Hospital Survival 101: Secrets From A Pro

Ask for a private room, wear your own PJs and take charge of your care.

hospital 101

If you're dealing with a serious medical condition or mysterious illness, you'll probably have to be in the hospital at some point during your health journey. As someone who has overcome their own medical saga, I'd like to personally welcome you to our club. Some of us have been in the hospital multiple times, and even in an Emergency Room or an ICU more than once. And I can report that these are typically very intense and fear-filled places for any individual. But you can take control of your fears and anxieties with a little advanced planning.

Here’s your game plan for a (mostly) stress-free hospital stay: 

Sleep, Baby, Sleep.

Did you know there is no rest in the hospital? Not only are monitoring machines beeping all night long, and the blood pressure cuff squeezing your arm every hour, but people are coming into your room every minute of the day and night. They want to get your blood, take your vitals, give you medicine, clean the floor, change the IV bag, give you a bed bath, hand you papers to sign, weigh you or prep you for some procedure. Then, right when you've finally fallen asleep, in come the doctors for their rounds! Really? Unfortunately, yes. Really. So, take charge of these situations in the following ways:

If you have a roommate, and need to be in the hospital for more than a day or two, ask for a private room. You'll probably sleep better. Often the hospital staff will tell you your insurance won't cover it, but that's not always the case. Ask again, and start by asking the charge nurse or nurse manager on the floor, especially if the roommate is causing a major disturbance. Most floor nurses don't have the authority to move you but their managers do. And most nurse managers don't want their patients calling the customer service complaint line for the hospital.

One time I had a roommate who had a mental breakdown inside the room on our first night together, right next to me. She was placed on suicide watch and was placed in four-point restraints in her bed. By the time I asked for my own room, the hospital was full and I couldn't be moved. Another time I had a roommate with a very large family who stayed until very late. I was exhausted and annoyed by them. I lost so much sleep that my body's ability to heal and recover was likely compromised. Another time I had a roommate who watched a horror movie in our room. I felt like I was in a horror movie. I wish I had asked for a private room!

The truth is, it is just really hard to sleep away from home. Don't hesitate to ask for a sleeping pill if you need one.

Here are some other sleep tips:

  1. Request to be put on "sleep enhancement." If your doctor OKs it, this prohibits anyone from entering your room during the night (and for certain hours during the day) unless it's an emergency.
  2. Ask if a loved one can stay the night with you for support.
  3. Wear earplugs.
  4. If you just can't rest and you're feeling alone, call the chaplain. They work at night and would probably be glad to sit up and talk to you.

Be Who You Are

  1. Inside your room, display pictures of your family or artwork from your kids.
  2. Play your favorite music. It's so good for your soul. I've found that often music can heal things that medicine cannot.
  3. Wear your own pajamas. I hate hospital gowns, so I always bring my own pajamas. Nurses might tell you that you can't, but that's likely because it will make their job a little harder when they need to take your vitals. Insist. You're the one in the bed, and you're the one whose life has been turned upside down.
  4. Bring a few memories from home. One time my 4-year-old son sent his blankie with me. I felt better right away.

Bring on the Fur

If you're on a floor that allows it, ask the hospital to bring you a therapy dog, if they have one. If you have a dog of your own, by all means arrange for a visit. As long as Fido has his recent shots, most hospitals allow for a visit from the family pet.

And Now, a Few General Reminders

  1. Take charge of your own care as much as possible. Ask lots of questions, and have a family member or friend standing by as your advocate as healthcare providers come in and out of your room. You might be slightly doped up and not able to recall all of the things the doctors tell you.
  2. Try to remember that while your time in the hospital feels endless, it will not last forever. You will be going home soon and all of this will be behind you.
  3. Don't forget to get up and get moving to the full extent that you can. If we lie still for too long, we will likely heal slower and develop secondary problematic conditions. What's more, our spirits tend to fall due to non-activity.
  4. Finally, don't take everything so personally. Most nurses, doctors and technicians are not out to get you or make your life worse. They are not your enemy! They are just people like you and me, showing up for work and doing the best they can.

Part of this article originally appeared in the Huffington Post

Cindy Finch, LCSW is a clinical therapist, writer and professor who trained at Mayo Clinic. She works closely with those in the margins and is a survivor of an undiagnosed disease that turned out to be cancer while she was pregnant. Treatments for her cancer led to heart, liver and lung failure which she survived. She now lives in Orange County, CA and enjoys her life with her husband Darin and their three children.