, through trial and error, the things that really make a difference and the things we can do without. I hope our experiences can help you feel more comfortable in your home away from home.


A glimpse of our hospital bags in preparation for a one month stay

First Things First, Invest in a Folding Wagon:

It took a lot of hauling things in and out of the hospital before we realized that there must be an easier way. There is nothing more difficult than juggling multiple suitcases and bags through the parking garage followed by the hike through the hospital to your room. We finally invested in a folding wagon and it has made a world of difference! No more killing my back hauling heavy stuff in and out. The best part is that the wagon folds up for easy car transport and storage at the hospital or home. You can get them online or through most sporting goods retailers. Here is what ours looks like:


Pillows and Blankets From Home:

In my opinion, nothing makes for a worse nights sleep than hard, flat pillows and paper thin blankets. No stack of tissue paper is going to keep you warm and cozy at night. Cancer patients’ immune systems are very compromised during treatment, so be sure that all linens from home are freshly washed. On another note, make sure pillow cases are being changed frequently and that blankets are being washed on a regular basis. This helps to reduce the risk of infection.

A Small Lamp:

This is something that we cannot live without during our hospital stays. Hospital lighting is so harsh and unpleasant on the eyes; and there is usually no middle ground between bright fluorescent light and pitch black. A small lamp helps create a homey and inviting ambiance. We get so many compliments from nurses and doctors that enter our room. This one is a MUST! I always bring a little extension cord or power strip just in case the outlet is in a weird spot.fullsizeoutput_456a

A Cooler:

Hospital food generally sucks and most everything in the vending machine is packed with sugar and/or ingredients you can’t pronounce. We love keeping a cooler in our room stocked with our favorite beverages and refrigerated snacks. We have an RTIC cooler that keeps things nice and cold for an extended period of time, and It’s relatively hassle-free since we have access to free ice. I usually only need to change the ice about every 48 hours. YETI makes a similar (and arguably better) product, but they are significantly more expensive. For our uses, the RTIC cooler has been more than sufficient. You can buy one here.

Staple Non-Perishable Foods:

Like I mentioned before, the selection of healthy food options at hospitals is pretty poor. We like to bring along some of our favorites from home for snacks and makeshift meals. We have our own little pantry stash every time we’re stuck in the hospital for an extended stay. Here are some of our must have items:

  • Nuts and Trail Mixes
  • Dried Fruit
  • Single Serve Packs of Peanut or Almond Butter – Great with apples or crackers!  (Click here for our favorite)
  • Granola or Cereal (Eat dry for a snack or add hospital purchased milk)
  • Crackers
  • Electrolyte Tablets to Jazz Up Your Water (We like these)
  • Single Serve Oatmeal – Just add hot water and you’re good to go! (See our favorite brand here. We like these because they have no added sugar.)
  • A Bottle of Honey – For sweetening coffee and oatmeal etc.
  • A Selection of Fruit – Our favorites are bananas, Apples, and Oranges (Fruit cups are a good alternative for those that cannot eat raw foods due to cancer treatment)
  • Popcorn – We’re seriously addicted to Skinny Pop and Boom Chicka Pop
  • Bars – Protein Bars, Granola Bars, Whatever You Like (I especially love Larabars because they have little to no added sugar)
  • Coconut Water or Maple Water
  • Single Service Juice Packs (These are awesome. I know they’re for kids, but they aren’t too sweet since they have no added sugar!)
  • Things to Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth – We love dark chocolate covered almonds and Nutiva Coconut Treats)
  • Apple Sauce and Fruit Smoothie Blends (We LOVE NOKA! They are packed with amazing superfoods and they taste pretty awesome.)

*It’s helpful to keep a supply of paper plates and bowls, plastic cutlery, straws, cups, and plastic bags on hand

Things to Keep Yourself Busy:

You’re going to have a lot of downtime on your hands, bring things to keep yourself busy and take your mind off all the emotional stuff that goes on when battling a life-threatening illness. Our favorites are books, adult coloring books, and a laptop for access to Netflix and video games.

Things to Keep Yourself Organized:

You get a lot of information throughout the cancer journey. If you’re like me, you want a copy of EVERYTHING. Bring a binder/expandable folder to keep all the information organized for referencing when needed. It also helps to keep a notebook around so that you can jot down questions and thoughts throughout the day so that you’re well prepared for the doctor’s daily rounds.

Important Household Supplies:

I like to bring our own supply of hand soap from home.  I’m a germaphobe, so I’m all about hand washing. Hand washing is the best way to reduce the risk of infection and also, hospitals are nasty! My hands are dry as it is, and the hospital soap only makes it worse. It’s also nice to have a few containers of hand sanitizer around the room for in between hand washes. With all that washing, you’re going to need to pack some good lotion as well.

I also like to bring a pack of disinfecting wipes (like Clorox) for emergency clean ups. Did I mention hospitals are gross and I’m a clean freak?

Like I mentioned before, it’s good to keep a supply of paper plates, bowls, plastic cutlery, straws, cups, and plastic bags on hand.

Baby wipes. Seriously, baby wipes are the greatest thing. When you need something in-between a Clorox wipe and a paper towel, they’re your best friend.

Kleenex. Fighting cancer is an emotional roller coaster and hospital tissues are like sand paper.

Comfortable Clothes

Prior to Brandon’s diagnosis, my ‘comfy’ wardrobe was a combination of pajamas, sweats, and old t-shirts that I wouldn’t be caught dead in outside of the house. I can tell you first hand that it’s a little embarrassing to have an entourage of doctors and nurses barge into your room at 7 am when you haven’t had a chance to change out of said clothes.

The first couple times that Brandon was in the hospital I packed jeans. Worst. Idea. Ever. Sitting down in the hospital all day with a tight pair of pants on is torture. Seriously, what was I thinking?

I learned pretty quickly that comfort is key. Yoga pants, leggings, loose sweats, and oversized shirts have become my jam. I think I may even have a hard time converting back to a normal wardrobe when the time comes. Dress for comfort! There are enough uncomfortable things to deal with in a hospital, don’t let your clothes be one of them.

Slip on Shoes

I think I’ve mentioned it a few times: hospitals are gross, especially hospital floors. Make sure you bring a pair of shoes that are comfortable and easy to slip on and off. Opened heeled slippers are the best!

Final Notes

This is a lot of stuff to pack, I know. I’ve started keeping some items packed and tucked away in our closet to make things more simple. Once you’ve packed and unpacked hospital bags a few times, you can do it in your sleep. I hope these tips can make your hospital room feel a little more like home during your cancer treatment.

Feel free to share any of your must have hospital items in the comment section below!



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