Surviving a Stay at the Hospital

The Modern Survival Guide #113

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Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

The Basics of Hospital Survival

The first thing to remember about hospitals is that they are collections of sick people. The second thing to remember about hospitals is that they are run by fallible human beings. The third thing to remember about hospitals is that if you’re a patient then the goal is to leave with a better health status. The fourth thing to remember about hospitals is that they are expensive in the US.

  • Patients require advocates to ensure they receive quality care and survive hospital errors.
  • Patients have an obligation to follow treatment instructions.
  • Every hospital visit is an exercise in budgeting and prioritization.

Sanitation: Surviving Sick People

As we have all been forcibly reminded during the COVID-19 quarantines, germs and viruses have a tendency to spread. Imagine everything you touch is coated in glitter — if you don’t wash your hands, how far does that glitter travel by the end of the day? Now imagine that glitter is a bacterium, or a virus. That’s the issue that every hospital has to deal with, multiplied several thousand times over. Every day. All the time.

  • Carry hand sanitizer and use it frequently.
  • Restrict your movement to areas where you need to be.
  • Wear a face mask if at all possible.

Patient Advocacy: Because Charts Aren’t Always Enough

While you are in a hospital, your life and the quality thereof is largely dependent on the staff having and following good institutional processes. One of the most critical of these is your patient chart — the record that the hospital staff maintains of your treatment regimen, what has been done, what hasn’t been done, and what they’re supposed to be looking out for. Another is the sanitation discipline of the staff; another is the staffing ratio of nurses to patients, and the ratio of doctors to patients. There are bunches and bunches of these processes and procedures, and you will not be aware of all of them. Any institution is only as good as its internal processes, and hospitals are no exception.

  • Understand the proposed patient care requirements and expectations, in detail.
  • Understand the risks of the procedure and care requirements.
  • Find out who to contact if there is an issue, and the best way of contacting that person.
  • Form a personal relationship, if possible, with everyone involved in the patient’s care. Know the nurses’ and doctors’ names, and be recognized as advocating for the patient.
  • Check on the patient as often as possible (at least once per day) and confirm as best you can that all the charted actions have been taken and that the patient is not experiencing some form of distress.
  • Read and have access to a copy of the patient’s documented end-of-life care instructions.¹
  • The patient has used the bathroom, and has been cleaned after doing so.
  • The various wires, sensors, and IV lines are still in position and functioning without causing pain (or not more pain than expected, anyway).
  • The patient’s wound has been dressed properly, and the dressing has been changed in line with expectations, if there is a wound.
  • The patient has taken their medication, if they require medication.
  • Someone has checked the patient’s condition and reported it to their doctor on the listed schedule.
  • Someone has followed up on any treatment changes or deviations.
  • The patient is following the treatment regimen, whatever that is.
  • If possible and advisable, the patient has walked around at least once or twice each day.
  • If elderly, bed-bound, or sedated, the patient has been turned or moved as needed to prevent bed sores.²

Treatment Instructions: Not Just a Suggestion

This can be the hardest part of a hospital experience, because “treatment” is hardly ever a synonym for “easy time loafing around.” Most illnesses that require hospitalization involve some sort of serious infection or traumatic event, and most treatments require some degree of pain, effort, and/or physical therapy to get someone back on their feet.

Budgeting: The Necessary Evil

Last but certainly not least, there is an elephant in the room. American healthcare is insanely expensive. I mean that literally — if sanity is the consensus of opinion, then American healthcare is ludicrously, shamefully, horribly, insanely expensive. No one else on this planet pays what we pay for equivalent healthcare. No one. Not one single citizen of any other country. And the results do not scale with the payments. That’s not political opinion, it’s just a fact. It’s so much of a fact, I’m not even going to bother linking proof here; giraffes exist, the sun is bright, the Pope remains Catholic, bears shit in the woods, and American healthcare is ruinously expensive.

Survival is a Team Effort

We live in an age of great medical progress, and if you can get to a hospital your odds of surviving a huge variety of illnesses increase dramatically. That’s the good news. We don’t have the best healthcare system in the world, but it’s an extremely technically advanced system and Americans have access to very good treatment, if you can afford it.

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