Get a Go-Bag: Lesson from the Hospital

Get a go-bag: lesson from the hospital. A 73-year-old client recently had an unplanned hospital stay and gave permission to share her story.

She originally had an outpatient foot surgery. Subsequently it developed an infection missed by her physicians. Once her foot swelled up and was bursting with pain, only then did they send her immediately to the ER.

As you might expect, it was an ordeal of mixed experiences. Once she got a (semi-private) room, the nursing staff was wonderful. The cleaning staff – not so much. Evidently they had missed cleaning her room’s bathroom after the last patients left. Before getting a room, she spent 15 hours parked on a gurney in the ER hallway. Doctors would walk by, see her foot, stop and simply say, “Wow, that looks painful.” Then keep going.

In case you’re wondering, she has a the “Cadillac” Medicare Plan F (no longer available to new enrollees) with supplemental coverage.

She spent three days there, which was long enough for this astute patient to think of all the things she would do differently next time before coming. She had her toothbrush, but not her eye mask for sleeping. She had socks, but shower shoes would have been nice. She didn’t have her face soap, so for three days she used the “industrial” hospital hand soap.

Minimalists might think this is minor stuff. But when you are in a most uncomfortable situation and place, isn’t that when comforts are needed the most?

Lesson Learned

She wanted to ask her partner to bring some of these things, but she realized he really wouldn’t know what all the stuff in her medicine cabinet was. It seemed like a big ask. He had already held ice packs on her feet for 4 hours straight. How could she describe which of her many bottles to bring?

If it had been me, once I got home, I would have been relieved to be out of the hospital, get on with my life and try to forget it ever happened. Not this lady. She immediately shopped for everything she wanted to have but missed. Then she assembled everything in two go-bags. Now, if she is unable to grab them herself, she has told her partner about them, written down on the medicine cabinet where to find them, and what needs to be added at the last minute. All he has to do is bring them along.

Comfort and Dignity

When my grandmother, a tall, beautiful, always put-together woman, was in the hospital, dying, she asked for someone to make up her face every morning. At that time I was a teenager. I didn’t understand this request. It seemed so unimportant in the scheme of things. Several decades later, when my mother-in-law was in a similar state, I read on a Hospice brochure how rubbing the feet is one of the best things you can do. Hospice is the authority on being comfortable and retaining dignity at a time of greatest discomfort and indignity. The founder, Dame Cicely Saunders, said, “People matter, even when they are dying. We all need to care for the dying and not let them become reduced to just a set of physical problems or a list of needs.”

Even if you are not dying, for your comfort and dignity, if you need your Lancome set, you need your Lancome set. If you want your hair rollers, you should have your hair rollers. Hospital stays are not the time for even more comfort sacrifices. You are already being subjected to enough.

This client, like my grandmother was at that age, is always beautiful and put together. So when she shared that she had put a go-bag together, I knew it would be the nicest best stuff. She is also frugal, so it’s not the most expensive, either. Here is her list, and a photo of the beautiful bags they are in.

The Go-Bags and List

Get a go-bag
  • Small net bath puff
  • body wash
  • razor
  • Bath wipes
  • Body lotion
  • Aquaphor
  • deodorant
  • Shower shoes 
  • Kleenex
  • Poo-Pourri (sharing a bathroom!!)
  • Mini Brush/Comb
  • hair ties & clips
  • lip balm
  • tweezer
  • Small Mirror
  • Toothpaste
  • Listerine
  • Floss
  • Sleep mask
  • Face cloth
  • Face sponges
  • Cerave Cleanser & Moisturizer
  • Various sample serums
  • Extra copies of medical insurance cards
  • Underwear!

She says, “The Coach small tote is nice & roomy but nondescript. The black bag is made by Travelon, which I purchased on Amazon. It’s a REALLY nice bag! [My partner] will add cell phone/charger, electric toothbrush & contents of whatever bag I’m using at the time. Obviously, if it’s a trauma situation, this stuff would not be necessary, but it could always be brought later if needed.”

A Few Add-Ons

I advised to add extra copies of her living will and medical directives (HIPAA designation and health care power of attorney documents). Additionally, to reduce having to remember the cell phone charger and electric toothbrush, you could buy an extra of each. For example, I have a cheap travel electric toothbrush which uses AA batteries that could have a permanent home in the go-bag.

What would you add to your hospital go-bag? How would you make it your own? Do you have a parent or family member who could use their own go-bag? It might make a fun shopping trip to put together nice things that they like in a nice bag for them.

Hospital stays aren’t fun to think about. Being prepared with little comforts and reminders of home might help make a rotten situation a little less so.

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Holly Donaldson

Holly Donaldson, CFP® runs an hourly and fee-for-service financial planning practice virtually from her Tampa Bay, Florida office. She also works with clients throughout the U.S. (except Texas) interested in retirement and tax planning advice without product sales or investment management. Holly is the author of The Mindful Money Mentality: How to Find Balance in Your Financial Future (Porchview Publishing, 2013) and publisher of the award-winning monthly e-letter, "The View From the Porch."

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