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Making hospital more comfortable.

The Insider’s Guide To Making Hospital As Comfortable As Possible

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Nobody Likes Surgery, But Here’s How To Make It Much Less Bad

This is Dr. Chris Bonney. He’s an anesthesiologist. If you have a surgery, he wants you to go in feeling calm, and make a quick recovery afterwards, with minimal suffering in between.

Being a patient in a hospital is a bit like being a passenger in an airplane:

  • Almost nobody enjoys the thing itself, but we very much want to get to the other side of the experience.
  • We have limited freedoms and comforts, and small things can make a big difference between misery and tolerability.
  • There are professionals present to look after us, but they are busy and have a lot of other people to tend to too.

So why is it that there are so many resources available full of “tips for travelers” and so few “tips for hospital patients”?

Especially given the relative risks of each, and likelihood, or even near-certainty of coming to at least some harm… One would think “tips for patients” would be more in demand!

Tips for surgery patients, from an insider expert

First, he advises us: empower yourself.

Empowering yourself in this context means:

  • Relax—doctors really want you to feel better, quickly. They’re on your side.
  • Research—knowledge is power, so research the procedure (and its risks!). Dr. Bonney, himself an anesthesiologist, particularly recommends you learn what specific anesthetic will be used (there are many, and they’re all a bit different!), and what effects (and/or after-effects) that may have.
  • Reframe—you’re not just a patient; you’re a customer/client. Many people suffer from MDeity syndrome, and view doctors as authority figures, rather than what they are: service providers.
  • Request—if something would make you feel better, ask for it. If it’s information, they will be not only obliged, but also enthusiastic, to give it. If it’s something else, they’ll oblige if they can, and the worst case scenario is something won’t be possible, but you won’t know if you don’t ask.

Next up, help them to help you

There are various ways you can be a useful member of your own care team:

  • Go into surgery as healthy as you can. If there’s ever a time to get a little fitter, eat a little healthier, prioritize good quality sleep more, the time approaching your surgery is the time to do this.
    • This will help to minimize complications and maximize recovery.
  • Take with you any meds you’re taking, or at least have an up-to-date list of what you’re taking. Dr. Bonney has very many times had patients tell him such things as “Well, let me see. I have two little pink ones and a little white one…” and when asked what they’re for they tell him “I have no idea, you’d need to ask my doctor”.
    • Help them to help you; have your meds with you, or at least a comprehensive list (including: medication name, dosage, frequency, any special instructions)
  • Don’t stop taking your meds unless told to do so. Many people have heard that one should stop taking meds before a surgery, and sometimes that’s true, but often it isn’t. Keep taking them, unless told otherwise.
    • If unsure, ask your surgical team in advance (not your own doctor, who will not be as familiar with what will or won’t interfere with a surgery).

Do any preparatory organization well in advance

Consider the following:

  • What do you need to take with you? Medications, clothes, toiletries, phone charger, entertainment, headphones, paperwork, cash for the vending machine?
  • Will the surgeons need to shave anywhere, and if so, might you prefer doing some other form of depilation (e.g. waxing etc) yourself in advance?
  • Is your list of medications ready?
  • Who will take you to the hospital and who will bring you back?
  • Who will stay with you for the first 24 hours after you’re sent home?
  • Is someone available to look after your kids/pets/plants etc?

Be aware of how you do (and don’t) need to fast before surgery

The American Society of Anesthesiologists gives the following fasting guidelines:

  • Non-food liquids: fast for at least 2 hours before surgery
  • Food liquids or light snacks: fast for at least 6 hours before surgery
  • Fried foods, fatty foods, meat: fast for at least 8 hours before surgery

(see the above link for more details)

Dr. Bonney notes that many times he’s had patients who’ve had the worst thirst, or caffeine headache, because of abstaining unnecessarily for the day of the surgery.

Unless told otherwise by your surgical team, you can have black coffee/tea up until two hours before your surgery, and you can and should have water up until two hours before surgery.

Hydration is good for you and you will feel the difference!

Want to know more?

Dr. Bonney has his own website and blog, where he offers lots of advice, including for specific conditions and specific surgeries, with advice for before/during/after your hospital stay.

He also has a book with many more tips like those we shared today:

Calm For Surgery: Supertips For A Smooth Recovery

Take good care of yourself!

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