Tips for Being in the Hospital

Karen Arnold-Korzeniowski, BSN, RN
The Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania
Last Modified: September 12, 2014

Some treatment plans require – or result in - you to be admitted to the hospital. There are chemotherapy regimens that require hospitalization for close monitoring, long-term radiation treatments done in isolation, and admissions for management of symptoms or side effects of therapy. Being in the hospital can be stressful physically, emotionally and financially. Here are some tips to get you through your hospital stay.

Admission

Your first couple of hours in the hospital will require a lot of patience on your part. You will be seen by numerous providers who will all have similar, if not the exact same, questions for you. You will be asked questions about your health history, current medications, your diagnosis, and your home life. There is a good chance that more than one person will ask you these questions. Having a treatment binder to carry with you can help you to answer these questions – use OncoPilot to print blank forms to make a binder.

You will have you vital signs checked including your blood pressure, heart rate, temperature, respiratory rate and oxygenation. You will also have your height and weight checked. Your provider and nurse will perform a physical assessment including listening to your heart and lungs with a stethoscope, touching your arms and legs to ensure you have strong pulses, looking at your eyes, ears and mouth with a bright light, ask you simple questions to ensure your memory is intact and ask you questions about your eating and bathroom habits. Once again, be patient. Everyone on your medical team is involved in your care and together they want to create the safest plan of care for you.

After your health history is complete and you have had your physical assessment, your nurse may place a peripheral IV. The exception would be if you have a functioning central line. An IV is placed if you need intravenous medication such as fluid for dehydration, nausea management if you are throwing up, or pain medication. You may also have some tests done including a chest x-ray, collection of urine samples, blood work or a CT scan. Your provider will order tests based on your reason for being admitted to the hospital.

Your hospital room

Hospital rooms will include your basic necessities for daily living and not much more. You may be in a private or semi-private room. In a semi-private room you will have a roommate. You should ask your nurse or nursing assistant to orient you to your room. You want to know where your call bell is in case you need assistance. You may also want to know how to work the television, how to use the bed if it is adjustable, how to control the temperature in the room, how to use the room phone and how the shower works.

You also want to ask for a tour of the unit you are on. Most hospital floors have a pantry with water, juice and snacks available to patients. There may be a family waiting room. You can also request a map of the hospital campus including the gift shop, cafeteria, chapel and parking facilities to make available to your family and visitors. Visiting hours vary and each hospital has policies regarding overnight guests, which you will want to learn about.

Communication

A variety of professionals will be included in your care. They may include physicians, nurse practitioners, physician's assistants, nurses, social workers, nursing assistants, technicians, administrative assistants and so on. Keep a guest book or log near your bed and ask the staff who visit you to leave their name, date and time they saw you, how to best contact them and what their specialty is or why they were seeing you. You can also ask them for their business card. You may be seen by a number of specialists and this will help you keep track of who does what.

You want to be asking questions about your care and plan for the day. This is your treatment and you need to be educated to be able to make decisions with the team regarding your care. Keep information given to you in your treatment binder. Handouts about new medications, chemotherapy regimens, lab results and test results are all great additions to your treatment binder. Take notes and if something about your care does not make sense to you, ask questions until you understand. You need to be your own advocate. Having a trusted support person with you can be very helpful. This person can take notes and listen when you are being given information, taking some stress off of you and helping refresh your memory when reviewing things later.

Dress Comfortably

As long as it does not interfere with your treatment, you can chose to wear comfortable clothing and skid-free slippers or socks. You can also bring a robe, a blanket and pillow from home that bring you comfort. You just want to make sure that they don't get collected with the hospital laundry, because chances are they will be lost for good.

Food

Hospitals are not typically known for their food. If you are having a difficult time with the food offered to you, ask if there is an alternative menu or special order items available. An alternative menu may include basic comfort foods, which may be more palatable. If you chose to, you can have family and friends bring you in meals. You can keep non-perishable items like crackers, granola bars and nuts in your room. Ask the staff if/where there is a fridge available for you to keep perishable items. Frozen meals are a good option because you can heat them up in a microwave. You do want to keep in mind the diet that your doctor prescribed you. If you have a question as to whether a food choice is within your diet, you can ask your nurse or dietician.

Entertainment

When you are not busy having vital signs checked or going for tests, your hospital stay may become monotonous. Reading a book or newspaper can be a good distraction. Some hospitals have the option of getting the newspaper delivered each morning. You can also bring a craft or hobby to keep yourself distracted. Many hospitals provide free wi-fi, so bringing a laptop or other electronic device can help pass the time. Visitors can also be entertaining, but you may also need some downtime. Ask that visitors call you prior to visiting in case it is a time that you don't want company. Skype and Face Time are other great ways to keep in touch with family and friends who are unable to visit. Cell phones are welcome in most units and can save you the cost of the hospital phone.

Mental Health

Cancer and the treatment it requires can bring on many emotions including sadness, stress and anxiety. Being in the hospital can exacerbate these feelings, which makes it important to take care of your mental health. Think about what makes you happy and include it during your hospital stay. You can bring pictures of family, loved ones and pets to decorate your room. If you find comfort listening to music, praying, meditating or journaling determine a time with your nurse where you can be uninterrupted to do these things.

Also, leave your room. On days where you are feeling well enough, venture around the unit and see what is available. There may be support groups available on the unit, and throughout the hospital. Being social with staff, other patients and family members will keep you active mentally. Friendships can develop in the hospital. Other patients may be experiencing a similar diagnosis and treatment and patients can support each other in the hospital and after discharge.

If you are feeling increasingly sad, speak with your medical team. Your provider or nurse can make the appropriate referrals to social work, spiritual counseling or psychiatry.

Physical Health

Just because your treatment requires you to be in the hospital does not mean you need to sit in your hospital bed all day. In fact, if you are not on bedrest, that is one of the worst things that you can do. On days when you are feeling well enough, you should be walking in the hallways. If you are not feeling up to leaving your room, you can ask if there is a stationary bike available to use in your room. Ask your provider to have physical and occupational therapy come to your room. Your physical and occupational therapists can give you handouts that teach you exercises and stretches that you can do to keep your strength. They can also take you to the hospital gym to work out. There may be days where you don't have the energy to get out of bed and you may need some encouragement. It is important to at least sit in a chair for a couple hours each day to keep your muscles engaged and give your body the opportunity to be in a different position.

Going Home

When it is time to go home, you should be given paperwork detailing your treatment course while you were in the hospital. Keep a copy of this in your treatment binder. Ask if you have the option to have your prescription medications filled prior to leaving or sent to a local pharmacy electronically, so they will be ready when you get there. Make sure you have contact phone numbers for any home care you have been set up with. Also, make sure your discharge paperwork notes the contact information for any providers that you need to follow up with. Appointments may have been made for you – make sure you know when they are.

Once home, it can take some time to adjust. You may have become accustomed to having staff available all hours of the day for your needs. Keeping this in mind, you may want to have a support person at your house with you until you are used to being at home. Keep contact information available near your phone if you have any questions for your providers. You can also program the numbers directly into a cell phone. It can some time and effort on your part to adjust to life at home, so once again, be patient.

Like many aspects of your treatment, being in the hospital can be stressful on many levels. Decide what worked best for you during your hospitalization and remember that what works during one hospitalization, may not work for the next, and you may need to adjust.

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