• Hannah at Scoliboxes

What to take into hospital for spinal fusion surgery

Going into hospital for your spinal fusion surgery - or any other surgery for scoliosis, such as growth rods or VBT - is really scary, but feeling prepared and like you've got everything you need can be really helpful. It's difficult to know what to take with you, especially if this is your first time going into hospital, and one of the most common questions I'm asked and I see asked online is "what should I take with me?" so I hope this blog post will help answer that.

While reading this post remember you (/your child if you're reading this as a parent of someone going into hospital) are an individual and therefore your (/their) experience will be individual, just because something was helpful for someone else doesn't mean it'll be something you want or feel you need. In the same way there may be things you feel you need that aren't in this post, and that doesn't mean you shouldn't have them. You know yourself (/your child) and what you (/they) need better than anybody!

I put out posts on Instagram and Facebook asking for people to share what helped them in hospital to be included in this blog post. If there's something not mentioned here that you found helpful please do leave a comment, I'd be really interested to know and I'm sure others will find it helpful.

For my spinal fusion surgery I felt really unprepared and in hindsight I was as I had no idea what to expect. It was okay though, and I learned a lot. The things that helped me were:

  • My own blanket, pillow and teddy from home

  • An extra long phone charging cable for using and charging my phone while in bed

  • Easy to eat, quite plain foods like grapes, digestive biscuits, and plain crackers

  • Earphones for listening to/watching things. I also took some DVDs and the hospital lent me a portable DVD player, but I think it'd be easier nowadays to have a subscription or free trial for a streaming service like Netflix or Amazon prime. Audiobooks are also really good, especially if after surgery you don't feel like watching anything which was my experience. Audible is excellent.

Things I didn't take but wish I had were:

  • Moisturiser and lip balm

  • My own shower gel (for bed washes)

  • Nighttime sanitary towels, because for anyone with a uterus the surgery will usually trigger your period and you'll be mostly lying in bed, so big absorbent ones are a must

In my later surgeries I found these things helpful to have with me:

  • Porridge sachets

  • My favourite tea bags

  • Non-dairy milk and foods like peanut butter, chocolate, biscuits, cereal bars, instant noodles, crackers, as I'm vegan and hospital food for vegans is usually limited

  • Books to read when I felt up to it

  • Bluetooth headphones (no cables to get tangled in!)

  • Origami paper, colouring books

These are the things my mum found useful to take into hospital while she was staying with me:

  • Insulated travel mug for hot drinks

  • Coffee bags made a really good, quick cup of coffee, with coffee mate as milk

  • Plenty of books/magazines to read (if you like reading, a kindle was useful as it's much less to carry)

  • Audible audiobooks, especially for listening to at night (hospitals are noisy and you'll likely be interrupted at night by nurses coming to check on your child)

  • Food, especially things that are quick and easy to eat and can be made with a kettle. It was difficult to leave to buy food and it was expensive. the children's hospital had a small kitchen with limited fascilities (kettle, fridge, microwave) where you could make things.

  • Art materials or whatever you like to do to fill in the time. Sketchbook/notebook/colouring book.

  • Comfy clothes, you'll spend most of your time sitting around.

  • Don't take too much - we took too much when we went in and sent half home with dad.

Some of the foods we've found useful for taking into hospital:

  • Belvita breakfast bars/soft bakes (the blueberry muffin ones are delicious!)

  • Nature Valley bars (or similar. We liked the dark chocolate nature valley bars)

  • Nairn's oat biscuits (ginger ones are good for nausea, the chocolate ones are delicious too)

  • Instant porridge sachets or pots (MoMa are nice for fancy ones, but really any brands or supermarket own are just as good. We just took a bag of plain porridge oats with us, as well as some bananas and jars of peanut butter/almond butter)

  • Instant noodles (we found the itsu instant noodle pots were nicer than pot noodles). There's pot pasta too.

  • Cous cous sachets, you can get various flavoured ones which make a nice change from noodles.

  • Microwave rice sachets if you have access to a microwave.

  • Pitta breads keep well for a few days and are nice dipped in nut butter/chocolate spread (or hummus bought from the hospital shop if you can finish it in a day).

  • Your favourite treats, you'll need them and be very glad of them.

  • Apples and bananas can keep well for a few days at room temperature. Hospitals usually have a shop where you can get fruit salads and things if you want them.

  • If you're taking foods that need to go in a bowl take a bowl as well as a spoon, knife, and fork with you. There's usually a sink in your hospital room or family kitchen if there is one to wash them at (take a tea towel too). Little things like that can help a lot.

Responses from my Instagram and Facebook followers:

A water bottle with a straw or silione straws

"We had a certain bottle recommended to us. They are marketed as maternity/sports bottles. They can clip to the sides of beds, have measurements down the side and a 2ft straw. It was invaluable to my son, all hospital staff commented on it. It was easy for them to monitor his fluid intake and he could comfortable drink and didn't need reminding to stay hydrated or move to drink etc. Very much worth it." - ramshacklefinds on Instagram

This bottle sounds and looks so useful! Especially if you struggle to drink enough water. I found it on Amazon:

"Drinks bottle with a sports lid" - j9hig on Instagram

"a cup with a long bendy straw but where you can keep track of how much fluid she’d had" - Lee on Facebook

"Reusable straw or cup with spout." - Joy on Facebook

Every Scolibox has a silicone straw included in it and I've had a lot of feedback from people saying they've been really useful for drinking while lying down. Hospitals can provide plastic bendy straws too.

Handy snacks and change for vending machines

"Snacks that are easy to eat, pots of custard, pots of fruit purée/smoothies. And change for vending machines and hot drinks." - kirsty_p78 on Instagram

"I'd definitely recommend easy snacks as the medication makes you lose your appetite, nothing too flavoured as you feel quite nauseous for the first few days, and build your eating slowly if you don't eat as much. Plenty of water, I found tea helped too but it depends on how you feel." - immiscoliosis on Instagram

"My daughter found these the most useful: lots of pillows, including her own one, a cup with a long bendy straw but where you can keep track of how much fluid she’d had, and then Frosties and Frubes (that’s all she ate for about 5 days!)." - Lee on Facebook

"Chocolate or other soft squishy foods, like strawberries. I lived off those two for a day or two when I got ill and didn't want to eat anything. They just melt in your mouth and require basically no effort." - Bethy on Facebook

"Digestive biscuits were a lifesaver for me, they helped with the sickness (anti sickness meds don’t really do a lot for me personally) so they helped with that and also to help me slowly start eating again as that was a massive challenge for me" - Emma on Facebook

Comforting things from home and things to help you sleep

"Definitely my own blanket as it’s just much more comfortable and it made me happy when I was alone at night, a phone charger is an obvious must! Also a big comfy T-shirt for me as you’re basically sat around in it all day, and baby wipes because if you can’t get up and down very easily in the first couple of days they’re much easier and nicer to use than the bed baths that the hospitals offer. I also brought my strawberry smelling teddy but that’s just because the smell of disinfectant on hospital wards always made me feel awful!" - chloemirfin on Instagram

"The silicone straws were a godsend! Flannels helpful too.Slippers with a good grip." - Jenny on facebook

- Suitable shoes for walking in after surgery are a must, slippers with good grip and ideally ankle support are ideal. I was told in my pre-op appointment to take shoes with ankle support.

- There's a flannel included in a Scolibox

"Maybe a sleep mask too, not that I've ever had one. But hospitals always have at least a little bit of light which can make it hard to get to sleep." - Bethy on Facebook

"Earplugs" - j9hig on Instagram

"I took a toy stitch with me that my boyfriend sprayed with aftershave as due to covid I couldn't have visitors so that really helped, maybe some headphones to listen to light music at night as there's lots of machines and nurses making noise etc" - immiscoliosis on Instagram

Comfy clothes that are easy to get on and off

"Pyjamas or clothes with buttons; baggy clothes are much easier." - Joy on Facebook

"a big comfy T-shirt for me as you’re basically sat around in it all day" - chloemirfin on Instagram

Exactly what clothes you'll need will of course depend on personal preference, but generally they need to be big, stretchy, comfy, and easy to get on and off. Spaghetti strap tank tops were recommended to me before my surgery, especially as mine was in the summer and it was really warm, and I wore them with stretchy pyjama shorts. Nighties are very good to wear, make sure they're loose-fitting, or an oversized t-shirt. Pyjama tops or nighties with buttons down the front are very easy to get on and off, again I'd recommend making sure they're more loose-fitting. It's also useful to have plenty of options and changes of clothes, it's amazing how much better you feel for putting on a clean nightie or clean pyjamas after a bed wash, and if like many people (myself included) you're quite nauseous you might need a change of clothes if you throw up. It's also worth making sure you have comfy underwear. For those of us who get periods I'd recommend making sure your underwear are suitable for sticking sanitary towels in (and maybe don't wear your favourite pairs).

Things to help you feel clean and freshen up

"Dry shampoo is a good one if you're not feeling up for a shower." - Bethy on facebook

- I didn't shower for weeks after my spinal fusion as I didn't feel up to it and you can't get your dressing or scar wet until it's well healed and a nurse gives you the go-ahead. Dry shampoo is a great idea!

"Easy rinse soap or shower gel, dry shampoo." - Joy on Facebook

"baby wipes because if you can’t get up and down very easily in the first couple of days they’re much easier and nicer to use than the bed baths that the hospitals offer." - chloemirfin on Instagram

"soap wipes" - beths_scoliosis_journey_2021 on Instagram

Things to keep you entertained

"Easy entertainment, like a portable DVD player (showing I had mine a few years back!) Or tablet/iPad to watch films on and headphones, which will also help block out hospital sounds if you're finding it a bit tricky to sleep." - Bethy on Facebook

"Make sure to download lots of TV shows / films to your Smartphone!" - Joy on Facebook

"a pack of cards to play." - Emma on Facebook

"I took my earphones. They were a great distraction when I was in pain." - lillyxshaves on Instagram

A Scolibox always includes something to do, there are several options on the application form: a game (usually a card game like Uno or a mini board game), colouring book, puzzle book, notebook, or craft kit.

Many people won't feel up to doing anything after their surgery and that's more than okay. After my fusion I mostly slept for about a week, I couldn't concentrate on anything (even films) and while I was in hospital if anything I just listened to some quiet, soothing music (or my mum watched Wimbledon while I slept!). It's good to be prepared anyway so you won't feel bored, and something to keep you busy while you wait to go into theatre for your surgery has been really important for me. For my fusion I was too giggly and sleepy from the pre-meds they gave me, but for subsequent surgeries I've taken a book to read (The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman is a favourite that got me through a long and anxious wait).

Anti-sickness bands

"Anti sickness bands worked well for us" - Emma on Facebook

Pillows, lots of pillows!

"In hindsight a full body pillow would have been amazing." - Emma on Facebook

"v pillow and long body pillow" - Camilla on Facebook

"pregnancy pillow" - _mollybella on Instagram

Some examples of the kinds of pillows that can be helpful:

U shaped full body pillow / pregnancy pillow:

These are just two examples I found on Amazon, they're widely available at varying prices. They are quite big to lug about but really helpful for sleeping comfortably. I didn't have one for my surgery but the nurses used lots of pillows (and my teddy as he's quite big) to help prop me up in a similar way to how these pillows do.

V-shaped pillows can also be useful:

Again these are widely available.

If the links above don't work you can easily search for them on amazon or google.

You'll need plenty of pillows for the car journey home too. Regular pillows are just as good as either of the two suggestions above. It can also be helpful to tuck a pillow under your knees if you sleep on your back or in between your knees if on your side, a regular, cheap, supermarket pillow or an old one that isn't as comfy under your head anymore is perfect for this.

A Scolibox!

Scoliboxes are free for anyone in the UK who's having surgery to correct scoliosis, and they contain some of the things mentioned here including a silicone straw, face cloth, mini toiletries (you can choose on the application form which ones you'd like), something to do, some hot drinks sachets (or squash) and snacks, as well as a Scolibear! You can find out more and apply (or nominate someone) for a box here. You can find examples of past Scoliboxes over on my Instagram.

I hope this has been helpful, thank you everyone who contributed suggestions via instagram and facebook! Feel free to share this post with anyone you know who's preparing for their scoliosis surgery.

If there's anything you think should be included in this post please do leave a comment, and if you have any questions, suggestions, or general feedback feel free to contact me.

xx Hannah at Scoliboxes

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