Monday, July 27, 2015

Hospital Stay? Here's What You Should Know

So I, unfortunately, had three hospital stays this year - 2 days in March and then two 3-day stays in June/July.  Not that I'm an expert by any means, but here are a few things I learned that I wish I knew.

1.  Clothing - Don't worry about bringing your own fancy pjs / sweats, etc.  You will likely just wear a hospital gown the whole time - it's easier with IVs than real sleeves and you may not get out of bed much so what does it matter what you're wearing? If you decide that you really want to feel like a real person by wearing your own clothing, send a friend or relative to pick it up for you or pack one outfit besides your "going home" outfit.

1. b) Caveat - the above does not apply to underwear! You can and should bring underwear unless you really like feeling open to the breeze in your gown.

2.  TV/Phone/Internet - Holy cannoli, the costs for these things at a hospital are insane! Personally, I find springing for wi-fi to be a necessity.  I can email, facebook, pay bills (handy if you weren't expecting to be out of commission) and watch TV shows and movies through streaming sites or services like Netflix (seriously happy my computer has a Netflix app).  If you bring your cell phone and charger, you can just use that instead of paying for a pricey room phone.  I know, I know - "but you're not supposed to use cell phones in a hospital!" My husband and I both used ours with regularity, in front of staff, without issue and were never instructed not to do so.  Ask if you're worried about it.  Also, bring a book or e-reader - reading is awesome :) Did you know that most libraries offer e-books free through their websites? Check it out!

3.  Food - Pack some if you know in advance you'll be staying in for a while.  Snacks are always a good idea (meal replacement bars can be helpful too).  I also like instant coffee since hospital coffee is gross (also instant but without enough granules to actually taste like coffee) - or you could make guests come regularly with coffee from McD's or Tim's for you if you feel like it.

3. b) Special dietary requirements - ugh! Don't have them while hospitalized if at all possible.  The companies that mass-produce hospital food don't understand them and don't know how to make these meals at all appealing.  I am a semi-vegetarian (I eat fish, seafood and will eat chicken if I need to - and in the hospital I needed to) and had some of the most horrific meals imaginable.  Seriously, I was served an inedible "Vegetarian Shepherd's Pie" in which the meat was replaced with what I can only guess was cornmeal? I also had overcooked tofu strips in a honey-garlic sauce.  And I was served a pork dinner - I guess they were all like "but it's the other white meat!" ?? Again, if you can get guests to bring you dinners, do it - lunches are usually okay and breakfasts are the best of the bunch (except the coffee).

4.  Personal hygiene - you don't need much but I would definitely suggest:  toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, lip balm, hair brush (and hair bands / elastics to keep it off your face), face wash and lotion of some sort.  If you will be able to shower, travel or sample packs of shampoo, conditioner and body wash are perfect.  If you will have an IV, however, you likely won't be allowed to shower so bring dry shampoo. . . seriously, I never thought I'd use the massive bottle of this I got from Ipsy a few months back but after a few days of being unable to wash my hair, I felt like the biggest grease ball and this made a huge difference (in appearance but also in morale - you don't feel good when you feel gross).  Oh, and when you get home? Throw out your toothbrush and spring for a new one - don't bring the hospital home with you unnecessarily.

5. I have read a lot of packing lists and in my humble opinion, the following things are a waste of time and packing space.  So don't bring: lots of clothes, make-up or your whole skincare regime, your own pillow (eww! why would you want hospital germs on your own stuff?!), slippers / robes / socks that you like (flip flops and an old sweater are probably good enough and you're not so attached to them you aren't comfortable tossing them if they get dirty / germy; you could bring some old socks if you tend to get cold feet), jewellery, hair dryers / straightening irons / curling irons, lots of cash or valuables. . . I think that's about it.  In short, there's no reason to pack for the apocalypse.  You won't need most of these things and if there's something you decide you want that you didn't pack, send someone to get it for you, assuming you have someone you can send.

Lastly, and most importantly, stick up for yourself and ask questions.  You will probably see nurses more than any other medical professional.  Many of them are excellent (caring, attentive - I even had one visit with me when she was no longer assigned to care for me, just because!).  Some of them are dismissive of your concerns (like you ask for pain relief and they "forget" about you).  And the worst kind assume they know more than anyone else (and for some reason love to give terrible breastfeeding advice and insist that they are the best at bloodwork / IVs when they're sticking you for the 4th time without success).

So stick up for yourself - I quickly realized that my arms would be a patchwork of bruises if I (of the smallest veins in the world) allowed every self-proclaimed "expert" to attempt my bloodwork so I suggested that a lab tech working with a paediatric needle might be a better option.  And you know what? My nurse might have been offended, but that tech got the blood drawn on the first try.  And the next time I needed blood drawn, it was easier to ask - maybe the nurses had told each other I was "difficult" but whatever, fewer painful needle sticks and bruises is a plus in my books.  If that makes me "difficult", I'll wear that badge with pride (and it won't be bruise-purple, okay?)  :)

Ask questions.  You have a right to know and understand your condition, prognosis and what the plan is for your care.  And you have a right to have it explained to you in a way you can understand it - whether that's in smaller words with less medical jargon, or through a translator.  Ask for, and demand if necessary, answers you can understand.  There is truly no such thing as a stupid question when it comes to your health or the health of your loved ones.  It is hard to feel confident in the care you are receiving if you don't understand it or if those responsible for your care don't share this information with you.  And confidence in your care is incredibly important to your mental well-being and, in my opinion, how you feel mentally has a huge impact on your recovery.  There is something extremely disconcerting about feeling like your medical care is something that is "done to you" as opposed to something you are a part of - your consent is necessary to your care even if it doesn't always feel that way!

I guess that's about it.  This certainly isn't an exhaustive list and some may have very different experiences with hospital stays than I have.  But I wish someone had told me some of these in advance.  Staying in a hospital (especially if it's due to illness) can be a scary and disorienting experience.  It can be difficult to stay positive and feel good about your well-being (mental and physical) under these circumstances.  I found a lot of the above thoughts and ideas to make a huge difference for me.  But most important of all was the care and support of my friends and family.  Reach out for support - both during your stay and during your transition home.  And if you have a friend or family member in the hospital, remember that a short visit (with a coffee and a delicious meal!) can be great medicine :)

Anything I missed? Any contrary viewpoints? Please share in the comments!

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