How to prep for a hospital stay: Your expert guide

Whether it’s for one night or several, here are 8 ways to prep for a hospital stay and set yourself up for a faster recovery.  

The hospital is probably the last place you want to spend the night. But it could be the best place for you to get better. In 2021, more than 34 million people were admitted to the hospital for everything from knee surgery to illnesses like heart disease. 

Do you know you have a hospital stay coming up? Here are 8 things you can do to make your stay better — and help you recover faster.  

Plan ahead for support

If you know you’ll need time to recover at home after a hospital stay, you’ll want to set up help in advance. “A lot of the time, home health assistance is delayed once you’re discharged,” says Michael Hochman, MD. Dr. Hochman is an internal medicine physician in Los Angeles. That can slow your recovery.  

Think about the type of support you might need. For example, say you’re having a knee replacement. You might need a home health aide to help with chores around the house. Or you may need a physical therapist to help you rebuild strength. Setting up the right supports early lets you focus on healing as soon as you’re back home.   

Pack your bag wisely

“Think about it like you’re going to a hotel for a couple nights. Sure, the hospital will have things like toothbrushes. But you’d rather have your own,” says Dr. Hochman.    

Another trick: Make a list of all the things you use every day that you wouldn’t find in a hotel room. Then pack those things first so you don’t forget them. Some examples: contact solution, denture cream, and especially your cell phone charger.    

“It can be stressful if people are trying to reach you and your phone runs out of battery,” says Teri Dreher, RN. Dreher is President of NShore Patient Advocates in Chicago. Dreher advises giving the hospital phone number to your loved ones too. “There are some medical centers where your cell won’t work at all.”    

One more must-have? “A good book or two,” says Dr. Hochman. You’ll spend a lot of time waiting. It can be stressful. You’ll want ways to keep your mind busy.    

Keep on top of your paperwork   

Bring the following things with you to the hospital, says Dreher.   

  • Driver’s license.   
  • Insurance card.   
  • A list of all your medications. Be sure to include dosages.  
  • A list of your providers and their phone numbers.   
  • A list of any allergies you have.    
  • Any advance care directives you have. These are legal documents. They go into effect if you become unable to communicate your wishes. One example is a living will. This tells doctors how you want to be treated. You might also have a health care proxy form. This is where you name a person to make health care decisions for you. 

Move more  

There’s a name for this: “prehab,” says Dreher. The fitter and more active you are before surgery, the more likely you are to recover faster. Sometimes, your provider may even tell you to see a physical therapist before your procedure. The goal is to get you to hit the ground running as soon as possible after surgery. 

Eat healthy   

Make sure you’re getting enough protein and vitamin C. Your body will use up both as it’s trying to heal, says Dreher. Vitamin C can be found in oranges, tomatoes, and bell peppers. Good protein sources include:

  • Lean meats like fish and poultry.  
  • Beans.  
  • Eggs.  
  • Nuts.  
  • Tofu.  
  • Dairy like yogurt or milk.  

Also, make sure you’re hydrated. This helps ease pressure on your liver and kidneys, says Dreher. Drink 8 or more 8-ounce glasses of fluid a day.   

Don’t drink or smoke   

It’s best to stop drinking all alcohol at least 2 weeks before surgery. This can help lower your risk of complications. 

It’s wise to quit smoking, too. The reason: Smoking reduces blood flow. That slows healing, says Dr. Hochman. Smoking also makes you more likely to have complications like trouble breathing from anesthesia.   

Struggling to give up cigarettes? Here’s some good news: Quitting smoking even the day before surgery lowers the risk of complications. Levels of unhealthy chemicals from cigarette smoke begin to drop right after quitting, which improves blood flow. 

Keep a notebook handy   

Every time a provider comes into your hospital room, take notes. Dreher suggests you write down:  

  • The provider’s name and specialty.  
  • The date and time they came in.  
  • What they told you.   

You can look at your notes later if you have any questions about your care. It also helps you share feedback after you leave the hospital. For example, you might share which care team members were helpful, and which had a bad attitude. “If you don’t tell the hospital, they won’t know,” says Dreher, and they can’t make improvements.    

Practice some patience   

Be ready to be asked the same questions over and over again. “Most providers are pressed for time and won’t be able to look over your entire medical chart before they see you,” says Dreher. “Be patient. It will help you develop good relationships with staff.”   

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