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How to make the most of a hospital trip

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Visits to the hospital can be scary, stressful and frustrating — even before you take into account the illness that brought you or a loved one through the doors. But there are ways to make a midnight trip to the emergency room or a weekslong recovery as fruitful and pleasant as possible.

Be prepared

You can’t predict when you’ll get the flu or sprain an ankle, but if you know you have family members with health issues, having a bag of essentials ready to go can provide some peace of mind. Even before illness strikes, have them write down a list of their allergies, medications and dosages.

Once you’re in the hospital, make sure to wash your hands and use the myriad of hand sanitizer dispensers. “You can’t overdo it,” said Hannah Hatcher, a cardiac nurse and parishioner of St. Raymond of Peñafort Church in Springfield.

If you’re sick or worried about getting sick, “don’t be afraid to wear a mask,” said Anne Wittman, also a St. Raymond parishioner and a nurse in a post-anesthesia care unit. “They will protect you and other people.” Be extra cautious when bringing children to the hospital, and when in doubt, keep them home.

Be an advocate

Being proactive in your care or the care of your loved one makes a huge difference. What’s rote for a doctor is all new for you, so “don’t be afraid to say, ‘Wait a minute, stop what you're doing and explain this to me,’ as we can forget you haven't done this 100 times,” said Wittman.

She recommends writing down questions so that you don’t forget when the doctor is in the room. If you have a long stay, have a notebook to keep track of what happens each day. It’s a good source of information if family members are taking turns at a loved one’s bedside.

“If you have a large family, have a point of contact so everyone in the family is getting the same information,” said Wittman. You may be feeling helpless, but there are things you can do for your loved one — just ask, she said.

If needed, get your primary care doctor involved to help coordinate your care. If you still feel concerned or confused, get a second opinion.

Get comfortable

Even trips to the emergency room can seem to last forever, so it’s best to get comfortable. Bring a phone charger, books, puzzles, crafts or a deck of cards. “(One of my patients) brought in pottery to paint. You can bring in a lot of things you wouldn't think of right away,” said Wittman. Many hospitals have newspapers and magazines available. Copies of the Catholic Herald are available in newspaper boxes at to Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington and Inova Mount Vernon Hospital in Alexandria.

Most units allow patients to bring blankets and pillows from home for a bit of added comfort, and you can decorate rooms with family photos or flowers.

Both caregivers and patients need to eat. If hospital food isn’t to your liking, bring in favorite snacks or meals, which are usually cheaper. “Your nutrition is an important part of this process,” said Hatcher.

Stay connected

Let your far-flung family and friends know how you’re doing via email, social media or online health journals such as CaringBridge. For locals, check the visiting hours and let loved ones know if and when you’d like some company.

If you appreciate the care you receive, let the hospital staff know. Especially if a patient is there for a while, they can become like family, said Wittman, and a kind note goes a long way. “We keep those in our break room and it can help keep you going,” said Hatcher. While the nurses like sweets, something healthy, such as a box of oranges, is also a good option, said Wittman.

You may not be able to get to your parish, but you can still stay close to your faith while in the hospital. Many parishes regularly send Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist to nearby hospitals. If not, call the hospital chaplain.

“I've had the opportunity to receive Communion with a patient, and it was really cool. It’s nice if I can stay and pray with them,” said Hatcher. Wittman recommends saying a prayer to your guardian angel.

Father Stefan P. Starzynski, chaplain at Inova Fairfax, believes holding onto the faith brings sick, injured and suffering visitors the most peace during a hospital stay. “The happiest people I see are those who are visited by family and friends. Those who have faith in God. Those who see meaning and value in suffering. And those who see God as a healer and hold onto faith in Heaven.”

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018