Adapted from Able Magazine, Issue #107, September/October 2013. Words: Tom Jamison
Recent bad press about Stafford Hospital and the NHS in general hasn’t helped people feel confident about their planned hospital visits. Even prior to that, the reputation of the NHS as a professional healthcare outfit was sometimes called into question, particularly where it came to what people assume are the basics: cleanliness and infection control.
On top of this, people preparing to go into hospital might well have mixed emotions. Whilst they’ll be relieved that they’re getting treated, they’ll be going into a strange place with strange people and will realise that their may be risks to the procedures that they’ll be undergoing.
For the most pat, the NHS (and hospitals run in the private sector) get things right. There are far more unwritten ‘good news stories’ than I could ever tell. Even if you’ve been given dark news by your doctor or specialist, going into hospital, even in the worst case scenario, gives you a better chance of getting better.
It’s sometimes the little things that matter. You might well notice that doctors rarely wear ties these days and that lots of the equipment that’s used in hospital is disposable (or recyclable). This is because medical staff take their responsibility for keeping germs and bacteria to a minimum, very seriously. Certain materials harbour germs and washing alone may not destroy them – hence the move towards a disposable culture.
Similarly, you’ll note the many hand gel dispensers around the place. These are for everyone and you’ll be relieved to see that nurses and doctors clean their hands scrupulously after contact with every patient.
The patient can also do their bit by keeping their hands clean, especially around toileting. Washing before and after you go is a good habit to get into. Using slippers is also a good way of not picking up dirt and bacteria from the floor and back into your bed.
Assuming your visit to hospital is a non-emergency visit, you’ll have had a chance to prepare. Good preparation will help you recover since you won’t be fretting about things back home.
Bills, pension and benefits
Speak with you’re bank or nominate a trusted friend to deal with your income and expenditure whilst you’re away. The last thing you need is to find a demand for late payment fees when you get home. Similarly, make sure that your benefit is collected or sent directly to your bank account whilst you’re away.
It used to be that we’d ‘cancel the milk’ delivery. If you still use a milkman, tell him you’re going to be away.
Rover and Snowy are going to need feeding. Again, either a next-door neighbour or an animal charity could be asked to drop by to care, walk and feed and your pets.
Unplug all of your appliances (except the freezer). Try to empty the fridge at least of things that are likely to age or spoil during your hospital visit.
Keep the heating ticking over once or twice a day to keep your house in good condition but you’ll certainly be sensible to turn the thermostat down.
Whilst you could re-direct your post for a while it’s better that you give someone a key. They can drop by and clear the other junk leaflets that people deliver. A pile of unopened letters soon becomes inviting to potential burglars.
There may be things that you really don’t want to leave behind. Perhaps you could leave them with someone you trust or in a bank’s safety deposit box. Everyday valuables such as wedding rings and your watch etc can usually be locked away in your hospital bedside cupboard, or given to the nurses for safekeeping. (Make sure you have your door key available for when you are discharged.)
If you’ve had to go into hospital unexpectedly you won’t have had time to think about preparation and so need to ask a ward nurse to help you contact people that can help with sorting these things out for you. If you don’t have family or friends nearby, they can help you arrange assistance from social services.
What to bring
You’ll need to pack roughly the same things you pack for a holiday. If you are unsure about how long you’re going to be in hospital for, either contact your doctor and ask or pack lightly (having arranged for someone to pick up your laundry and hand you new clothes after a few days). Do take your wash kit and a hand towel but nothing too flashy – there’s no point in bringing perfumes of fancy aftershave etc.
For much of the time you’re in hospital you’ll probably be in bed so make sure you bring a pair of pyjamas or a nightdress (as well as a dressing gown and carpet slippers.) Such an ensemble is comfortable, dignified, easy to clean and easy to remove when the medical staff need to examine you. If you are advised to wear ‘clothes’ make sure they have similar qualities – perhaps t-shirts and tracksuit bottoms etc.
Have a set of clothes suitable for your discharge. (Consider your likely condition – if you’re going to be wearing a plaster cast, you’ll need to have clothes that can accommodate it properly.
Medicines and allergies
Take all of the medicines you’re currently prescribed into hospital with you, if only for reference for the doctor. Let the ward nurses know if you have any specific needs (perhaps relating to mobility or your disability) as well as dietary requirements and any allergies to food or medicines etc.
Hospital food has a bit of a bad rep but it really depends on your tastes. Usually, the food is plain (to avoid causing indigestion) and fairly ‘hearty’ for comfort and to give people energy to fight back to fitness. Alternative meals are usually available if needed.
You needn’t bring anything in with you apart from maybe a few sweets or snack treats. A bottle of diluting juice is useful to keep your fluids up if you don’t really like plain water. (Most hospitals have a small shop that sells confectionary etc.)
You need to eat around your procedure. Do not break any ‘nil by mouth’ curfew since this could upset the efficacy of your anaesthetic etc.
Books and newspapers
A good way to pass time is to read, although you may find that you’re very tired and can’t really focus. Bring a book and perhaps purchase a daily newspaper from the hospital shop (meaning that you’ll need a bit of money with you) or ask a visitor to bring one in for you. Don’t bring in anything noisy or with bits that will get lost (this applies to children with toys as well). If you bring in a (silent) games console, it should be treated as a valuable and locked away after use. (You also need to ask permission to use one since it may interfere with other electrical hospital equipment.)
A notepad is really handy for jotting down questions for nurses or doctors as they come to you, that you might later forget.
What not to bring
Follow your common sense: nothing noisy or distracting to others trying to rest, nothing big and nothing too valuable.
What to do?
Get better. In short this is the purpose of your visit. This might mean that you spend a lot of time either sleeping or at least snoozing. Otherwise you can usually watch television in the day room or listen to the radio from you bed headset, or share a card game or conversation with the person in the next bed.
Dealing with doctors and nurses
Nurses and doctors are there to help and to aid a quick and full recovery and to this end will give you advice and answers to any questions you might have – including explaining things that you’d like to understand a little better. You can expect civil and dignified treatment but a hospital is not a hotel and nurses are not to be confused with waiting staff. They’ll not take kindly to orders but will help you with polite requests for things like a glass of water etc. (There’s can be a stressful lot – be nice to them and they’ll likely be nice to you.)
Visitors usually have set hours when they’re welcome to come in to see you. These should be properly observed so as not to interfere with the running of the ward.
If you belong to a particular faith, you may arrange for your local religious leader to visit you although many hospitals will have them available to patients (with some having a multi faith ‘chapel’ for prayer and meditation etc).
If you have concerns with the way you are being treated you can contact the Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS). This is a free and confidential advice service for patients. They can be contacted via details displayed on the wards.
Getting ready to leave
This is arguably as important as preparing to come into hospital. Firstly, you need to discuss your discharge with your doctor and find out if there is any reason why you shouldn’t go home or if there are any significant risks in doing so. Once you’ve agreed the discharge process you will receive a written ‘discharge plan’ giving you any advice or contact details that might be needed. You should read it through and before leaving, take up anything you don’t understand with staff since once your outside you’ll be flying solo. (The discharge plan might also include a prescription. This can often be collected at the hospital’s own pharmacy.)
In some cases your discharge plan might involve care managers or social workers that will help to look after your needs when you return home.
In some instances you may not be fit to get home independently. Some hospitals will refuse to officially discharge you without knowing that somebody is going to get you home safely. Whilst they can’t ‘hold you’, good advice is always worth acting on.
Get your home ready
Ask a friend to help you to get your home ready for you. This might be turning the hearting back on and getting a few food items in. A once-over with a duster can also help since you’ll probably be tired and in no condition to do it yourself. Furthermore, in a post-op state you’ll need to be in a clean environment and avoid all risk of infection.
Collect your belongings
Ask for any belongings and valuables back from the nurses and don’t forget to have your door key ready.
Keep emergency numbers and hospital contacts close by in case of relapse or uncertainty over instructions hospital staff have given to you.
Although you’ve made it back home, your full recovery might not be complete just yet.
Although you might be excited (and relieved) to be back you need to take it easy. Your body will be tired. You need to rest and recuperate.
Plan a goal
Have a few simple goals in mind based around things to look forward to. These might be things like going out somewhere or being able to cook your favourite meal etc.
‘Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better’ so the adage goes. A recovery is best completed in small sequential steps. Don’t rush it.