Power of Pain: Making a Hospital Stay Easier

By Barby Ingle, Columnist 

Just as you should take a personal medical history to your doctor visits, being prepared for emergency room visits and hospital stays is also a good idea. A safe, smooth visit is exactly what you need when you are a chronic pain patient who is trying to heal or fight an illness.

I have unfortunately been to the hospital too many times now over the past 18 years. In the beginning, I did not go prepared. Nevertheless, through multiple visits, I have found a few things that allow me to get better treatment from the staff. 

For a better hospital stay, I now ask for a room in a quiet part of the hospital, as sharp and sudden noises exacerbate my pain. Most hospital rooms now have their own thermostat, so you can control your own temperature. If your room does not have its own, you can ask the nursing aide to assist with making you more comfortable, such as getting warm blankets.

When I am assigned a roommate, I ask for my bed to be farthest from the door so that their visitors don’t accidentally bump into me, and I can have less interruption with my resting. When possible, before their guests arrive, my husband or I inform them of my condition and how noise raises my pain levels. It is best to explain it to your roommate prior to his or her guest’s arrival so that he or she may explain it to them for better cooperation.

I have also learned to bring blankets and pillows from home. They are typically softer and my quilts are more comforting, both in warmth and as a reminder of home.

Most of the hospitals I have stayed in now offer an air mattress that can be used to adjust the bed to your preference. Comfort should be a big consideration so that you can heal faster.

It is almost unavoidable to not get poked with a needle as a patient in the hospital. They typically check blood at least once a day and use IV fluids to keep you hydrated. Medications are also administered with needles or through your IV. When they are drawing blood or putting in IV needles, ask for pediatric needles because any new trauma can cause RSD to spread to a new site.

If a person takes my blood and I find them to be supportive and cooperative, I have asked that they be the one to check my blood every time during that visit. I even had a nurse who agreed to come in to take my blood, even though she was off duty for one of the days I was in the hospital. I now have a “portacath” – a small catheter connected to a vein. I ask them to take blood draws from it for less needle poking.

While you are asking for better ways to get through a blood draw, have a nurse place a sign above your bed designating your affected limb(s). I had a nurse at the last hospital who put a red bracelet on my unaffected limb and a red sticker on my chart. This served as a good reminder to the nurse and aides as they walked into the room. They see multiple patients on your floor, and as patients come and go often, you want to stay on top of your care. Be your own “chief of staff” and employ the same practices at the hospital that you do with your regular doctors.            

I also bring to the ER and hospital a list of medications. Sometimes I have had to have my own brought in. I think it is good to have my own supply there so I can control when I take them. Otherwise, have the nurse check with the hospital pharmacy to see if they carry all of your medications. Nurses can’t always be there at the appropriate time to administer medications or help with other needs due to an overload of patients. Therefore, if you have your meds available, you can stay on schedule.

I also have found that the hospital has charged me for taking my own medications, even when I brought them from home, although the cost will be less than having them providing you the medication. This can also save you from mix-ups in medications by their pharmacist. When you are on pain medication at the hospital, make sure to not wait until it is worn off before asking for more. Hospital employees often times are taught to order your medications 30 minutes after you ask for them, so it could be 45 minutes or more before they actually arrive to your room from the time you ask for them. Keeping pain low is easier then lowering pain after it has skyrocketed again.                       

Something I do at home is keep items on the bedside table for easy reach and use. In the hospital, I use my tray table to serve the same purpose.  I have it placed in a position so I do not bump into it when resting, but it is close enough to utilize it for my things.  Also, if a nurse moves it to assist me or take blood pressure, I am sure to ask her to move it back into position when she is finished.

Healthcare institutions that are accredited to assess and treat your pain have been mandated to treat pain as the fifth vital sign.  You have the right to be taken seriously, believed and demand pain control. If you feel that your needs are being overlooked or intentionally ignored, ask to speak with hospital administration as soon as possible. Remember to be calm when complaining or they may not take you seriously. 

It never hurts to ask for things that can make your stay more enjoyable and comfortable.

Barby Ingle suffers from Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD) and endometriosis. Barby is a chronic pain educator, patient advocate, and president of the Power of Pain Foundation. She is also a motivational speaker and best-selling author on pain topics.

More information about Barby can be found at her website.

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.