The thought of being in the hospital is scary for anyone, but for individuals with food allergies, the thought of ending up in the hospital is also scary because of all of the potential allergens that could be waiting upon arrival. I have been unable to post recently due to a close family member having spent a lot of time in the hospital. It gave me a lot of time to think about what I would do if I was in the hospital and also what to do when you are providing care for someone in the hospital.
One of the first things that a good doctor or nurse will do is ask you to update your medication lists and allergies. Make sure that your allergies and medication lists are always up to date and can be reached by anyone, not just by people you know. Most cell phones have great health apps where you can keep allergy information, medications, etc. in case you are unable to communicate or do not feel like talking.
If you are faced with surgery, you should consider any medications you will be given before, during, and after surgery. Some medications are given several hours or even days before surgery. Once the surgery is over, you may not feel like thinking through prescribed medications, so ask about post-surgical medications well in advance of the surgery. Also ask questions about any dyes or contrast solutions that are used for medical tests or during surgery.
You may be asked to clean the surgical area before the procedure, so this should also be treated like any other medication with a discussion related to ingredients.
Also keep in mind that surgical equipment is also cleaned in a solution, so you may want to check what is used to clean the surgical instruments.
Allergens in the Hospital Room
I have to be very careful with laundry detergent, dishwashing detergent, hand soap, and event toilet paper. These are definitely items to consider as well as sheets, blankets, your hospital gown, and other toiletries that the hospital may provide to you.
Hospital Policies and Layout of Hospital
Many of us have other allergies in addition to food allergies. Ask in advance what the policies are for flowers, latex, balloons, or other items that patients could have nearby in other rooms.
For instance, my family member that was having surgery (in early January) is allergic to poinsettias, and I am also extremely allergic. It was very important as a caregiver for me to be there as much as I could, and there were still poinsettias everywhere in the hospital at that time.
My family member was in intensive care for the first part of the stay, and that area was on a separate ventilation system with no poinsettias. However, the visiting areas and the room where my family member would stay later was on a general ventilation system with the rest of the hospital. I had to make several phone calls, talk with a Patient Advocate, and specifically ask for accommodations in order to get the poinsettias removed from the hospital. Understanding the ventilation system helped me to explain why the poinsettias could not just be moved to another part of the hospital.
There are many items that visitors bring into hospitals that could affect you depending on your allergy. Some of those items that come to mind include latex balloons, outside food, flowers, etc. Be prepared and also have caregivers be prepared to have continuing and constant communication about your needs. As hospital shifts change constantly, this will be an important conversation that may also need signage, etc.
This is the most obvious consideration for food allergies and will warrant a lot of conversations. Can the hospital provide a safe meal for you? Ask the same questions that you would ask a restaurant. If you do not feel comfortable and want to provide your own food, ask if you will have any dietary restrictions. For instance, if you have had surgery involving your throat, you may be asked to eat soft foods for a period of time.
Also make sure your caregivers clearly communicates what types of food and non-food items visitors are not allowed to bring. As mentioned above, also think about any allergy considerations that could involve the rooms around you.
If you are OK with your hospital stay being discussed on Social Media, it can be a great way to spread the word about your needs quickly to everyone so that your caregivers do not spend a lot of time answering phone calls and emails (instead of caring for you.) There are also websites dedicated to providing information about an individual patient’s medical care in a way that allows you to control who is seeing it through user names, passwords, or other access controls. You may also have potential visitors without internet access, so designate a person that your caregivers can call to contact those individuals.
If You Are Visiting Someone in the Hospital
If you have food allergies and are visiting someone in the hospital for an extended period of time, you may want to prepare you own snacks, foods, and drinks in advance. You can pack food on ice in a cooler to leave in your car or in the hospital room. It is also important to make sure that you are not eating something in front of the patient that could cause them discomfort or a medical issue. For instance, patients who have recently awoken from surgery can be very nauseous and may need for you to eat elsewhere. You also do not want to eat something in front of the patient that they have been ordered by their doctor not to eat, as this may also cause them stress.
When I was spending a lot of time in the hospital, I brought gloves with me for times when I needed to touch the patient’s hospital gown, sheets, or blankets. I always take soap and toilet paper with me as well, so I was fully prepared with my own toiletries.
I hope that this information is helpful, and there may be other items for you to consider based on your needs. Always consult with your medical team as early in the process as possible to avoid any issues. In addition, it is helpful to be familiar with the Americans With Disabilities Act in case you need to explain your right to accommodations if you run into any issues.
Calling All Soyvivors: Do you have any other tips that can help others with their hospital stay?