If you contract the novel coronavirus, chances are you won’t need to be hospitalized: At least 80 percent of people with COVID-19 have mild or no symptoms and can recover at home. But the unpredictability of the virus has many of us wondering, What if? And what if you have a fall, or some other urgent medical need?
“People need to know that right now, they will be going to the hospital alone,” says Io Dolka, MS, a patient advocate in Seattle. “In most places, no family member is allowed to escort them in ER or visit them during their hospitalization.”
That reality can be anxiety-inducing. One of the best things you can do to regain a sense of control is to prepare a “go bag” that contains essential documents and other items that can improve your care and comfort, should you need to head to the hospital. (In fact, federal authorities have been recommending this for years as preparation for natural disasters.) Here’s what your go bag should look like in the coronavirus era.
“Advance directives should definitely be included as part of a patient’s medical record,” says New York City-based physician Nesochi Okeke-Igbokwe, MD. “The legal document stipulates a patient’s health intervention wishes in the event that the patient is no longer able to communicate their wishes during hospitalization.”
This is also known as a “living will,” which specifies your wishes on end-of-life decisions, such as cardiac resuscitation and mechanical ventilation. For example: Would you want to receive CPR if your heart stops beating? Would you want to be intubated and placed on a ventilator if you’re critically ill and unable to breathe on your own? Read on for resources that can help you create those documents.
You should designate a Durable Power of Attorney (someone who can make financial decisions for you, if you become incapacitated) and a Healthcare Power of Attorney (or healthcare proxy—someone who can make healthcare decisions for you if you become too sick to make them yourself). You can consult an attorney, or Five Wishes has a document that is accepted by most states, says Gayle Byck, Ph.D., a board-certified patient advocate in Chicago. You can also use their forms to list your advance directives. Dolka also recommends The Conversation Project.
This gives permission for healthcare providers to release personal health information about you to whomever you list on the form, says Byck. You can look online to find one that is applicable in your state.
Keep a photocopied or spare insurance card in the bag for easy access, or write down your insurance company name, policy number and phone number.
It’s a good idea to keep a duplicate photo ID or a copy in your go-bag as a backup, in case you head for the hospital without your wallet or purse.
“A comprehensive list of all medications a patient takes is another important piece of information for your doctors to know about,” says Okeke-Igbokwe. List all medications or supplements you take—both prescribed and over-the-counter—along with the dosage, what you take them for, and how often you take them. Include your pharmacy’s name and phone number.
Note any medications you’re allergic to, so your healthcare providers can avoid administering them.
Note any conditions you’re currently being treated for, past illnesses or surgeries (and when they happened), and any family history of medical conditions. It’s also a good idea to include copies of recent and important test results, says Byck.
List your doctors, key friends and family, and clergy if you wish. “Include a list of emergency contacts in order of how you would like them to be called,” says Joshua Mansour, MD, a triple board-certified physician in Los Angeles. “There are certain situations where the power of attorney or closest family member cannot be reached, therefore having a list of who the patient would like the healthcare team to call next is very beneficial. Many times the numbers are not updated in the hospital system or chart.”
Pack a charger for your cellphone; hospital staff may not have as spare to lend you when you need it. Include chargers for your laptop and e-reader if you envision taking those with you.
You or a loved one will want to take notes about your condition and treatment. You might also want to journal or write letters when you’re feeling up to it.
“Pictures or personal items may make a prolonged stay away from home a little easier,” says Mansour. “Many times, pictures of family, friends, and loved ones can help brighten up a patient’s day. A favorite blanket or item can make the hospital stay a bit easier.”
Include a few books or magazines, an e-reader, or crosswords or puzzles to help you pass the time.
“If you have not set up a patient portal, now is a great time to do that,” says Byck. “In ‘normal times,’ it’s an easy way to contact your doctors and keep track of your test results and upcoming appointments. Share the login information with your health care proxy and trusted family members in case they need more information to help advocate for your care. While you may think that the health care professionals taking care of you will have access to that information, it’s entirely possible that you might not be taken to your usual hospital.”
Because you’re probably actively using these, write yourself a reminder to take them with you and affix it to the bag. They’ll help you stay occupied and communicate with loved ones. “Especially given that many hospitals have restrictions on visitors given COVID-19, anything that will help patients keep in contact with family, friends, and loved ones will make the hospital stay more comforting,” says Mansour. “Although there are restrictions and social distancing is enforced, we do not want patients to feel socially isolated.”
If you wear eyeglasses, include a spare pair so you don’t forget. “In the rush, patients will many times forget to grab their glasses,” says Mansour. “Especially if a patient is taken by ambulance, it will be easier to have everything together in this go bag.”
These can help you take phone calls or relax with music on your cellphone or laptop without disturbing others.
Although the hospital can provide these, you might want to include extras of your favorite personal care items, such as deodorant, soap and toothpaste and toothbrush.
Sometimes in the hospital, you might get hungry between mealtimes. You might want to include snacks like nutrition bars or single-serving packages of nuts, along with your favorite tea bags or instant coffee.
If you wear hearing aids, pack some extra juice to ensure you get the best care. “I have had several patients in the past where their batteries have failed, and it makes it more difficult to communicate,” says Mansour.
And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don’t miss these 100 Things You Should Never Do During the Coronavirus Pandemic.