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How to Survive Being Admitted to the Hospital

July 7, 2009

Let’s face it—being in the hospital is no fun. In fact, even though it is the place to be when you are sick and need medical attention, it’s just no place to be if you are sick. Walk through any hospital ward and you’ll notice that everything is in constant motion, people are talking, equipment is banging and beeping, and there’s no place to get any peace and quiet. It’s no wonder that people who are in the hospital are always asking the question: “When can I go home?”

Of course, if you have to be in the hospital, then you go and you make the best of it. However, if you have never been in the hospital, either as a patient or as a visitor, then there are a few simple tips and ideas that will help you get through the experience.

You Are the Patient

If you are going to be the patient, and you have time to prepare to be admitted to the hospital (that is, you are not being admitted as an emergency and have time to make plans), then here are a couple of things to think about:

1. Don’t take anything that is valuable.

Wear as little jewelry as possible (in fact, wearing nothing but a wedding ring is best). If you simply must wear jewelry to the hospital, then plan to give it to your spouse, grown son or daughter, parent, or good friend who can then take it home for you. Don’t take your wallet or money. You will need your photo ID and your health insurance card, but once you’ve been admitted, give them to whoever is with you (spouse, son or daughter, parent, friend). If there is no one who can take these things from you, then be sure you have the nurse who admits you do an inventory of those items and put them in a safe place.

2. Hospital rooms are usually very cramped and crowded.

Take only essential items with you: robe, slippers, etc. You will usually get a plastic tub that contains items such as toothbrush, toothpaste, etc., but you can certainly pack a small toiletries bag with your own personal items. Keep it basic! You don’t need a satchel full of make-up or hair and grooming products! Men may want to take their own shaving kit (the disposable razors available aren’t very “face-friendly”).

3. Think ahead about the length of time that you are likely to be in the hospital.

If you will be well enough, you might want to take a book, magazine, crossword puzzle, etc. But bear in mind that you might have IVs in your arms (and other tubes and what not coming out of various places), so it might not be real convenient to sit and crochet! Don’t plan on doing anything (such as crocheting) that you can’t put down at a moment’s notice (for instances when you will be taken to other areas of the hospital for tests or procedures).

4. Ask questions before you are admitted.

If you are having surgery, then ask how you are likely to feel afterward. It is always better to know that “you won’t feel like doing anything for a couple of days” than planning on being able to jump right out of bed the next day. If you are going to be getting heavy-duty medications, then ask what the likely side effects will be so that you’ll have an idea of how you might feel for a few days.

5. You’ll probably learn a few terms:

NPO means you can’t take anything through your mouth (no food or water). IO means “input/output” and the nurses will be monitoring how much fluid you take in versus how much fluid you put out (you’ll be asked to pee into a urinal or catch-basin so that the nurse can measure it, or you might have a Foley catheter in your bladder). PRN means “take as needed” and usually applies to pain medications.

You really can make the best of things while you are in the hospital—just keep your wits about you and don’t have unrealistic expectations about how the time will pass. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and if you don’t get an answer that you understand, ask again. Doctors, nurses, and aides will all seem rushed, so if you need their attention, demand it. You are the patient, and you have rights about your treatment. You will not be able to control your entire situation, but be proactive about your care. If you are likely to be incapacitated for a few days, then plan to have a family member or friend who can stay with you to advocate for you.

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