Just be glad I only said “stool softener” once

Besides Little Evan’s birth, I think the longest I’ve ever been in the hospital was the (fortunately unnecessary) trip to the ER at Children’s in Hartford for the OMG-my-baby-is-throwing-up-blood incident. Which doesn’t even really count since I was just IN the hospital, not In The Hospital. I can’t remember ever actually being In The Hospital for anything in my life, other than really fuzzy early childhood memories of a finger being slammed in a glass sliding door and the cool x-ray room where they showed me the bones on one of those light-box things. I was very very impressed.

After the last two weeks, I am like a hospital PRO. I could write a book about what to do to make your stay more comfortable and what you should and should not ring your nurse for and the exact way to get your IV stand as close to the bathroom door as possible so you can pee but still have enough tubing to reach the sink too. I wonder if there’s a market for such a book? Although hospitals vary drastically (like the horrible torturous place poor Mae’s husband was admitted that didn’t allow any meat or caffeine) so a guide to MY local hospital may be totally useless at yours, especially if you don’t happen to be in the Labor & Delivery wing.

If only there was someplace I could publish my probably unhelpful to everyone but my immediate neighbors advice in a public forum!


So here they are, are my 5 Tips For A Comfortable(ish) Hospital Stay

1. Bring pillows and underwear. Lot of both things. After my first stay I thought “Oh man, when I come back to have this baby I am bringing SO MANY pillows” and then BAM! less than a week later I’m back and totally pillowless. Of course, perhaps the delirium and inability to make wise choices could be blamed on the spiking fever and severe infection, but who knows. As for the underwear, all I can say is when you’re stuck in a hospital gown for a week at least ONE part of your body can be wearing something dry, comfortable, and clean. As long as you don’t forget to bring any.*

2. Bribe your nurses. My dear friend Amy suggested if I was knitting to keep myself busy I might want to make a couple coffee coozies (new question: what exactly IS the correct spelling of “coozie”?) for the nurses because they loved that sort of thing (she used to work in a hospital and is very wise). I whipped one up on my first day for a nurse who was being extra nice and wouldn’t you know, she came back every day she was on – even when I wasn’t her patient – to make sure I had everything I needed. I had planned to make a bunch more but sitting up and staying conscious was too much work. I’m starting on a supply to hand out at Baby Sandy’s birth now, so I don’t miss anyone. You can also use baked goods (the cookies my mom sent in were gone in seconds). Even cheaper? Learn and use their names. My nurses loved when I remembered their names.

3. Don’t be afraid to make yourself more comfortable. Need another blanket? They’re probably in the room somewhere – in our L&D it’s the drawers under the TV. Please, take one. My IV kept almost falling out because breaking a 102 fever three times a day = horrible sweaty mess that no tape on the planet will stick to. So instead of ringing for a nurse every time it came loose I just used a roll of the IV tape I found in the drawer to stick it back on. Is your gown soaking wet because you’re incapable of drinking correctly out of a cup without a straw? Those are in a drawer somewhere too. Is your room too cold? Try adjusting the thermostat. None of these things will hurt you. Personally, it also made me feel a teeny tiny bit more in control in a situation I had no actual control over whatsoever.

4. And don’t be afraid to ask anyone else to make you more comfortable either. When the nurse says “Is there anything I can get you?” say “Yes, I’d like another pillow and maybe an Italian Ice and when am I due for my next round of pain pills?” They are supposed to help you, 24 hours a day. That tech that comes in and wakes you up at 3 am to check your blood pressure? Is just as capable of getting you more ice water. Tell your day nurse you want new sheets while you take a shower. And don’t forget you’re in a hospital (as if you could), which probably means the pharmacy is open all night in case you need something for nausea. Or heartburn. Or a, ahem, stool softener. Your nurse would be happy to bring you those things! Even in the middle of the night! Because they are being paid to do that!

5. Hospital menus are just suggestions. Really, do they think sick people want things like “roasted pork loin with gravy and Caribbean vegetable medley” that is really just “hunk of meat and diced carrots covered in gray stuff”? And why is the thing they call “cobbler” so much like gel toothpaste in a flavor called “orchard fruit”? So when they bring you a menu and ask you to circle those choices, DON’T ACCEPT THEM. REJECT THE ESTABLISHMENT! DAMN THE MAN! Eating something is important (says the woman who spent three days medicated for a headache that turned out to be mostly hunger) and no one really thinks that pork loin is anything even close to healthy so when they give you that menu and a pen, write a great big X right over everything and write “cheeseburger” “bagel with cream cheese” “pizza”  “jello” “noodles with butter” or whatever the hell else it is that you might be able to stomach. It was so nice to take the lid off a dish and NOT see another gross lump of meat and wilted veggies that even greasy, underwarmed pizza looked DELICIOUS.

That is certainly not a complete list of advice. And I’m sure I’m missing the one! super! important! thing! you know about staying in the hospital. So feel free to add to it, especially because I am going BACK to the same terrible horrible no good very bad labor, delivery and recovery beds (THE MOST uncomfortable beds on the planet) to actually, finally, no kidding have a baby.

*Other stuff to bring: toothpaste/toothbrush, shampoo, lip gloss, slippers/socks, cell phone charger/cell phone, something to read/craft/knit, hair elastics, comfortable bra(s), body lotion.

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13 Responses to “Just be glad I only said “stool softener” once”

  1. Oh yeah, right on with the Nurse bribes. When my dad was in the hospital we became known as the visitors who brought good snacks and baked goods for the nurse station. Also, we totally watch Day of Our Lives, which all the nurses (even the ones not assigned to his room) would stop by to watch and chat w/ us about.

    Also the food. I was SO HAPPY when I had Ivy that there was like 5 really good places to eat close to the Hospital, so I never had a hospital meal that wasn’t breakfast. Actually when we did the hospital tour, the nurses even told us which places would deliver and were like “Just ask your nurse, we have all the menus” And as a bonus, my all time favorite pizza place in the world (Grimaldi’s in case you were wondering) was like 5 minutes walk from the hospital.

  2. I forgot the other important thing, if you have any trouble with your nurses (this one is one of the few things that works on MDs, too), employ the following phrase: Do you have the number for the Joint Commission? (Also works, mention in passing to a visitor when staff is in the room: does your uncle still work for the Joint Commission?

    Even if it is an empty threat, it would put you on the radar so to speak, and you will get extra special treatment. The Joint Commission is the super scary national hospital regulatory body.

    • Kitty Conner says:

      Eh, I’d be careful throwing the Joint Commission around. It’s sort of the nuclear option. Once you use it, you’ve got no other threats to make. Unless you actually call them. And you’d only ever call them for actual, serious malpractice. Not just a bitchy nurse.

      Depending on your problem, I’d start with asking for a patient representative, unit manager, director of nursing or (especially for doctors) hosptial risk-management.

      Just mentioning JCAHO could be counterproductive. Unless you happen to know that the hospital is having an audit right then.

  3. Skipper says:

    My hospital tip is thus: you can say no. In hospital for the birth of my second child I learnt to say no more often, and it was a huge improvement. Take off all your clothes including your underwear and put on this gown? No! I am wearing my own clothes. There’s nothing you can’t reach if I wear a tank top and bra that you could reach in a gown. Would you like some of this drug that will make you feel really good? No! explain it to me and when you get to the bit that says “narcotic”, I’ll ask for something else. On the other hand… You are limited to x amount of this pain medicine because I’m not authorized to give you any more? No! Let me speak to your supervising doctor for an assessment and I will get more.

    I guess it boils down to BE ASSERTIVE! (if you can; if you can’t, have someone be assertive on your behalf).

    • bellegourmande says:

      This tip is EXCELLENT. When I had my baby almost 7 months ago, my husband and I felt totally overwhelmed and, in a few cases, mistreated, and he WORKS at said hospital. I totally thought that by being there and him sort of knowing the drill, so to speak, that it would be easier, but it is so different being a patient than being a care provider. I wish that we had both been more assertive, I think it would have really changed the entire experience for us.

      So glad you’re back hom, Suzanne, and that you’re feeling better! I think I predicted Dec. 15th for Baby Sandy’s birth day, hope that date or an even sooner one comes to pass! And don’t worry, that initial period of non-stop baby care passes by so quickly. You’re going to do great. And you’ve got a wonderful, supportive husband and great family and friends to help. It’s going to be a very merry Christmas for y’all this year.

  4. Ashley R says:

    Glad to hear you are back home feeling better. Hopefully your next stay will have you leaving with a baby in your arms. OH and I don’t mean the one you already got ‘.^!

  5. Veronica says:

    ya please also add make sure ONE nurse doesnt abscond with your bribes. I brought in hand made cider donuts from an amazing orchard. I asked a nurse to share them with the rest of her crew. Upon my discharge I asked how they enjoyed the donuts – they looked at me like i was nuts! The bitch! Argh anyway thanks for allowing me to FINALLY get this off my chest.

    Anyway SO happy youre out of there and feeling better xoxo

  6. Kitty Conner says:

    As a long time hospital employee, my one big piece of advice (which somewhat encapsulates some of the advice you’ve all given) is that while the hosptial is weird, scary and intimidating for you, for the staff around you it’s familiar and old news. They’ve seen it all and are totally comfortable with their surroundings. Pretend that you’re one of them.

    If you want something, ask for it. If you want to refuse something, say no. Don’t feel like you have to stay in your room, wander if you want. Check out the gift shop and cafeteria and see if there’s something you want to order (see Suzanne’s comment above.) Learn where the unit’s pantry/linen storage is and feel free to raid it. Encourage your spouse/partner/hospital-support-person to do so as well.

    If something is absolutely forbidden, the staff will let you know, but chances are, you can get away with most everything.

    Even if you’re not particularly religious, the chaplain and/or patient service volunteers probably have access to stuff like DVDs, books and magazines.

    If you’re having trouble with your doctor (i.e. you’d like to know when s/he’s finally going to round on you), find out the name/number of their secretary. Just call the hosptial operator and ask for the number of Dr. So and So’s secretary/office. She can answer questions about his/her schedule that the nurses on your ward will have no idea about. And she might even send him a page/email letting him know that you’re in a hurry to see him.

    In the end, be just as nice as you can be. But know that you own the place and act accordingly.

  7. Katherine says:

    such a good post. i felt like an intruder at times when i delivered. but i loved the staff so much. they got me everything i wanted and i didnt feel neglected (i.e. they always referred to ev by name, took time to get to know us).

  8. Alison says:

    I love the hospital where I delivered my babies. The nurses were great (two of them are close friends). In fact, it was such a good experience both times that I actually look forward to going back when we have baby #3 (someday).

  9. Barbra says:

    Glad to see you are alive!! Hope you continue to get better!
    I wish i had read something like this before giving birth last month. I should have been a lot more assertive about what I needed.

  10. My husband just had a hip replacement and the best thing he took to the hospital was his noise cancellation head phones! Even though he was awakened every hour to check his vitals, he actually got to sleep and stay asleep when we was wearing the headphones. I wish I had brought mine too! I sat in his room and was able to login to the hospital’s free WIFI (how cool is that!) and work on uploading customer’s invitations and holiday photo card proofs to my website Announcingit.com. We both had a great experience at Hoag Orthopedic Hospital in Irvine…thanks to all the nurses, hopsital staff and doctors for a fabulous stay!

  11. Hee, I’m lucky. My hospital has a long menu and you can order anything you want off of it any time between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., as often as you want. The food is surprisingly good, too!

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