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What to Bring to the Hospital

What Should We Pack for the Hospital?

Packing a suitcase may be the last thing on your mind when you learn your child may have cancer. But knowing what to bring to the hospital can provide comfort for your child and peace of mind for you as parents. You may want to let your child begin by packing the things most important to him or her, and pack the remainder of the list yourself.

When your child has cancer, packing for a hospital stay can seem overwhelming. Photo shows an intake worker’s hand placing an armband on a childhood cancer patient.

When your child has cancer, packing for a hospital stay can seem overwhelming. Use this information as a checklist to help you know what to bring.

  • Clothing for you and your child. It should be enough to last 7–10 days. Be sure that it is weather-appropriate. You can visit www.weather.gov to check the weather forecast.
  • Prescription medications your child is currently taking – including extra supplies in case of an extended stay  
  • Comfort items such as a blanket or toys (in-patient rooms usually require these be smooth-surfaced and easy-to-wash)
  • Robe and slippers
  • Toiletries – toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Photographs of family, friends, and pets to help your child in case of homesickness
  • Schoolwork, if appropriate
  • Paper and pencil. A dedicated notebook can be especially helpful to track multiple conversations with doctors, nurses and social workers.
Consider bringing comfort items such as blankets or toys.

Consider bringing comfort items such as blankets or toys.

Important Documents to Bring

  • Photo identification for parents – such as a driver’s license, passport or other official ID
  • A certified copy of your child’s birth certificate
  • Social Security numbers – of both the patient as well as the parent(s) or guardian(s)
  • Copies of any custody or divorce papers (including court orders and parenting plans), guardianship papers, and power of attorney documents to verify who can sign for your child’s medical tests and treatments
  • Advance directive copies – for patients 18 and older, such as living wills or durable powers of attorney for health care
It can be helpful to bring copies of important documents such as your child’s birth certificate, Social Security numbers for the patient and parents or guardians, insurance documents, copies of any custody papers, and other legal papers that pertain to the patient’s health. This photo depicts a father and son walking down a hospital hallway.

It can be helpful to bring copies of important documents such as your child’s birth certificate, Social Security numbers for the patient and parents or guardians, insurance documents, copies of any custody papers, and other legal papers that pertain to the patient’s health.

Important Information to Bring

You should also write down and have the following information on hand:

  • A list of prescription medications your child is currently taking
  • Employer information for the parent(s), guardian(s), or patient, if applicable
  • Emergency contact information – including name, address, and phone numbers
  • Insurance information – including any medical, pharmacy, or dental insurance cards
  • Family doctor information – including name, address, phone, fax, and e-mail address
  • Primary care physician information – for the child, including name, address, phone, fax, and e-mail address. Be sure this is the same doctor that your insurance company lists as your child’s primary care physician.

Arrangements at Home 

In the rush to focus on getting your child the care he or she needs, it’s important not to forget to take care of things at home. These include:

  • Making arrangements for other children (such as meals, pick-up and drop-off at school)
  • Making arrangements for pets (such as feeding or dog walking)
  • Making arrangements for any household services (such as cleaning or yard care)
  • Stopping your mail or having a neighbor pick it up for you

Questions to Ask

Will an overnight stay be needed?

You should come prepared to stay, even if it may not be needed. If your child is having an operation or procedure involving general anesthesia, you may be asked to remain overnight.

Where will we stay?

Overnight lodging options vary depending on where your child is seeking treatment. Hospital staff, including social workers, should be able to help you find lodging that is close to the treatment facility.

Some hospitals and facilities have short-term housing options available for families on site. Placements are usually based on length of stay, medical needs, and availability. Some communities have options like the Ronald McDonald House which provide meals, private bedrooms, and playrooms for children and families at a low- or zero cost for up to three months. For stays longer than 90 days, your family will want to explore apartment-style lodging.

Where will we eat?

Most treatment facilities have cafeterias for patients, families and staff. If your treatment facility has temporary housing options, they may offer meals on site or provide meal or grocery gift cards that can be used by patients and families at hospital cafeterias, cafes, and other approved locations.

Each treatment facility is different. Contact a social worker at your treatment facility if you have questions about housing needs, meals, or costs.

What resources are available for families?

A social worker or case manager can help identify resources based on your family’s unique needs.

What not to bring

  • Firearms or other weapons
  • Too many companions. Although you may wish to have some friends and family to provide support, too many people can make it hard to focus on tests and consultations with your care team.


Reviewed: June 2018