Tuesday, December 8, 2009

"Twenty-Five (Mostly) Helpful Tips For Prospective Hospital Patients"

Over a period of nine weeks, I enjoyed two stays in the hospital, each of them lasting for four days. At some point, during my first hospital adventure – which involved the draining of some troublesome fluid (was that too graphic?) rather than any actual surgery – I put pen to notepad and jotted down some lessons I had learned, knowing there was another hospital stay in my future, and wanting to remember what I’d picked up on my first hospital visit that might be useful the second time around.

Since my two hospital stays involved two different – very different – hospitals, and the tips seemed to be applicable to both places, it occurred to me that other people might get use from them in whatever hospital they (meaning you, but I didn’t want to scare you by using the words “you” and “hospital” in the same sentence) happen to end up in. You may not end up in any hospital at all. But if you do, these tips apparently work anywhere.

My hope is that you’ll print up this list of helpful tips and suction-cup it to your refrigerator. Then, if it turns out you do need to go to the hospital, you can take the refrigerator with you.

That’s ridiculous. “Take the refrigerator with you.” That’s stupid.

You can just take the door.

Okay, maybe not all my tips are equally helpful. But, hopefully, a worthwhile number of them are.

Here now is my list of helpful hints for prospective hospital-goers (not the visitors, the patients), set down in the order that they came to me.

Hospital patients:

When packing for the hospital, bring along as many personal items as is practical. I was endlessly grateful for the companionship of my slippers.

Once you’re admitted to the hospital, be polite. Remember, you and the hospital staff? You’re in this together.

Be friendly. (Learn everybody’s name. Even the hard names. Especially the hard names. You get extra appreciation – and, more importantly, better treatment – for remembering them.)

Cooperate when you can. When there’s a “gray area” – where it could go either way – cooperate. Cooperating, however, does not mean surrendering to nonsense. At least not without a persuasive explanation.

Prioritize your needs, focusing on what you need the most right now. It’s important not to bury your most urgent needs in an extended list, including “Will you fluff my pillow?” You may end up getting your pillow fluffed up, only to have your most urgent need overlooked and not seen to.

Accept the individual differences of the people who are helping you. Don’t expect them all to be as “on top of things” as the best of them, or as unresponsive as the worst. Also, some people have no sense of humor. Respect that. When you fail to make someone laugh three times in succession, stop trying.

Be conscious at all times. That doesn’t mean don’t faint. It means, before you make a move, consider how that move will impinge upon your hurty areas, your I.V. tubes and their accompanying monitors. (If you accidentally disconnect your I.V. tube, your monitor will beep incessantly until someone comes to fix it, which sometimes could be quite a while.)

Learn from your mistakes. Here are four valuable things I learned. Never fill a paper water cup all the way to the top. It will inevitably spill on you and your bedding when you grab hold of it. And ask for ice water. Ice water stays cold longer. Oh, and when they’re drawing blood, take a deep inhale just as the needle’s going in. A strategic inhalation focuses the mind elsewhere while the pointy thing is puncturing your skin. Also, after you pee into that flimsy, plastic bottle, make sure the top is tightly snapped shut and the bottle is securely attached to the railing beside your bed. If you don’t, the bottle will flip onto the floor and the pee will spill all over the place. (Don’t ask me how I learned this.)

When all around you are treating you like a specimen, cling tightly to the awareness of who you really are. Not a specimen. You’re you. And that matters. Just don’t go overboard. Keep in mind there are more sick people in the hospital than just you, some of them even sicker than you are. (Though none are more important.)

Sometimes, it’s helpful to view what you’re going through in the third person. “Then, they sent a camera down his throat and they took pictures of his heart.” When it’s happening to an (imaginary) third person, the camera goes down a lot easier.

Resistance to an unpleasant “inevitable” (like a camera down your throat) makes the “inevitable” harder to handle. Keep your eye on the ball – the ball being your ultimate recovery – and tell every nerve cell in your body to relax. When the procedure is completed, give yourself a well-earned pat on the back. You also might want to take note that the unpleasant “inevitable” turned out to be not as unpleasant as you thought it would be.

When you’re expressing a specific concern or complaint, make sure you’re expressing it to the right person – the person who can help you with it. Telling the right thing to the wrong person is like not telling anybody at all.

When you’re confined to an institution, that institution is in complete control. This sucks sometimes, but short of writing an angry letter when you get home, or being vicious answering their “How’re we Doin’? questionnaire, there’s not a lot you can do about it.

Resist the impulse to tell your family things about your current state they don’t really need to hear. Transitory complaints will only upset them unnecessarily. Keep in mind, when you’re telling your family these things, you are also telling yourself. You don’t want to upset yourself unnecessarily either.

Never ask a question, the answer to which you are not yet prepared to hear. On the other hand, be alert to the natural tendency for avoidance. (Greater in some people than in others.) Information you may be terrified to hear may end up bringing comfort and relief, correcting inaccurate, and therefore unnecessary, concerns.

If it’s not in your nature to be positive, make an effort not to be negative. Being a hospital patient, the luxury of pessimism is no longer available to you.

“Sleep” is not a major concern in hospitals. Except to the patient. And in this case the patient is wrong. To be helped, it is necessary to be monitored, poked and “pilled” around the clock, which invariably involves waking you up (usually just as you’re falling asleep from the last time they woke you up.). If you enjoy three hours of uninterrupted sleep, that’s really all you need. It’s not like you’ll be unable to function the following day. In the hospital, “functioning” just means lying there.

Don’t expect your recovery to proceed in a straight line. Sometimes, it’s two steps forward and one step backward. Or vice versa. (I’m not sure I know what that means.)

Fear is natural. But so is a deep, relaxing breath.

However you’re feeling, it’s not going to be forever. (And I don’t mean that you’re going to die. You’re going to get better. Or die. In which case, you’re not going to feel anything. Most likely.)

You’re the patient. Let others entertain you.

Okay, that’s my list. Remember to scrupulously follow these tips. And to forgive yourself when you don’t.

Whatever you’re going through, it’s important to keep this firmly in mind:

Someday, this will all be stories.
I hope this is helpful.


Rachel said...


MikeThe Blogger said...

Earl, thought you'd like this: I just checked my Twitter page - Here's the latest tweet from Kevin Spacey - "KevinSpacey - I am standing on stage at the Old Vic with Eddie Izzard who is just about to do his show. Come down for a drink."

- and you are "right on" about your hospital recommendations. In Canada, where the hospital is not a "business" I would add: - have a family member bring some muffins/cookies/etc. to the nursing station from time to time - send a card of thanks to them for their considerate care. - have an advocate (wife etc.) who knows what your regimen and needs are to politely but firmly ensure it is followed.

Max Clarke said...

A good list of do's and don'ts at the hospital.

Very good, that Kevin Spacey mention of Eddie Izzard. There's a Youtube selection of Eddie Izzard routines, his Darth Vader Canteen skit is very funny.

JED said...

These are great tips, Earl. But as I read through them I thought that they are not necessarily just tips for a hospital stay but tips for any day and anywhere.

If you're ever looking for ideas about future blog posts, how about this - you could write up some tips for kids going to summer camp or people going to another country to work.

I think your writing is just getting better.

Jim Dodd