Heading to the hospital can be a stressful time, but there are ways to plan for your stay so that it’s more comfortable.
Going to the hospital for a surgery or treatment that will require staying more than just a couple of nights may understandably make you nervous. It’s not easy to be away from home and responsibilities for extended periods, in addition to worrying about your health and recuperation. But knowing more about what to expect while you’re there may make the prospect less scary.
With a little advanced preparation, you can make your hospital surroundings more homey, pleasant and restorative. If you’re concerned about being bored (although boredom can be an indication of feeling better!), bringing activities to occupy your time can also promote mental and physical healing.
Here’s what you can do:
Take care of household tasks
If your home is going to be empty while you’re away, leaving it in a tidy state will remove any concerns about household chores. Have the lawn mowed, a pet sitter arranged and bills paid or auto-scheduled. Stop your mail, and ask a friend or neighbor to swing by periodically to check on things.
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Gather needed documents
Before you head to the hospital, have a list ready of all the medications you take. In addition, bring with you any important records or paperwork that your health care provider asked for. Have all of your doctors’ numbers available just in case they’re needed. Ask a friend or relative to come with you to be your helper in the hospital and your advocate in talking with nurses and doctors.
“One important document many patients do not think about bringing is an Advance Directive with durable power of attorney designee,” says Keck Medicine of USC critical care nurse Linda Dankwa, MBA, BSN, RN. “If something were to happen during a patient’s visit, a caretaker should have a legal right to make decisions on the patient’s behalf.”
“If time permits, you can ask to visit the unit you will be staying at to meet some of the staff,” says Dankwa. “Also be prepared to engage and participate in your plan of care, or designate someone you trust to do so on your behalf.”
Bring a bit of home
Any hospital patient will tell you: the No. 1 thing to bring is your own pillow. This will ensure maximum comfort while you’re sleeping. In addition, a blanket or quilt can make you feel at home in addition to providing extra warmth, as hospital rooms are often chilly. Lastly, you or your helper can decorate your space with pictures of loved ones or other mementos that bring positive feelings. Check if you are allowed to bring in or accept flowers or artificial flowers to brighten up your room.
Have your own stuff
In many cases it’s not necessary to don bottom-baring hospital gowns. Wearing your own lounge clothes or pajamas can make you feel less like a patient and more like yourself. A sweater or hoodie will keep you warm, and flip-flops or non-skid, slip-on slippers can protect your feet. Having your own toiletries to shower and brush your teeth will make your hygiene routine feel more like it normally would. Dankwa recommends packing some other essentials from home — glasses, hearing aids and other assistive devices — too.
In most areas of the hospital, laptops, cell phones and tablets are allowed, so take advantage of them to keep in touch with family and friends. Video chats, FaceTime or Skype can let you see loved ones and even virtually “attend” important events, such as school plays or family gatherings. Virtual visits with friends may also sometimes be preferable for you, as they are less tiring than in-person visits and allow you to focus on recuperating. Finally, social media is a great way to feel less isolated when you’re stuck in a hospital room.
Dankwa has a practical tip for patients who want to stay digitally connected while recuperating in the hospital: “Have all passwords for your devices and online sites stored in one place for easy access,” she says.
Binge watch and read
Load up your Netflix queue with shows you’ve been dying to see, or check out the free movies and shows available on your hospital television. In addition, download books or audiobooks to your device, or, if you prefer, stock up on physical books and magazines. It doesn’t even have to cost you anything — many local libraries now have free online lending systems you can join. But keep to light reading and viewing, as tough subject material may be hard to handle during recovery.
Write it down
Journaling can be a great way to help you work through any difficult feelings about your illness and recovery. You can even start a blog for family members to stay updated with your healing journey, if you’re feeling up to it.
Whether it’s crossword puzzles, Sudoku, video games or adult coloring books, finding enjoyable ways to pass the time can help keep you in a positive mood, which promotes healing. In addition, bring a sketchpad if you draw, or yarn and needles if you knit.
Bring relaxation tools
Load up your phone with calming music, and bring headphones to help drown out any hospital noises. You can also download guided meditation sessions to help destress your body as well as your mind. If allowed, try aromatherapy with essential oils. Bring battery-operated flameless candles for mood lighting. And ask about complementary services provided by the hospital, such as pet therapy, art therapy or massage.
Prepare to walk
As soon as your doctor OKs it, get out of bed and move around, even if it’s just a short walk down the hall. It’s good for circulation, preventing blood clots and keeping muscles strong. You may even meet other patients to chat with while you walk. Plus, if you’re allowed to do so, walking outside in a green space can help you feel refreshed. A change of scenery has psychological benefits as well as physical ones.
Lastly, make your requests known. If there’s anything that’s preventing you from fully relaxing and recovering during your hospital stay, just ask. The nurses and doctors at your hospital want you to be comfortable, so they will do whatever is possible to accommodate your request. In addition, if you feel that you need more support, ask to speak with a social worker or chaplain, or participate in one of the many support groups available.
By Tina Donvito
If you are concerned about your hospital stay, make an appointment to speak with your social worker at Keck Medicine at USC.