A long stay in hospital can be tough. Here, former patient Kevin McIndoe offers a few tips to help you cope with it.
A day spent in hospital is like a week spent anywhere else. As in any institution, time passes as tardily as when watching paint dry. That, combined with the uncertainty, discomfort, boredom and a whole lot more can be hard-going. Being there is the aftermath of an ordeal that put you there in the first place. Whether it is three weeks or three months, here are a few ways to help you deal with it:
Nurses are your lifeline. At the very least, they prop up your pillows and bring you your food, drinks and medication. They may also have to wash you (and much more), haul you onto a stretcher or into a wheelchair, answer any questions, and give you the WiFi password. But nurses have a job to do and a schedule to follow. If you finally nodded off at 3am and have been awoken at 6.30am because the nurse has to give you your pill, deal with it. If she asks, “Did you have a good sleep?” don’t say, “I’ll let you know when I’ve had it!”.
The frequent X-rays, stretcher trips to the operating theatre and rehab sessions have worn you out. Then there are the myriad medications that have left your mind in a miasma of confusion, your body chemistry in tatters, and have given you dreams of a psychedelic nature. You need someone who won’t just read the chart at the foot of your bed but will help you make sense of what your doctor has devised for you, and to help plot your progress and road to recovery. If you are so out of it that you can barely read more than a few pages of a book or watch a DVD, then this is important.
OK, so no-one likes a bed bath. But you really will feel better if you are clean, with washed hair, and are clean-shaven or with a trimmed beard. You’ll also feel more in the land of the living, which is hard to achieve when languishing in a hospital bed. Try to have as many changes of night wear as you can. Wearing some of your own clothes will also help make you more comfortable, and those skimpy hospital gowns that never seem to tie up at the back are best avoided.
Even if you can’t walk, it’s important to get away from your hospital bed for a little while. Your ward or your own room can be claustrophobic if you don’t. Whether it’s simply wheeling yourself in your wheelchair down to the nurse’s station and back or getting a friend to push you outside into the hospital gardens, some time out, quite literally, is a good thing.
Once you feel like eating again, don’t be shy about having some of your favourite junk food. You’re not moving around so you’re piling on the pounds anyway. If you have to have one of your friends push your wheelchair down to the café or bring in pizza, cheesecake or burgers then do it, and don’t feel guilty. It really will cheer you up. Hospital food is not known for being particularly palatable, in any case.
Your side-table, along with whatever meal you choose, is the only thing you will have any control over. So keep it neat. Don’t get too annoyed if a nurse shoves it out of the way to get to your catheter drain bag and sends your new mobile phone crashing to the floor. Watching boxed sets, listening to music or reading books all day can simply become mind-numbingly tedious after a while. Doing some work, whether it’s keeping a diary or even paying a few bills online will help keep your mind alert.
Most doctors genuinely want the best for you, and will give you the best they can. However, don’t be shy about asking them to explain things fully; it’s your body, your recovery and your life. You are a patient but that doesn’t mean you don’t get a say. If you want a partial-anaesthetic then ask for it. Dealing with doctors is difficult when you are so full of drugs you can’t understand a word they’re saying so find that helpful friend or relative. You can get through this. And the upside is, when you’re back on your feet you’ll be grateful you did. Sometimes, we need to need to go through bad times to appreciate the good. ν