Ask for the Menu, and Other Ways to Make Your Next Hospital Stay More Tolerable

Ask for the Menu, and Other Ways to Make Your Next Hospital Stay More Tolerable
Photo: ImageFlow, Shutterstock

No one likes to stay in a hospital. Aside from the inevitable association between hospitals and illness (not to mention death), they tend to be everything we hate: chaotic, expensive, and uncomfortable. The whole experience can be maddening — you’re woken up at all hours for questions, tests, and medications; orderlies will deliver mysteries trays they claim contain “lunch” but only contain dread; and you’re likely to share it all with a stranger in a nearby bed.

But it’s important to remember that we are not powerless once we enter a hospital — there are ways you can make staying even in a shared hospital room a better experience for yourself.

How to make yourself comfortable in a hospital room

There are two fundamental truths about hospital rooms: The bed will be the least comfortable sleeping platform you’ve ever encountered, and the linens will only be recognisable as such by their shape and placement on the bed. In other words, bring your own stuff. This includes:

  • Bedding. Bring pillows, sheets, blankets — anything that’s important to you for a decent night’s sleep.
  • Clothes. Thanks to television and films, many people assume you are legally bound to wear a thin hospital gown that displays your butt for all to see when you’re in a hospital. This isn’t true. If your procedure allows it, bring changes of clothing (including sleepwear) so you can be comfortable all the time.
  • Slippers/socks. Not only do hospital rooms tend to be cold, you’ll also want footwear that has some grip on the bottom because hospital floors tend to be slippery.
  • Snacks. Unless you’re on a restricted diet due to surgery or a condition, bring some comfort food. Having a favourite snack or a healthy option can make a big difference in your mood and overall experience.
  • Entertainment. Don’t rely on the tiny television mounted on the wall for entertainment, for god’s sake. Load up movies, games, books, and music on a device.

How to control your environment in a hospital

Hospital rooms aren’t simply utilitarian — they are often aggressively so, with zero touches of warmth or decoration. Not only can the spartan accommodations inhibit sleep, they can also be downright depressing, as the grim decor leaves you nothing to think about aside from your health and discomfort.

The key is to control your environment as much as possible. A few essentials include:

  • Noise-cancelling headphones and/or earplugs. Hospital rooms are noisy. Even if your roommate isn’t chatting on the phone all day, there will be endless noise from the main area of the floor. There will also be plenty of noise from whatever machines you’re hooked up to. Having some way to block out that noise is essential.
  • Sleep mask. Bring a mask, even if you have never once thought of wearing one. Every time a staff member enters your room to check on your roommate, the lights will come on. And the lights never shut off on the floor, so there will always be some level of light pollution.
  • Decorations and lighting. Flowers are not the only decor legally allowed in a hospital room. Bring framed photos, colourful throw pillows, and any sort of bric-a-brac that brings you joy. Since the native lighting in your room is probably awful, you might think about bringing a small lamp with a soft bulb in it, as well.
  • Toiletries. You should bring your own toothpaste, hairbrush, and other grooming and hygiene products. The hospital will provide some of this stuff just like your local Motel 6 will, but having your own familiar items will improve your experience.

You might also consider a diffuser of some sort because hospitals can be smelly places. Basically, bring anything that you’d rather look at or touch than what the hospital will provide.

How to better control your stay in a hospital

Being in a hospital can make you feel powerless. Not only are you likely either ill or injured, the staff is trained to be very forceful (for your own good). This can give the impression that you just have to lie there and do as you’re told, but you have more control than you think. A few things to consider:

  • Avoid napping during the day. Lying in a bed all the time can naturally lead you to give in and nod off — naps are awesome for passing the time, after all. But napping during the day will affect your sleeping rhythms and leave you staring at the ceiling all night long.
  • Exercise. If you’re allowed, get up out of bed and walk around as much as you can. If you’re mobile, you can probably go to other floors. Be as mobile as possible — this will improve your mood and sleep.
  • Ask for medication. Having trouble sleeping? Is that hospital bed making your back feel like it’s made of glass? Ask your nurse for some pharmaceutical help like sleep aids or pain relievers. Your request will be evaluated by medical professionals, but they’ll happily provide it if it’s allowed. You’ll be billed for each pill, of course, but sneaking in your own supply is dangerous, as your healthcare team won’t be aware of what you’re taking.
  • Dig into the menu. Hospitals often have surprisingly varied food options, so don’t be afraid to ask about options and make requests. The staff will do what they can to accommodate you.
  • Learn the machines. The devices you’re hooked up to in your room can be pretty noisy, and the constant alarms and beeping can be distracting. If you’re being driven mad by an IV alarm that goes off every time you breathe funny, ask your nurses if they can show you how to reset it yourself. Having a smidge more control can do wonders for your state of mind.

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