How to Survive a Hospital Stay as a Patient


Most of us dread going to the hospital and maybe even worry more about being away from home and/or loss of dignity than the actual reason we’re in the hospital. This is the second of three posts talking about how to survive a hospital stay. This one focuses on how to survive a hospital stay as a patient, the first is for those acting as the patient advocate, and the last is about hospitals and how to minimize your risk.

There are a lot of great resources about how to survive a hospital stay as a patient: try thisthis or this.

Here are my top ten tips for surviving a hospital stay:

  1. You are the only one who knows how you feel so it is your responsibility (and your advocate’s) to speak up. Studies show that many patients who suffered from “preventable harm” incidents in the hospital knew something was wrong but did not feel they had the right to say something or to challenge their medical professionals.
  2. Understand the goals of hospitalization BEFORE you go. Understand what will happen, what the risks are, how long you will stay, what the decision points are, and if outpatient care is possible.
  3. Hospital infections cause 100,000 deaths every year. Politely but firmly require that anyone who comes into your room wash their hands.
  4. Keep a journal of every interaction, every medication, every procedure with the dates, times and staff present. By the very nature of hospital stays, it is difficult to keep track of what is happening and if you have multiple physicians, you may get conflicting information and a journal is the easiest way to make sure you have the correct information.
  5. Bring an accurate and updated medication list with you. You absolutely CANNOT rely on the hospital’s records to know what you are currently taking and the risk of medication errors is very real.
  6. Bring a pillow and pajamas or comfortable clothes (if appropriate) to make you feel more human, and pictures or other items that will make you feel more comfortable. Some experienced patients recommend throwing those items away on your way out of the hospital to minimize the chance of bringing super resistant bugs home.
  7. Be patient. The staff all have many other patients and many other shifting responsibilities and you are part of the big machine.
  8. Be nice. Staff will avoid, maybe even subconsciously, patients that are unpleasant. Learn the names of your caregivers and call them by name. Say “thank you” and “please.”
  9. Request a hospital list or other hospital advocate to help you understand what is happening, what the charges will be, and what to anticipate.
  10. Bring something to entertain yourself – preferably something funny since it turns out laughter really is the best medicine – see here and here. All hospitals have wi-fi and many offer laptops to patients. E-books, card games, journals, and other items will help while away the time.

Happy Organizing!

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