I’m pretty sure that being a patient in the ER isn’t a pleasant experience for anyone. You’ve got the smell of iodine mixed with the smell of saline, mixed with the smell of Lysol. You’ve got nurses who could give a shit if you’re bleeding from your eyeballs. And you’ve got other eye-ball bleeding patients sitting all around you.
I’ve figured out a few things to make the experience a little less dramatic and a little more comfortable. Here’s a list of things you should do and items you should grab (if you have that option) before heading to the hospital:
1. My number one rule: Shave your arms. If you have a chronic illness and find yourself in the ER often, this is a MUST DO. Okay, I know that sounds weird and irrelevant, but you’ll thank me later. Nine out of ten times that you’re in the ER, you’re going to get an IV. Needles don’t really phase me—but when they put that clear bandage over the whole mess—you just know that it’ll have to come off eventually, and boy is ripping that sucker off going to hurt! Shaving your arms (and stomach and chest—even if you’re female) can be a big relief when the time comes to pull EKG stickers or IV tape off.
2. Big, Fuzzy Socks and Slip-On Shoes. Hospitals are cold. Like limb-numbingly cold. For good reason, of course. Cold temperatures = kill germs. And that’s a good thing with the sickest people in town all sharing one air filter. But what’s good for your health may be torture for your toes. Usually hospitals will supply you with socks if you ask, but they’re not that thick and having your own pair is usually more comfortable. Slip-on shoes are also a big plus, what with getting in and out of bed to use the bathroom. (Bed pan, what bed pan?)
3. Entertainment Devices. If you’ve got one, and you are not coming to the hospital alone, bring your laptop. If you’re heading to the hospital without an escort, you’re going to have to leave the valuables behind since you’ll usually be changing rooms for tests. But if someone is going to be accompanying you it’s great to have a laptop, DVD player, Kindle or Nook to keep your mind off things (just don’t watch any medical dramas.)
4. Glasses/Contact Lenses/Retainers: Maybe you’ll get lucky and only have to stay in the ER for a few hours. Maybe you won’t be so lucky and you’ll be admitted upstairs for the night. If that happens (and usually after several long hours it does) you’ll want to have the most necessary items for sleep already with you. Having to have someone run back to the house for those items can be a real drag—especially when visiting hours are over.
5. Snacks and Drinks: Have you ever had an emergency room turkey sandwich? I have. Plenty of them. They’re probably the driest, most tasteless sandwiches ever served—but after hours of waiting for the go-ahead to eat, you’ll chow down on anything. Save yourself the hunger pains and bring a snack and a water bottle from home. You won’t be able to consume them before the doctor approves it, but you’ll at least have a better snack option than dry turkey and soggy bread.
6. Cheat Sheets: When you rack up enough frequent flyer miles at the ER, you’ll start to tell them the answers before they’ve even asked the questions. Take the process one step further by writing down symptoms and medications on index cards and putting them on a key ring. You’ll buzz right through triage and you’ll be organized for each doctor and nurse who asks you the same 20 questions.
7. Patience: When you have a chronic, sometimes undiagnosed illness, you have to remember that not all doctors will be able to help you cure it—and most won’t even try. It’s hard to swallow when you’re in the ER and you’re struggling with painful, urgent symptoms. You want help, and you want it immediately. The fact is that you won’t always get that help: even if you need it NOW. And that’s scary. And it’s okay to be scared. It’s in those moments that you have to have patience not just with the doctors, but with yourself. Maybe you won’t be the perfect patient at that point, when you’re suffering and doctors are telling you there is nothing they can do to stop it. Remind yourself that you and everyone around you is doing the best they can with the information they have at this moment in life.