A few years ago I put together a list of tips for surviving a hospital stay. I did this as a number of my friends were going into hospital for the first time to have their babies. Jason and I have learnt a lot from my repeated hospitalisations and there are many little things you can do to make the experience a little more bearable. These tips were based largely on my public hospital stays but many can easily translate for private hospitals as well.
Being a patient in hospital can be quite dehumanising and confronting. There are strange rules and routines that often no-one ever explains to you. Having someone be your advocate, such as your partner or family member is really important because the ‘patient’ will often be under the influence of medications that impact cognitive functioning. Your advocate can ask questions about your care, speak with your doctor and help get whatever information you need in order to make decisions about your care and health. Should you anticipate the possibility of not being able to communicate for any reason, you can appoint a medical power of attorney, enabling your nominated person to make decisions for you as they relate to your health care.
Anyway, I thought it timely to remind myself about these tips and thought I would share them.
Hospital Survival Tips
Food & Drink
Always order hot water with your breakfast. If you have toast, you can place it on it to warm it a bit and put your (rock hard) butter on there too.
Take your own tea/coffee if you have a favourite.
Ask a sympathetic nurse to make you a fresh cup, as the water that comes with your meal will most often not be hot. If your partner/friend is there, send them.
Ask your partner/friend to find the visitors lounge – it should have a microwave and tea/coffee facilities. If not, they can ask the nurses where he can find these things.
Ordering fruit and saving it for later is a good idea.
You can have food brought in to you – so order some nice takeaway if you feel like it.
During the day someone will come around with hot drinks & biscuits. If you don’t want sweet, ask for dry biscuits & cheese and vice versa. It’s a good idea to always take something as you may feel like having it later or sharing it.
Keep an eye on the lunch & dinner menus. Meat used as steak on day 1, often reappears as stir fry the next day and casserole the 3rd day. Do NOT ever order the 3rd day meat dish.
If they come for your meal tray before you finish you can just keep what you want. They will collect remaining dishes later.
Order a full meal even if you are not very hungry, so that your partner can have something to eat with you. I used to order dessert with Jase in mind.
If you don’t want a full meal, hospital sandwiches are always pretty good. They are usually easy for staff to arrange at short notice.
Drink heaps of water because air conditioning & medications can cause dehydration.
If unable to sit up much, bendy straws make drinking laying down achievable.
If you are having problems and not getting anywhere, ask for a patient advocate or a counsellor to come and see you. They should be able to resolve the issue.
Nurses REALLY appreciate and respond well when the partner/family/friends help look after you. For example: if they were to heat your heat pack for you, or help you with your meals etc. It makes them much more willing to assist both of you.
If there is a phone (either private or a shared ward phone) you can ask the nurses to hold calls for you, until you feel up to taking them.
If staff have to do routine monitoring of you (blood pressure etc), don’t feel as though you have to be fully awake for this. You will never get any rest if you try to wake fully and look ‘presentable’. I got to the stage where I didn’t even peak out from under my eye mask. Pack an eye mask and ear plugs!
Get as much rest as you can and eat regularly (preferable not all of your partners meals).
Find out when the Dr or specialist will be visiting the bedside. Try to be there. This way you can ask questions, ensure understanding of what is said and act as your partners advocate if required.
You can come and go outside of visitor’s hours as long as you are quiet & respectful of the other patients.
If there isn’t a comfy visitor’s chair, then go snooping and see if you can ‘borrow’ one. Find an extra pillow so you can snooze if you need to.
Give up the chair when others visit. It is likely your partner will prefer having you prop on the bed rather than a work colleague (for example). It is also rather unpleasant to have a group of people standing around the bed, so keep this in mind.
Watch for signs that your partner is getting overwhelmed or too tired from visitors and (politely) encourage people to leave. Your partner should appreciate you handling that for them – discuss it beforehand. Jas & I had an agreed upon signal.
Understand that your partner is in a strange environment as well as the physical challenges she is facing. Simple things like a hot cup of tea go a long way to making her feel better.
It is usually ok to share a cuddle and a snooze together.
Leaving Hospital – Being Discharged
If it comes to your 2nd last or even your last day and you really do not feel up to going home or caring for yourself (be it physical, emotional or both), you do not have to leave. Make the most of this time (& opportunity) to get some more rest. Discuss this with a nurse you feel comfortable with, your midwife/Dr or the ward Charge Nurse (boss nurse).
Before being discharged, while still on the ward, make sure you have a discharge/care plan. You should know what services you are entitled to once you are home. These services may include home nursing, midwives & physio. If you have had any complications and require extra care (such as home nursing) make sure you ask for it. Once out of the hospital, these services can be extremely difficult to access if not part of a discharge plan.
Ensure you know when you have to have follow-up appointments with any of your specialists. If possible, have them scheduled before you leave.
Take a heat pack – hospitals don’t carry them (although I think maternity wards now do). They may however heat one for you in the microwave. However, if they won’t, ask to have it placed in the towel warming cupboard if there is one – it takes longer but is better than nothing. Another alternative is to pack some of the disposable sticky heat pads you can get at chemists. They are easy to use and last up to 8 hours.
Take some lip balm. Hospital air-conditioning is brutal.
Have pen and paper handy to write down questions for your Doctor, Nurse or partner. You will forget things. You can also jot down who visits you or any special thoughts you have at the time.