For most of us, a hospital stay feels like being in custody. We’re awakened at all hours to have our temperature taken. We’re carted off for a test and wait for more than an hour before it’s given. Our doctor, who was supposed to be there at 9 am, doesn’t show up until 3 pm. Being in the hospital can definitely make you feel like a second-class citizen. But it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, you can take charge of much of your hospital stay and command the respect you deserve by remembering that you’re the customer and that hospital personnel (including doctors) are working for you.

What to do…

  • Make signs. Today’s hospitals are bigger and busier than ever. This means that you may not see the same nurses, aides or even in-house doctors on each day of your stay. As a result, the staff barely gets to know you. And unless they scrupulously review your complete record (which rarely happens), they may not know that you have only one kidney, are allergic to certain medications or that you are hard of hearing. So before you go to the hospital, make bold-lettered signs that you or a family member can tape above your hospital bed saying, for example: “ALLERGIC TO PENICILLIN” or “Hard of hearing—SPEAK UP.”
  • Use the phone. When I was in the hospital some time ago, the nurses were not responding when I pushed the “call button.” Finally, I picked up the bedside telephone, dialed the hospital operator and asked to be connected to my unit’s nurse station. Someone picked up right away, and I told her that I needed help. From that point on, I had a quick response whenever I pushed the button. Insider tip: Use the bedside phone to call for what you need. If you have an unanswered question about your care, call your personal doctor at his/her office. Or if you have a question about a medication that you are being given, call the hospital pharmacy. You’ll usually get quick answers from a knowledgeable pharmacist.
  • Bring your own creature comforts. Hospitals are notoriously noisy places. For most of us, it’s hard to sleep with all the endless clatter and chatter. So bring your own earplugs, noise-reducing headphones or a portable DVD player and headset to help block out disturbing noises. Another comfort: Bring a favorite pillow and/or cozy quilt. Also: You can bring your own regularly used medications with you, including vitamins. This could save you a bundle if you have a high-deductible insurance policy, since the same hospital drugs are usually much more costly. For example, the hospital may charge $3 for an over-the-counter baby aspirin that you could buy retail for 3 cents! You may have to sign a waiver absolving the hospital of any liability, but if you can bring the pill yourself, do it. Insider tip: If you bring your own medications or supplements, just be sure to check with your doctor to make sure that taking them while hospitalized is OK.
  • Don’t be afraid to say “NO!” If someone comes to give you a new drug or take you to a test that you weren’t informed about, just say “NO.” This puts you in the driver’s seat, forcing the hospital to send a doctor or nurse to explain to you who ordered the drug or test and why. If you’re satisfied, you can say “yes,” but either way, you’re in control!