Natalie’s Top 10 Hospital Survival Tips

a.k.a. Some Information That Is Hopefully Forever Useless To You

This post is dedicated to my friend Joyce, who wanted me to write a hospital survival guide as a book. But it would be not only the world’s shortest book, but also the least popular book of all time. So I’m publishing just 10 tips instead. If you’re a publisher in need of a book that no one will want to read…call me.

  1. KEEP TRACK OF YOUR CHART.  Your chart is your everything when in the hospital- it determines what drugs you can take, what you can eat, IF you can eat, and probably what color of grippy socks you are allowed to wear.  Your chart also has this nasty habit of getting away from you. If a doctor says, for example, “I’m going to let you take super-duper-painkiller today” and then super-duper-painkiller isn’t on your chart after that doctor’s shift is over…your chart has gone AWOL.  It was bound to happen, but you’re doomed. No tips will help you now. Double check your chart. Always.  
  2. Happy nurse, nothing hurts!  That’s what I always say, starting now.  The key to an enjoyable hospital experience is treating the nurses like valuable human beings.  Be friendly, say please & thank you, and carry on a conversation when you can. Don’t be that person who is known for trying to punch nurses in the face.  And yes, this person actually exists. He was in the room across the hall from me.
  3. Maintain a list of questions that provoke long and distracting answers.  This is for when something with either a needle or an IV is about to happen, and you need to forget about it ASAP.  It is critical that you think of questions to ask a nurse or a friend ahead of time, because you won’t be able to think of any interesting questions under pressure, and you can’t trust other people to quickly distract you.  Play to the person’s passions and opinions, and encourage them to respond verbosely or comically, so that you don’t have to say much. Some examples: Will you rap the entire Constitution of the United States for me?  What’s your opinion on daylight savings time? Are you good at any impressions?
  4. Eat free food!  Nurses have access to a limitless supply of saltines, graham crackers, apple juice, orange juice, cranberry juice, ginger ale, ice, and water.  It’s like hotel room service, but hopefully friendlier. (See tip #2.) And there are way fewer options so you don’t have to stress out over what to pick from the menu.  If you have weird dietary restrictions that keep you from having juice and gluten, like I did…ignore them. The hospital is not the place for maintaining a healthy diet, so give up while you’re sort of ahead.
  5. Pretend to sleep if you don’t want to be bothered by anyone.  Or hide out in the bathroom for a long time, but that is less comfortable.  Doctors and nurses have no shame and will interrupt ALL other activities. Even if a doctor comes into your room and says your name…pretend to be very soundly asleep.  There is nothing worse than letting on that you are a light sleeper (or even worse, a faker who isn’t actually sleeping).
  6. Actually sleep, as much as you can.  Nighttime is prime time for pokes, blood pressure, and measuring how poorly you’re sleeping.  Daytime is for sleeping. If your friends want to visit while you’re awake, invite them to come by late at night.  4 or 5 am, for example.
  7. Remember the name of every doctor and nurse who comes into your room, even if only for a moment.  It’s especially important that you remember the name of your attending physician, because they own your chart.  (See tip #1.) You never know when something might happen, like maybe you get a nasty migraine, and you’ll not be able to see, and the attending will come in to help you.  But they won’t identify themselves as “the person who looks like the actress who plays Susan in the Narnia movies,” even if that’s how you remember them, so you really need to know their name in this scenario.  ALSO, if you develop a habit for visiting the ER or hospital over and over again, you may see these people multiple times, in which case you will want to start off with some brownie points by remembering names. This has happened to me with two nurses so far.  It feels like we’re old friends now. (See tip #2 again.)
  8. The Medline bottle in the restroom labeled “Deodorizing Spray” is room spray, not spray-on deodorant.  If you think that is obvious, just wait until you’re deliriously sleepy from being in a hospital for 3 days.  (See tip #6.)
  9. An IV has optional accessories, including a cover to keep it dry in the shower.  Failing to ask for one makes your IV tape peel off, and you will have to confess to your nurse that you showered without an IV cover and you will feel dumb even if you had no reason to know that IV covers exist.  In the worst case, your nurse has to replace your IV, which makes everyone unhappy. (See tip #2 yet again, and tip #3.)
  10. Above all else, know that you are supposed to be in control of your hospital stay.  But this may seem impossible, especially without seeing or having control over your chart.  (See tip #1.) So when you feel out of control, remember that you can decide how to use the deodorizing spray, when to close your eyes and pretend to sleep, and whether or not to punch your nurse in the face.  Sometimes, it will feel like these are the only things you can control, and everything else is slipping through your fingers.  
    But remember, you are in the hospital in the first place because you’ve lost control of your body. So it’s best to accept the reality: like in all of life, you have less control than you want.  But maybe that’s ok, if you are blessed with trustworthy friends and doctors and nurses…and if you are willing to trust them when the bottom falls out of your life. This is hard to do, so be sure to drown the struggle in graham crackers and juice.  (See tip #4.)

1 Comment

  1. Debra Coyle says:

    You have a hospital game down it took me many er and hospital nigtmatre to learn things. Also make sure your release instructions are what you’ve been told very very important its crucial with so many people aka doctors involved. Don’t buge as much as you want to go home. It will bite you in the ass if the person who is releasing you isn’t literly staped down to go over it and an over worked doctor or nurse. And every one is over worked


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