The one thing this COVID-19 experience reminded us is that change can happen in an instant.

While we don’t know all the difficult twists and hard turns our life’s journey will take, we can be a little better prepared for an unexpected stay in the hospital (whether it’s related to the coronavirus or not). And having a bag ready with important information and supplies is something experts agree is a pretty good idea right now.

It’s not just about comfort: It can mean we get better treatment. “Medical personnel really do want to give people the best care possible,” said Dr. Rebecca Sudore, a geriatrician, palliative caregiver, and the creator and director of Prepare for Your Care, a community outreach program funded by the University of California San Francisco. "The more we know about someone, the better we are able to do that.”

Even when the curve flattens and restrictions start to lift, coronavirus won’t be completely gone. “It looks like it will be ever-present with us," Sudore said. “If you have most of the things you need in a medical bag — or even just a list — you won’t have to stop and think when you are panicking.”

Pack it now, and keep it near your front door or in your car. And, hopefully, you’ll never need it.

We compiled a list of what you need to have in your emergency bag:

1. An advance medical directive

This document names your health-care proxy — the person who will make medical decisions on your behalf in the event that you can’t. An advance medical directive also spells out your wishes of how doctors should care for you when you are sick. For example, if your heart stops beating, do you want a do not resuscitate order or do you want doctors to do everything in their power to save you? You can find a PA Advance Directive document at the Prepare for Your Care website. AARP also has a free advance directive form on their website.

2. A list of your medications

If you get sick, you may be in the emergency room for a long time, Sudore cautions. And you don’t want to skip your medication. Also, make a list of your medications that you can give your attending physician if you do find yourself in the hospital. You should keep this list, your medications, and your prescriptions in your hospital bag. It’s also a good idea to keep information about your diet with your medications as well.

3. A list of contacts for your friends and family

Sure, you will likely have your phone with you, but if you are sick, you may have trouble remembering certain numbers (or your battery might die). And if you are unconscious, Sudore said, doctors won’t be able get into the phone to get to the contacts you’ve labeled Mom or Son. And then there are those of us who don’t label our personal contacts at all. “If medical providers can’t access your contact, then they can’t let people know that you are OK,” Sudore said. “Write down this crucial information. Keep it in your medical bag. You might even want to keep a copy in your wallet. This is critical to providing the best care and insuring everyone has peace of mind.”

4. A spare pair of glasses and/or hearing aids

It’s important that patients — especially older ones — have the things they need to keep them comfortable. “When you don’t have things like glasses or hearing aids, you can’t communicate with the medical staff,” Sudore said. “Think about how debilitating or scary that will be. Also not being able to communicate clearly creates a negative feedback loop and patients don’t get the help they need.”

What else should you pack?

  • an extra pair of clean clothes
  • a phone charger
  • a magazine/book
  • toothbrush and toothpaste
  • dentures/denture cleaner
  • a bottle of water
  • a packaged snack like a granola bar or beef jerky
  • ear plugs
  • sleep mask
  • a notebook and paper
  • cash (at least $40)

More information at prepareforyourcare.org.