Hospitals are nerve-wracking places. You end up away from home, being woken up at all hours of the night. Procedures, testing- none of it is fun and little of it is easy. I’ve spent several years cultivating a knowledge of how to survive and make hospital stays easier, and I am still learning things that make it more bearable.
Bring comfort items. Hospitals are cold, drafty, and unfamiliar. In my experience, having your own clothes and your own blanket or pillow can make a world of different. Often, you end up in a gown, and I generally try to change out of it as quickly as possible. Depending on IV lines or monitors, you may need a nurse’s help to briefly disconnect lines or tubes in order to change. And that brings me to my next point…
Be nice to the nurses. Without a doubt, they are the ones who are in charge of your fate. No, they’re not making all of the calls, but they are your allies. You probably won’t see your doctor for more than a few minutes a day, and your nurse is the one who will generally be administering meds, helping you with things, and passing information along to the mythical physicians. If you’re like me, and absolutely hate calling the nurses because you don’t want to bug them, remember that it is their job to help you. If your IV beeps, call your nurse. If you’re uncomfortable and know you can receive medication, call your nurse. Trust me- they’d much rather you call for help rather than falling, or reset the IV rather than having it beep nonstop.
Write out your questions, comments, concerns. You will see your doctors briefly. Generally they’re in and out, and it’s only after they leave you remember that pressing question. Write down what you want covered, and that way throughout the day you can add questions or comments, and won’t forget major points when your doctor arrives and leaves in under five minutes.
Ask questions and bring up concerns. If something doesn’t feel right, or you’re worried: ask questions. As much as I sometimes wish they were, medical professionals are NOT mind readers. They need you to let them know if your pain is out of control, or if the medication you just took is making you feel sick. Telling the doctor or nurse what you are experiencing allows them to make better and more accurate treatment decisions. And if your doctor isn’t listening, contact the patient advocate. Most hospitals have them, and they can help- but only if you talk to them and say what you need.
Figure out coping mechanisms. The hospital is boring. There’s not much to do, and when I’m in the hospital I’m normally feeling pretty crappy. I’ve used different things over time, but music, audiobooks, netflix, or art are my go-to’s for managing pain, boredom, and everything in between. This falls in line with my next point.
Bring your electronics. (And your chargers). Phones, iPads, computers- they allow you to escape the land of sterile walls. FaceTime with friends, watch a youtube video, catch up on your favorite show.
People will wake you up. It is a fact of life, and there is little you can do. I once had a nurse and nursing student come in at 3 am, turn on all the lights, and then the nurse did a 30 minute lesson for the nursing student on how to draw blood from a central line. Loudly. If you have long term stays, it is definitely worth it to talk to your doctors and figure out if meds and vital checks can be moved around slightly, so you can have as much uninterrupted sleep as possible. This isn’t always possible, and so in that case, using an eye mask and earplugs can make it quieter and less fluorescent.
Hospitals aren’t fun. They aren’t enjoyable- but sometimes they are necessary. And in those necessary cases, finding ways to make it more enjoyable are a big deal. (Okay, maybe enjoyable is a stretch…how about “not completely awful”?)
I wish you all the best of luck with admissions, appointments, and inpatient adventures.