After three extended hospital stays in four months, I thought it might be helpful to share a few things I’ve learned that I believe can make a hospital stay not only more comfortable, but more likely to result in a speedy recovery. These suggestions may not work for everyone, or apply to every situation, but I generally think they’re good rules to live by:
- Be patient. Hospitals move at their own pace, and you are not always the highest priority (and, quite frankly, you don’t want to be). This goes not only for the care you receive, but the pace of your recovery. You’re no longer on your timetable; let it go. I certainly haven’t been perfect in this regard, but no one has been more surprised by my patience in the hospital than me (except perhaps my wife, who came equipped to my first surgery with candy to apologize to the nurses for my bad attitude), but I tried ever day, and I think it has made a tremendous difference in my experience.
- Be persistent. Being patient doesn’t mean you just sit back and wait forever. If you need something, ask for it. Repeatedly, if need be. But…
- Be polite. It should go without saying, but based on what I’ve seen, it doesn’t. Say please and thank you to the nurses, patient care assistants, doctors, and other staff. Always. Every single time. Mute the volume on your TV when someone comes in to talk to you or take your vitals or change an IV. Take off your headphones. Put down your iPad. Give them your full attention—not only out of respect for them, but yourself (after all, don’t you want to know what they’re doing?).
- Be proactive. No one cares more about your recovery than you do; be part of it. Ask questions. Make suggestions. Tell them what you’re feeling. Make sure you understand what’s going on, what they’re putting in you, what they’re taking out, and why.
- Be prepared. The residents are the busiest people in the hospital; be ready for them when they come by on rounds, as you may only get a few minutes. I always tried to get up 10-15 minutes before they came around, so I was alert enough to ask any questions I had and could accurately represent my condition. Ask questions. Make a list beforehand to remind you. Although rounds are generally your best chance to take part in your treatment, they’re not the only chance. If you forget to ask something, ask a nurse to relay a message. Or find a resident in the hall or in their office. This is your recovery; take part.
- Be positive. Attitude really is everything. As tempting as it can be, there is nothing to be gained from a pessimistic attitude. I certainly wasn’t perfect in this area, and sometimes it is definitely overwhelming, but even on my darkest days, I tried to find a silver lining or keep a positive outlook. Fake it till you make it, if need be.
- Be presentable. (I really didn’t mean for this to be a list of P’s, but now I feel like I need to see it through to the end, so forgive the stretching.) Health follows hygiene. Change your gown and socks every day. Get out of bed so they can change your linens. Brush your teeth. Wear deodorant. Wash your face. Take a shower if you’re allowed. If not, ask for help sponging off. You’ll feel better, I promise.
- Be physical. Get out of bed and walk around the unit. Early and often. Take it slow at first, and before you know it, you’ll be practically running laps. Bonus suggestion: As you walk around, say hello to the other patients doing the same and, perhaps more importantly, to their friends and families. They may be the inspiration for you, or you for them, but you’re all in this together, and the sense of peace that comes from encouraging someone else or seeing another patient make progress can be inspiring. And healing.
- Don’t be proud. If you’re in pain, ask for meds. If you need help going to the bathroom or getting out of bed, ask for help. This is no time to massage your ego; it’s time to take care of yourself. And that will almost certainly require the help of others.
- Be proud. Recovery from a serious surgery is incredibly difficult—physically and emotionally. But you’re doing it. One day at a time. And you’re getting better every day—physically and emotionally. This is the most important accomplishment of your life, and you’re allowed to be proud of yourself.
This is really just the tip of the iceberg, and everyone has to find their own path, but you’ve got to start somewhere. Good luck!