Colon cancer op: what to pack for hospital

Let’s get fancy – you’re going for your hemicolectomy soon. In other words, you’re going to have a portion of your colon removed. You’re probably feeling pretty scared and pretty poorly. You know you’ve got a stay in hospital coming up. So what should you pack? Here’s a useful list to make it easier for you and your loved ones. I always forget something though, so don’t worry too much as for the first 24 hours you’re going to be in a hospital gown and pretty much laid out.

Hospital packing list

  • Cotton underwear – not too tight and several pairs.
  • Comfortable bra
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Soap and soap dish or facial wash plus shower gel
  • Shampoo and conditioner
  • Two towels – one to wash with and a small hand towel rolled up (using this to press against your belly is helpful after open surgery. It prevents some pain and helps you get up and mobile. Literally you’re holding your middle together when you walk or move around until healing begins. It’s important for your family to bring in fresh towels regularly as hygiene is very important. Some hospitals will supply you with towels (although you might still prefer your own).
  • Deodorant
  • Hand cream
  • Body lotion
  • Lip salve
  • Facial moisturising lotion
  • Phone + charger
  • Tablet or laptop with preloaded games or movies
  • Headphones
  • Puzzle books, magazines or books. Supplies for knitting, sewing or other such hobbies can also be helpful.
  • Nightdresses or pyjamas – if you’re packing pyjamas be careful to ensure the waistband isn’t too tight or it will rub on your scar(s). This is especially important if you’re having an open procedure. You might need to buy some new nightdresses which are modest but easy to get in and out of. You might wish to pack some loose clothes eg soft leggings and t-shirts if you prefer to wear these in the daytime rather than nightclothes. Remember you’re going to have to have injections and get in and out of these nightclothes/dayclothes while in discomfort. Shorter sleeves may make more sense, and button up nightdresses are easier to take off than ones you have to pull over your head. These clothes are going to have to be washed at high temperature or with sanitiser in the wash, so make sure they’re easily washable and dryable.
  • Socks and slippers
  • A going-home outfit of comfortable clothes
  • A lightweight fleece blanket, pashmina or wrap.
  • A dressing gown
  • Shaving gear
  • Small change
  • Sanitary towels
  • Incontinence pads – these may not be necessary and sometimes the hospital will provide them, but it’s sensible to have a couple in your bag so you’ve got one for the journey home. It’s also sensible to have a disposable flat pad for your bed at home. Again, you may not have any accidents, but it’s just going to give you peace of mind
  • Your notes, any medication in a plastic bag
  • Glasses (if you need them)
  • Hairbrush or comb, elastic hair ties if needed
  • A hat or scarf – if you’re suffering from the cold or losing hair. Your hair is likely going to look messy for a while so why not cover it with a scarf or hat?
  • Laundry bag – so your relatives can take home your dirty clothes and return them.
  • Cordial, hard boiled sweets or chewing gum – your first ‘food’ is going to be clear liquids such as cordials so take some with you. A hard boiled sweet can freshen up your mouth.
  • A few tea bags – It’s unlikely you’re going to get nice teas in the hospital. I found the tea trolley person would always give me a cup of boiling water if requested to put my own tea bag in.
  • A photo of someone or somewhere you love.
  • Small amount of change – though I didn’t use this.
  • A toiletry bag to put everything into.
  • Pen.
  • Tissues.
  • Eye shades – it’s likely it’s never going to be completely dark in the hospital. You might also want to include ear plugs.

What not to take

Don’t take valuables, breakables, and especially not jewellery. Leave your precious jewellery with your loved ones because you’re going to have to keep removing it and it could easily get lost or stolen. Don’t take enormous bottles of stuff – either decant shower gel etc into smaller containers or take travel size bottles.

Other advice

It’s a good idea to put your things into two bags – one should be a small bag for just what you need on the day. The other will be the main bag for after the op. It might be sensible to make a neat pile of top-up things at home. Then you can simply say to your loved one – please bring me… and they will know exactly where these things are, rather than them having to hunt for them.

Always wash clothes and towels brought home from hospital at a high temperature to kill any bacteria  or use an in-wash sanitiser.

Try to bring toiletries that smell really nice and less ‘medical’. It’s amazing the effect that a little aromatherapy can have to cheer you up. Fresh, pleasant smells can really help.

When you’re permitted to start eating again, have someone bring you in an ice lolly or some sorbet. These are good, easy to digest ways of freshening up, getting some nutrition, but not overtaxing your colon. Patients often crave cold drinks because hospitals are dry and hot.

Bring in cards from family and friends – especially funny ones. Funny cards from my friends really cheered me up (see the example above!). Start doing this from the day after the operation. On the day of the operation your loved one is simply going to want you to quietly sit with them and hold their hand.

Anything I’ve forgotten?

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