Going to the Hospital

by Paul Konrardy

Before You Go

Before you go to the hospital, you need to think about what happens after your stay.

  • Coordinate a ride home from the hospital (even if it is a short stay!).
  • Consider having someone stay with you for a few days since you may be in some pain or even slightly immobile.
  • Be sure to arrange the extra help well in advance so a family member or friend can take time off work if needed.
  • You may need extended medical care services after a surgery or other procedure, which requires some planning.

WHN Expert TIP – Visit Centers Now: “If you’re having hip surgery and you know you have to stay in a rehab facility for a few weeks after your hospital stay, you may want to go visit those rehab centers (before your surgery) to make a good, informed choice about what your care is going to look like after you’ve had your acute care stay in a hospital.”  Judy Pechacek, R.N., M.S., and vice president of Patient Care at Fairview Southdale

Prepare Your Home

Prepare your home to be post-hospital user-friendly after your surgery.

  • Ask the doctor about any limitations to your movements and daily activities. You might be bedridden or immobile after a surgery.
  • Arrange furniture and set up a bedside/couch-side stations with your necessities like extra pillows and blankets, books, remotes, phone, food, water and so on.
  • Clear cords, furniture and other objects from walkways and stairways in your home to make it easier.

WHN Reader TIP – Couch Potato Ready: “I knew I’d be stuck to the couch for a few days. I had everything in arm’s reach of the couch on either end so I wouldn’t have to get up. I had a trash can nearby, a small cooler with water and ice in it, reading materials, and the remotes for everything we have.” Bob Pavlica, Bloomington, MN, talking about his pre-surgery routine

  • Take time to finish last-minute chores:
    • Pay household bills
    • Stop the mail if you’ll be gone for a while
    • Clean the house
    • Empty the garbage
    • Make arrangements for any child care or pet care during and after your hospital stay
    • Order groceries for delivery when you return

What to Take With You

If there is time, prepare these few items – or caregivers can bring these to the person in the hospital after they are admitted. This is a big list, choose only what you need and what is appropriate. Download our What to Take to the Hospital Checklist pdf.

For the Patient


  • Start a hospital stay folder, notebook, binder – choose a method that works for your needs. You (or a designated family member/friend) may want to keep track of all prescriptions, doctors’ names, questions, receipts, policies, paperwork, etc. (Prefer digital files? Create a folder on your computer where you can save your scanned notes, any emails or digital reports or any other health information.)
  • Print out our Hospital Stay Tracking Form to help you track new and old medications, tests ordered, staff contact information and so on.
  • A list of your doctors and specialists and their contact information
  • A copy of your living will and/or a medical power of attorney, if you have one
  • Cards: Health insurance, Medicare, Medicaid and any other medical insurance information
  • Driver’s license or other photo I.D.
  • Any referrals or necessary paperwork
  • Notepad and pens/pencils or iPad (for any questions/notes you may have for hospital staff)
  • Address and phone book to contact family members, etc.
  • A phone card and quarters, since you may not be able to use your cell phone

WHN TIP – Cell Phones: Some hospitals do not allow cell phones, so it’s important to make a list of numbers from your cell phone before you go. If you do bring your phone, don’t forget your charging cord and an external battery pack.

Comfort items

  • A book and/or magazine to read to pass the time
  • A pillow(s) from home (Check with the hospital first.)
  • A large towel (or two) for showering. Some hospitals only supply small towels. Consider bringing dark-colored towels, in case of stains. (Check with the hospital first.)
  • Baseball hat for hair, in case it’s a while before you shower.
  • A comfy robe and jammies. Consider ones that open easily or at the front.
  • Extra set of loose clothes and shoes to wear when you leave the hospital.
  • Family photos
  • Favorite music or radio
  • Massage oils or lotion, tennis balls (for a massage)
  • Slippers and socks
  • Watch or travel clock

WHN TIP – Snacks or Food: Check with your physician to see what food items are allowed.


  • Current medications (check with the hospital. You may need to use medications from their pharmacy or leave your medications at the nurse’s station.)
  • Deodorant
  • Eyeglasses/contact cases and solution
  • Hairbrush, comb, hair ties and clips
  • Lip balm
  • Make-up
  • Shampoo/conditioner
  • Soap/body wash
  • Toothbrush, toothpaste

For the Family Member/Friend

  • Extra set (or two) of comfy clothes
  • Eyeglasses/contact cases and solution
  • Medications
  • Pajamas, robe, slippers
  • Quarters for phone calls, parking and vending machines
  • Small amount of money to buy anything the patient may need
  • Snacks and beverages
  • Toiletries (shampoo, deodorant, toothbrush, toothpaste, etc)

Do Not Bring

  • Jewelry
  • Any important valuables
  • Lots of credit cards or cash. Instead, take one card or a small amount of necessary cash.

WHN TIP – No Jewelry! “We ask that you not bring jewelry and that you leave it at home, even wedding rings. Jewelry needs to be taken off before surgery. It’s important to remember that anything you have to take off could be lost.” Mary Hanley, manager of the Post-Anesthesia Care Unit and Patient Care Center at North Memorial Hospital, Robbinsdale, MN

The Admitting Process

Often called an “entry point assessment”, the hospital admitting process can vary from a few minutes to a few hours.

Be prepared to give detailed information about

  • your medical history;
  • current medications;
  • personal and cultural preferences: diet, routines, religious beliefs or requirements; and
  • advance directives (i.e., medical power of attorney, living will) if applicable.

WHN TIP – Be Honest: Examples: “I didn’t fill the medication because it was too expensive.” Or, “I didn’t exercise as much as I should have.” Doctors can work with you to find solutions. There are many alternatives and they can find one that works for your lifestyle and medical needs.

WHN TIP — Communicate Your Preferences: If you have cultural preferences, beliefs or any habits or routines, tell your medical team. Preferences can range from food, clothing or room temperature to placement of furniture. However, know that they won’t do something that could interfere with treatment.

Name an advocate.

  • If you have chosen a health advocate—someone who will act as the mediator between you and your health care team—tell the hospital staff who that person is and provide contact information. An advocate isn’t required, but he or she may help improve communication between all parties involved.
  • If you do not have an advocate but have a family or friend as a point person, tell the staff that person’s name. This person can also be the main contact for family and friends and the go-between for the patient and hospital team. Be sure to tell other family members who this person is.

WHN TIP – Can I Have That In Writing? Writing is more concrete and more reliable than memory. Feel free to ask doctors and nurses to review your records with you, though be respectful of their time as well.

Keep a Log Or Diary

  • Keep a detailed record of tests, medications and procedures.

What to record:

  • The names and titles of your health care team, contact details and who to contact when off-duty
  • Information about diagnosis and conditions
  • Your medications: what they are for, dosage, frequency, time taken, any reactions
  • Your tests and procedures: ordered by what doctor and why, what the expected results could be, when the results are expected, who to consult about those results
  • The instructions to follow after receiving care or surgery, such as medications, exercise and activity, foods and liquids to avoid.
  • Bills, paperwork, receipts: your advocate can also meet with the hospital’s billing officers to discuss finances.
  • Any referral information

Share with friends and family.

  • Establish a consistent or timely update for the family. It is often easiest to tape record each doctor’s visit as well as your questions, and then transcribe the main developments in an e-mail to appropriate family and friends.
  • You can also use a website called CaringBridge to keep your family and friends updated during a difficult time.
  1. Identify one nurse per shift and a doctor to be your family’s key contact. Ask when the shift changes are.

WHN TIP – Explaining the Diagnosis: The doctors might ask the family or friends to deliver medical news or explain diagnoses to the patient. You do not have to do this if you don’t want to – that is the doctor’s job.

The Discharge Process

Before you are discharged, your doctors and nurses will talk to you about treatment, medications, lifestyle modifications, and other types of care that you may continue at home.

Make a detailed list of:

  • your doctor’s contact details
  • who to contact should complications arise
  • your medication schedule and instructions
  • a list of instructions to follow after surgery – when and what to eat/drink, restrictions, exercise, etc.
  • dates, times and locations of follow-up appointments

WHN TIP – Prep Time: “We educate the patient to care for themselves. We teach them about the drugs they will be taking, and we make sure that the drugs they take don’t interact with each other poorly. We discuss how they will feel afterward, how to use crutches if necessary, what is okay to eat and what it’ll be like going back to work.” Mary Hanley, manager of the Post-Anesthesia Care Unit and Patient Care Center at North Memorial Hospital in Robbinsdale, MN

When you’re at home, continue your record-keeping. Keep tabs on your progress:

  • pain levels
  • medications
  • diet
  • exercise
  • side effects
  • any other important details.

These notes will be very helpful when you follow up with your primary doctor.

Remember …

The information provided here is not meant to be a substitute for professional medical or legal advice. These tips are from doctors, nurses and people who have shared real-life advice; always check with a doctor, lawyer or appropriate professional you trust before making any legal or healthcare-related decisions.

Thank You …

A special thank you to the industry professionals, lawyers, insurance agents, doctors, nurses, patients and families who gave us their time, insight and real-life advice.

Photo Credit: Unsplash

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