Today’s post is by a guest writer and fellow wife of a wounded warrior, Steffanie Smith, and reprinted with permission. Her advice and experience is greatly appreciated! Thank you Steffanie for sharing this and asking me to forward to others who may benefit from this!
What to have ready to go when the ambulance is on the way
or you are coaxing your Wounded Warrior into the car
The term “bug out bag” is probably a bit antiquated. Military aviators in my Dad’s day- he was a WW2, Korea, and Vietnam Era Vet- had a “bail out bag” for times when rapid, unscheduled departure from the aircraft became necessary. Somewhere along the way the term turned into “bug out bag” and expanded to mean the stuff you need to be able to grab and go when time is of the essence. When I was a child, he used the term for my little backpack of “keep this kid occupied” stuff for car trips, so for me the phrase is forever associated with the important stuff you need when you are on the go.
My husband is a 23 year Veteran, four years in the USMC and another 19 in the Army. His first deployment was as an 18 year old Marine going into Panama to fish out Noriega back in 1989. His last was Iraq. He was medically retired just over a year ago due to a TBI, PTSD and myriad physical injuries, including damage to his legs and spine. The ER and various hospitals are familiar places for us, both for physical and psychiatric emergencies. He falls down. A lot. And usually breaks something. He has multiple surgeries pending. He has attempted suicide more times than I care to enumerate over the past 4 years and I have been in emergency rooms for up to 38 hours at a stretch awaiting his transfer to psych hospital or waiting for a room to become available for admission.
I am not a fly-by-night kind of person, thank God, or I couldn’t live this life. But the repeated hospital trips have honed my level of preparedness to the point of obsessiveness. I have a bug out bag just for the occasion of going to the hospital and I never leave home without it. You never know…. The emergency may happen at home at 2 am or it may happen at 2 pm in the grocery store. When that happens, I don’t have time to fool around and go home to get stuff. When we get in the car, the bag goes on the back seat. When we come home, the bag comes in with us. The kids, all grown now, say I worry more about leaving the bag at home than I ever did about misplacing one of them. They are probably right.
The bug out bag is the product of several years of trial and error, unpreparedness and “damn, I wish I had thought to bring ____________” moments. It’s a gym bag style tote and if I have to use it, I stick my purse right inside it and have just one thing to keep up with. If I use any of the contents, I replace the ASAP upon my return home. Why? Because like I said, he goes to the ER a lot. I’ll list the contents and the reason for each item. Here we go:
$100 in cash and $20 in rolled quarters. The quarters are for vending machines.
I keep $20 in 1’s for parking garages and Coke machines that only take bills. The rest of the cash is usually in 20’s. It is for gas (I’ve had to follow an ambulance for an hour through back-roads Alabama on the way to the VA and prayed the whole time I wouldn’t run out of gas. Lesson learned.) and food and miscellaneous needs. I’ve never needed the whole $100 but I’d rather have extra than not enough. This is in addition to whatever is in my purse. Debit cards don’t work in ER vending machines. Sometimes, especially at the end of the month, I am really broke. This little stash in the bug out bag ensures that I can get by for a day or two with no sweat if needed.
There is nothing worse than being stuck in an ER either freezing your ass off because the hospital has confused itself with the Arctic Circle or being overdressed and uncomfortable. I keep a pair of yoga pants, a t-shirt, a fuzzy zip up hoodie, a pair of those little fold up tennis shoes, a pair of socks and a pair of panties. Sometimes you wind up sleeping in a shitty hard plastic chair next to a hospital bed and a bank of monitors that are telling you that your husband is still alive and you really want to be as close to comfortable as possible then. I also keep a plastic bag in there to stash the dirty clothes.
3. Eye Care Stuff
A contact lens case, a small bottle of solution and a spare pair of eyeglasses in case I need to take out my contacts.
4. Travel size toiletries
When you change clothes, it is nice to be able to freshen up. I carry a little bit of makeup, a travel toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, baby wipes, hand lotion, hairbrush, ponytail holder, razor and shampoo/body wash combo. I haven’t had to resort to a shower in the ER, but I have had to spend the night in the hospital room after he’s been admitted or had surgery and I like having the option.
5. Something to pass the time
I have a book that I want to read but haven’t yet in there on the off chance that I can think about anything but Hubby for more than three seconds.
6. Cell phone charger
In our case, my phone and Hubby’s use the same charger. If I keep a charger with me and have both phones in my possession, I should always have communication charged and ready.
7. A small travel umbrella
We once went to the ER in a monsoon. Enough said.
Again, enough said.
9. My medication
An extra bottle of my migraine medication and allergy medication and some Tylenol.
10. An extra house key
I have had to call a friend to get someone to go let my dogs out when I couldn’t leave the hospital. Better to have a spare key to hand them than to have to worry about getting yours back promptly.
11. A few snacks
Just some peanuts and granola bars and a bottle of water, just in case I can’t leave his bedside at the moment.
12. My roll up travel blanket
Hospitals are usually great about giving you a blanket, but again, this is a just in case. Rolled up, it’s a pillow or back support. Opened out, it’s a small blanket. It takes up so little room that it is worth it to have a comfort item.
13. THE MOST IMPORTANT ITEM
A three ring binder with sheet protectors full of info. This is the very most important thing in the bag. I can’t stress this enough. This is what saves me when I am a wreck, wondering if he is going to die this time, trying to pull it together and not being able to remember my own name. It doesn’t need to be a huge binder. I have the ½ inch one that holds about 100 sheets and it is nowhere near full. Everything is in a sheet protector to keep it intact and orderly.
The first page is a sheet with Hubby’s name, social, DOB, and a front and back copy of his VA ID card and Military ID. I have a couple copies in case we transfer to another facility. Way easier to hand this to someone than to have the annoying insurance person in your face asking questions when you are just a bit preoccupied. I don’t have to worry about whether they have returned his cards if they want copies. This is also a lifesaver if the emergency has happened in the middle of the night and I didn’t grab Hubby’s wallet before heading out. Replace any of these copies that you give out as soon as you can so the binder is ready for next time.
This next section is vital, too. It is imperative that you update the binder anytime there is a change and have several copies with you. This saves you the pain of doing the detailed medical history with each doctor that comes in. Ask them to put a copy on his chart right off the bat. I have a list of all of Hubby’s medications, dosages, who prescribed each one, and why he needs it. I also list all of his drug and other allergies, as well as meds that he has been given before and experienced unpleasant side effects from taking. All of his doctors that he sees are listed with their specialty and contact information and there is a list of all his diagnoses, behaviors, triggers, etc… For example, if he is sleeping, DO NOT approach him abruptly and wake him. He will try to kill you. Things that you really want the staff to know. This section runs several pages long, so staple these pages together and make sure your Hubby’s name is on the top of each page. It takes a while to write out at first, but then updating it with medication changes and new doctors is easy.
I have a list of phone numbers just in case my cell phone dies for any reason. In addition to having the contact info for all Hubby’s doctors, I make sure to have the numbers for my kid’s cell phones and work phones since they can’t have their cells ringing at work. I have my neighbor’s number so I can ask her to check the mail and let the dogs out. I have his VA Nurse Case Manager’s phone number and the numbers for anyone connected with his care, like my AW2 person and the FRC. Anyone you think you might possibly want to call should be on the list.
Unpleasant as this is to think about, it is important too… The reality is that my Hubby has tried to die by his own hand and came within a razor’s edge of doing so last time. I have to carry my Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care, my general power of attorney, his Living Will and Advance Directives. Have JAG prepare these documents and ask them to notarize multiple copies of each. Keep a copy at home with your other vital documents and carry one of each in the binder. They must be notarized originals to be accepted by the medical facility.
I have extra sheet protectors in the binder so that I can neatly and safely put away any piece of paper given to me by the hospital staff and not worry about losing it. Prescriptions go in here too, if he is being discharged with new ones.
In the front pocket of the binder I keep a legal pad and several pens and pencils. I can take notes and write down what each doctor said, their names, tests ordered, any medications given and any notes I need to remind myself of anything.
I am sure that all this sounds a little crazy and a lot OCD, but it has been worth it to have time and time again. If I don’t need something that is in the bag, so what? But to need it and wish I had it? That, my friends, is a bitch. You may need to add some things to the bag that suit your own situation. Tailor it as needed over time. The peace of mind that I get from knowing that I have my bases covered and can correctly give important information to doctors has been priceless.