5 Min. Read

Navigating a Hospital Stay: A Stress-free Guide

A woman begins to navigate a hospital stay

Finding yourself in the hospital is scary for everyone, particularly for older people dealing with multiple health issues. Whether you’re rushed to the hospital for an acute illness or undergoing a planned surgery, you’ll likely have many questions about what to expect during your time in the hospital. Here are some things you can do to make navigating a hospital stay easier so you can stress less and focus on getting better.  

Have Important Documents Accessible  

Whether it is an emergency visit or a planned procedure, some preparation can help make navigating a hospital stay easier. Making sure you can access the following documents if you need them can lessen potential stress:  

  • Medical history. Note any chronic illnesses, previous hospital stays, or important procedures or surgeries that would interest hospital staff.  
  • A list of current medications. Having a list of your medications, with dosing amounts and how often you take them, will help the doctors continue administering your meds in the hospital and help with drug interactions.  
  • Allergy information. Suppose you’re allergic to medications or foods. In that case, noting these on a list is helpful to hospital staff, especially when you cannot speak or communicate because you’re in pain.  
  • Emergency contact information. Have a list of contacts with phone numbers if hospital staff need to contact others regarding your care.  
  • Driver’s license or identification card. For identification purposes, make certain you have these cards on your person.  
  • Insurance Cards. Make certain insurance cards are current and readily available. Registration will copy this information when you’re admitted, whether planned or unplanned.  
  • Living wills, advanced directives, and healthcare proxy. Not all situations in the hospital will require these documents, but having your living will, advanced directive, and healthcare proxy accessible will help manage your care, especially when you cannot communicate your wishes.  

Bring Personal Care and Comfort Items

Staying in the hospital is uncomfortable, and you may feel out-of-sorts in an environment that isn’t yours. To ease this transition, consider packing the following personal items:  

  • Personal Items. Having an extra pair of eyeglasses and contacts handy may be a good idea if you manage your care independently. Also, bringing a cane or walker, if you normally use them, will help you move easily around your hospital room.  
  • Toiletries. Items like a toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, deodorant, a hairbrush, and a razor can help with personal grooming and help you feel normal.  
  • Phone and charger. It is important to communicate with family and friends how you’re feeling, and having a fully charged phone will allow you to let people know how you’re feeling.  

Build a Rapport with Your Medical Team  

Your medical team, including your physician, nurses, and other staff, will be key in handling your care. Communication is important for navigating a hospital stay. Be sure you:

  • Tell them about your symptoms. Answer questions to the best of your ability when describing your feelings. It will help staff get a sense of what they should do first. Do not downplay symptoms since it may delay treatment.  
  • Ask questions. If tests are ordered, or medications are administered, ensure you know what is happening. If you don’t understand a physician’s instructions or the details about a proposed procedure, ask them to clarify or speak to a trusted family member or friend who can talk with you about the issue.
  • Voice Concerns. If you’re uncomfortable with pain or have other issues, voice these issues to the medical staff. 

Record Your Care  

Your stay in the hospital will likely feel like a blur, so it is a good idea to jot down the specifics of your care in a notebook or keep digital notes on your phone. You can track the following:  

  • Names of your health care team. Ensure you know the names of your healthcare team in case you need to follow up or relay a question during your hospital stay.  
  • Side effects of medication. Note what you’re feeling after taking medications. Knowing specifically what is happening can help you inform your physician.  
  • Symptoms. Do you feel worse or better based on different treatments? What is or is not working for you? Write down any questions or concerns so you can communicate these to your medical team.  

Know Your Rights  

One of the important parts of your hospital stay is knowing that you have rights regarding your medical care. As a patient, you can ask questions about your condition and any tests or procedures related to your illness. Patients do have the right to refuse treatment, including tests. The staff will likely note this on your chart, but you are under no obligation to undergo tests you aren’t comfortable receiving.  

Stay Active  

Paying attention to how active you are in the hospital is important for your mental and physical health. Staying active will likely limit your chances of blood clots and also allow you to keep up your physical strength. Although your symptoms may prevent you from exercising, if it is possible, move your body. You can ask a nurse to help you walk around the unit, or if necessary, talk with the physician and determine if physical therapy is an option.  

Communicate with Your Loved Ones 

Family members and friends will likely want to keep up with your progress during your hospital stay, but you may need more energy to update them. Appoint one close family or friend to inform others about what is happening with your care. Instead of fielding calls and texts, have this individual connect with those concerned.  

Handling Discharge  

When you’re well enough to go home, the hospital will review them with you and sign off on the paperwork. You will then be required to be transported in a wheelchair down to the hospital entrance. The discharge paperwork will include medication instructions, dietary restrictions, follow-up visits with your primary care doctor or specialists, and test results from labs or scans. Ask questions if you don’t understand any of the instructions.  

In the end, the goal of a hospital stay is to help you heal and get back to doing what you love. A small amount of forethought and preparation can help navigate a hospital stay with ease.

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