In the shoes of the patient

It recently occurred to me that some people have never been admitted in a hospital - ever. So when they find themselves in such a situation, they seem lost. They are afraid, not just of their medical condition but also of being in a fairly strange place, away from home and loved ones.

Getting admitted is not the same as visiting a patient. It's misleading to think you will be having plenty of rest at the hospital. In fact, you may find your day at the hospital busier than a typical, uneventful day at home. A typical day at the hospital starts with a 6am visit by the nurse to check on the drips. Sometimes she may come by earlier to record your temperature and other vital details. Unless you're very drowsy, it will be difficult to go back to sleep. Then again, it could be a good thing as breakfast is served at 7am.

The doctor comes by to check on you from 8.30am. Sometimes, it's more than one doctor, depending on your condition. If it's a teaching hospital, the doctor will usually bring along a small group of student doctors, and you will become the case study of the day. The more unusual your disease, the bigger the group.

At 10.30am, your snack is served. At this juncture, you may find time to bathe if you haven't already. The cleaners will also come by to tidy the room, twice daily, while the nurses change the linen.

Lunch is served at noon. It's also the start of visiting hours, till 10pm, depending on the hospital rules. In between, the nurses will drop by at medication time and record your vitals (pulse, blood pressure, temperature and sugar level, if required), which could be every two hours or longer, and when your intravenous bottles need to be replaced.

At about 5pm, the doctor will check on you to see if more frequent monitoring is needed.

If you're required to go for an X-ray, physiotherapy or other tests, an attendant will wheel you out to the specified room. If you're "wired up" (IV drips, urine bag, etc), these will follow you for all to see. Some may find it compromises their dignity, while others may consider it one of the most unglamorous moments of their lives.

Having been admitted myself for childbirth, pneumonia, appendectomy and other emergencies, I understand why my late mother used to be so particular about what she wanted to bring to the hospital. Mum was in and out often enough that packing for a hospital stay had become an art to us.

She chose her pyjamas, tops and sarong with great care and would remind us to pack her powder, lipstick and perfume into her toiletries bag. She felt that she should always look presentable to visitors no matter how ill she was.

When she could not wear her clothes, she would insist on a nice dressing gown or robe, or, at the very least, a nice blanket to hide under.

A hospital patient is dependent on others for his every need. For those who have always been independent, this is a blow to their spirit and routine. They feel incapacitated.

Because of their illness, they may become forgetful, demanding and even unreasonable. Fear does that to many people. Trying to manage pain and coping with restricted movement add to their stress. If you can understand the internal and external turmoil they are facing, you will become a more understanding caregiver, one who is patient and kind to a seemingly cranky person. Take a deep breath before hitting out at them. It is awful to be sick.

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