Thursday, April 19, 2012

Things I've Learned From My Hospital Stays

Anneliese with her uncle on her last
day in the hospital. Doesn't look
sick at all, right?
I've either been hospitalized or had kids hospitalized 5 times in the past 5 years, 2 after the birth of my older 2 kids, and one time with each of my kids when they were between the ages of 3 and 4 months old. Too many times. Why exactly each of my kids has been hospitalized at that age I don't know exactly, but I have many theories, which I'll expound upon in another post soon.
In the meantime, since I've unfortunately had too much experience in hospitals (fortunately much less than some), I wanted to share what I've learned based on my 5 multi-day hospital stays, so that it may help you out, should you too end up in the hospital.
Yes, every hospital has different policies and is run differently, but overall hospitals have the same basic structure, so I assume these tips can help you out no matter where you live, should the need arise.

Things I've Learned From My Hospital Stays

Hospitals Want To Help. Though I've said things that may make people assume I am anti hospital, I don't believe hospitals are evil places out to "get parents". They do want to help your child or you. They just may have different ideas about what things are most helpful and what is not.

Hospitals Don't Look At The Patient As A Whole. In my experience, anyhow, hospitals look at one issue at a time and try to treat it, without always taking into account how the treatment could affect other systems for the worse. And then they look at the resulting symptoms and try to treat them as a separate ailment instead of trying to figure out what caused it in the first place.
For example, my daughter was given really strong IV antibiotics for a UTI. That it would cause her diarrhea was of no concern to the hospital staff. "Oh, she must just have caught a bug from the other kids; diarrhea is going around the children's ward." Is it? Or is it just that the antibiotics are killing the kids' beneficial gut flora, making them have diarrhea?

Hospitals Are In Love With Antiobiotics. There's a reason why there are so many antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria, especially things like MRSA and other hospital borne illnesses. When antibiotics are doled out frequently, the bacteria mutate to form strains that are resistant to antibiotics. Hospitals give out antibiotics almost like candy, it seems.
When they discovered in the ER that my daughter had leukocytes (white blood cells) in her urine, they immediately hospitalized her to get IV antibiotics, even though they didn't even know for a fact that there definitely was an infection (they only confirmed that after 2 days), let alone that it was bacterial (confirmed after 3 days) and would even respond to antibiotics at all! In the end, it was bacterial, but if it had been viral? They would have given her 3 days of IV antibiotics for no reason!
When my son Ike was hospitalized with pneumonia in the winter of 2010, I suspected that it was RSV, a virus, the same one that my son Lee had and was hospitalized with in the winter of 2008. The hospital staff sent out stuff to culture, and in the meantime gave him antibiotics "just to be safe". Well, turns out he had RSV just as I suspected, and he had taken 3 days of antibiotics to "treat" a virus.

Hospitals Are Alarmists. Seriously. What if, what if, seems to be the motto of the hospital, and wanting you to do things "just to be on the safe side". That's why I was forbidden to walk around hospital grounds holding my baby, not even down the hall, because "what if you fall and drop the baby?" I was only allowed to push her around in the stroller. (I snuck off with her in my baby carrier 2 times; if I would have been caught I would have been yelled at.)
I also got yelled at most times they saw me co-sleeping with my baby. Ok, more with my previous 2 kids than this time; the hospital staff remembered me and realized that their lecturing didn't affect what I'd do, so I think they gave up for the most part. But this time, at least I had studies backing me up should they have attempted that all too popular lecture.
What they did do was yell at me about laying the baby on the bed next to me when I was awake, because "what if she rolls over off the bed?" Mind you, my hand was 2 inches from her but even so, they wouldn't stop nagging me until I moved her into the cage crib, because "it only takes a second to roll off the bed and become brain damaged."
The alarmist nature is probably why they are so ready to give antibiotics in the hospital... but why they aren't alarmists about antibiotic resistant bacteria is beyond me...

Some Things Aren't Worth Fighting Over. When my kids are in the hospital, I am willing to compromise about certain things that I wouldn't otherwise, because in many ways, I am at their mercy. If I refuse to go along with their demands, they can refuse to give me discharge papers which would leave me with a huge hospital bill (because insurance won't pay for the hospital stay without proper paperwork), or they can cause a host of other issues for me.
When I was in the ER with the baby, they asked me where she was born. When they learned that I had a planned homebirth with her, they pegged me as a "certain type" and let me know about it. Which actually made me very wary. In the US there have been many situations lately where parents have lost custody of their child because they turned down conventional treatments, and even in my country, there have been similar issues where parents were accused of child abuse via neglect because they didn't do what the doctors recommended. So while I could have told the doctors that I refused antibiotic treatment for a suspected UTI until they were able to actually confirm the diagnosis, I didn't dare. They already pegged me as "that type" and I didn't want to risk further trouble.

Sometimes You Can Get What You Want. Just because the hospital wants you to do something doesn't mean you can't do it on your terms. Like when they want to wake up your baby who you finally, finally got to go to sleep so they can take her temperature or give her next dosage of IV antibiotics, you can ask them to come back later when she is awake. Not everyone will agree, but I've found that when asked politely, the nurses were willing to work with me instead of just demanding that I do things their way.

Creative "Protests" Work Well. At least they work better than hissy fits and temper tantrums. If the hospital does something a certain way and doesn't want to comply with your wishes, coming up with creative protests to show them that you're serious often works best.
When I was in a room with a baby who screamed all the time and my baby (and I) desperately needed to sleep and the nurses wouldn't switch me to another room "because there were none available", I told the nurses that we were moving into the hall, and then did so. Anneliese was in the stroller, and I lay on some chairs. They took the 10 PM vital signs readings there, as well as give her one dosage of antibiotics, and then I went to sleep there "for the night". At 2 AM, they found a room for us that "didn't exist" when I asked before. Showing them that I meant it, that I was willing to sleep in the hall, made them come up with a solution that they wouldn't have done had I "suffered in silence" in the room with the screaming baby.
A friend, who'd been hospitalized with her exclusively nursing baby for 3 weeks, unable to leave his side, wasn't able to get any food to eat as the hospital will gladly provide as much formula as necessary for a bottle fed baby, but won't provide sustenance to the nursing mom who is the baby's sustenance. Her husband, in protest, set up a camping stove across from the hospital director's office, and started "cooking for her, because the hospital wouldn't". When the hospital directors saw that, she started getting meals.

Don't Try To Understand Hospital Policies. If you try to, you'll get no where, because there is no rhyme or reason in many of the various hospital policies. Just leave it alone.

Accept It. One of the best mottos/prayers in life is "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference." Accepting that things are the way they are at the hospital, idiotic as they may seem, often works much better than head butting with hospital staff and getting no where. Just accept that this is something you likely can't change and learn to work with that reality.

Be Spontaneous and Flexible. Things in hospitals often change one minute to the next, making planning ahead really difficult. For example, on Sunday morning I was told we'd be released Sunday afternoon, then two hours later I was told that we were staying. Monday night we were told we'd be staying another week, and then Tuesday we ended up going home. Don't make plans hinge on "when you think you'll be arriving home" because you never can know when you'll actually be going home until you actually leave the hospital.

You Know Your Kid Best. If the doctors/nurses that doing something for your kid will cause XYZ and you think it'll have a different effect, trust your instincts. You've known your kid longer than the hospital has; you're usually right.

Come Prepared. Even if you think you hate traveling heavy, even if you think you're being alarmist, if you suspect whatsoever that you'll need to go to the hospital with your kid (or yourself), pack HEAVILY! Better be prepared than not! This January, my baby was breathing funny but before I went to the doctor, I packed a bag with lots of stuff to bring with me to the hospital, should I need to go. In the end we didn't need to go, but I didn't feel stupid about lugging all that with me to the doctor's office just in case. This time, on Friday, when I went to the doctor's house, I first packed my bag, lest he deem it necessary to call an ambulance, which he did. I went to the hospital one time completely unprepared with anything; I learned my lesson and make sure to bring stuff with me. Of course, I always end up forgetting something, but here's the list of things I'd ideally pack with me if I even suspected that I'd have to go to the hospital with my kid:

  • Food. Bring filling food, snack food, and nutrient rich food. Stuff that doesn't need refrigeration and is ready to eat immediately, and that don't make a big mess. Hospitals usually do have cafeterias or other ways of purchasing food, but they usually are horrendously expensive, and if you have any food issues, like allergies/sensitivities, or want healthy food, its really best to bring along from home. Foods I'd bring with me ideally: Rice cakes, cans of tuna and sardines, homemade jerky, dates, almonds/peanuts. Canned beans, canned corn, canned veggies. Carrots, apples, oranges. Chocolate. Instant mashed potatoes. Also bring along salt, a container, disposable plates and utensils, and a jack knife so you can cut any veggies you bring. You can also bring pre-cooked food that you have already in your fridge if you bring along an ice pack and eat that food within the first 12 hours you're there.
  • A book or two, very long. There is plenty of down time in the hospital, and to prevent going bored out of your mind, bring along a good read.
  • A pen and paper/notebook. Also keeps you entertained when you're bored, and also you're able to journal what is going on which can be helpful if you want to get your feelings out and don't have anyone to talk to.
  • A cell phone and laptop if you have one, ideally with wifi. When you're in the hospital, being connected to the outside world can prevent insanity.
  • 2 spare shirts. A sweatshirt. A few pairs of underwear and socks. Slippers like Crocs (wear instead of your regular shoes). A comfortable skirt or pants.
  • Toiletries like deodorant, toothbrush and toothpaste, menstrual products if needed, nursing pads if needed. Diapers and wipes. Bring disposables, even if you usually use reusable, because you won't have laundry facilities there.
  • Showering needs, like soap, shampoo, and a towel for yourself. There's nothing more depressing about staying in a hospital than being all stinky and gross. Keep clean and feel refreshed.
  • A stroller and baby carrier and other things that make your kid happy, like baby toys. You'll likely have many long hours in which you need to keep your kid happy and put your kid to sleep despite being in unfamiliar situations; you know your kid best, bring whatever you feel necessary.
Explore the Grounds. Staying cooped up in one room for days on end is horribly depressing and miserable. If your kid is well enough, leave the room and explore the hospital grounds as often as possible. Ask if there are any pretty places like gardens on the grounds.

Ask For Help. You're not superwoman, you can't do everything yourself. If people ask you how they can help, take them up on their offer and ask them to bring you stuff you forgot at home, take care of your kids so your spouse can work, have them come visit you in the hospital and watch your hospitalized kid so you can leave for a bit and get a breath of fresh air, or bring your other kids to visit you in the hospital.

Stay Away From Discussing Vaccinations. Just trust me on this one, k? You'll get nowhere with your discussions and it'll just make people angry if you don't toe the party line. White lies are also ok on this topic if you're trying to protect your kid.

Have you ever been hospitalized, either yourself or with your kid? What have you learned from your hospital stays? Do you agree with what I wrote, or have you had different experiences? What would be on your list of things to bring with you to the hospital?

1 comment:

  1. What is your stance on vaccinations if you don't mind my asking? I am very interested to know your point of view. I personally don't believe in them. If that helps.


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