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What's It Like to Stay in the Hospital?

Going to the Hospital?

Thinking about an upcoming hospital stay can make people feel a little worried. But if you need to go to the hospital, knowing what to expect before you get there can make things a little easier.

People need to go to the hospital for different reasons. Some may be admitted to the hospital through the emergency department for problems that need immediate medical treatment. Others are scheduled to have surgery, special medication, or other treatments prescribed by their doctors.

If you do need to stay in the hospital, you'll first go through an admissions process. The admissions staff will take some information about you and fill in paperwork. Then you'll be taken to your room in the inpatient area. Many hospitals have sections just for hospitalized kids and teens, with staff that better understand younger people and have special training in working with them. Other hospitals, called pediatric hospitals, specialize in the care of kids and teens.

In many ways, a hospital room is a lot like any bedroom. You'll have the typical furniture, like a bed, a bedside table, and a chair. Your room will probably also have a window, and usually a phone and TV. Most hospital rooms have bathrooms within the room.

You may have to share your room with another patient, but private rooms are sometimes available. If you share a room, you will probably be rooming with someone close to your own age you can talk to and share your experiences with.

Some hospitals also let a parent sleep in their kid's rooms. If you'd like a parent's company overnight, check with the hospital staff in advance to find out if they can arrange this.

People in the Hospital

In most cases, it won't be just one doctor, or just the doctor you're used to, taking care of you in the hospital.

In many larger hospitals — especially children's hospitals — nurses, nurse's aides, and therapists will also take part in your care. In some hospitals, doctors also work with medical students who are training to be doctors, and resident doctors who are getting additional training in a specialty, like pediatrics. You're likely to meet hospital volunteers as well.

Nurses are often the first people you meet when you get to the hospital. When you arrive, a nurse will ask you questions about your medical history and any symptoms you may be experiencing. He or she will get you settled into your hospital room and take your vital signs, which include your temperature, blood pressure, and heart rate.

Nurses will also help you during your stay, and they can offer you some great tips on how to take care of yourself both during and after your stay — they might recommend stuff like putting a plastic bag over a cast when you shower to protect it. When you first arrive in your room, find out where the call button is so you can contact a nurse for assistance if you need help.

A doctor will supervise the care you receive while you're in the hospital, working closely with other caregivers. Your doctor might be a general pediatrician or a family doctor, who treats many kinds of medical problems that kids and teens have. Or your doctor may be a specialist with extra training in specific problems, like heart or kidney problems. The kind of doctor you'll have depends on the reason why you're in the hospital.

Here are a few of the medical personnel or specialists you might encounter:

Some specialists aren't doctors, but have training in specific areas of health care. A respiratory therapist, for example, helps teens who are having trouble breathing by giving breathing treatments or providing oxygen.

If you have to have a special diet while you're in the hospital, a dietitian will plan balanced meals to meet your nutritional needs. A physical therapist may help you move your joints and muscles and develop strength after surgery or an accident.

Medical Tests

Many of the medical tests you'll have in the hospital are less painful than a 10-question pop quiz.

If a nurse asks you to pee in a cup, don't be surprised — your urine may be checked for bacteria, protein, sugar, and other things you probably never thought much about before. You may have your blood drawn so laboratory technicians can test it to evaluate whether there are any problems. Other samples may be taken and tested, depending on the reason you are in the hospital.

Several tests are used to create images of the body. One common type of imaging test is an X-ray. X-rays use small amounts of radiation to penetrate the body and form an images of your bones and organs on film.

Other common imaging tests include:

The Long Haul

Some teens with serious illnesses or injuries may have to stay in the hospital for weeks, months, or even longer. This means a person's school life, relationships with friends, and extracurricular activities may be interrupted so they can receive extensive medical treatment. But these interruptions don't mean your life has to be put on hold.

Many hospitals, especially those that treat only kids and teens, have classes available to patients. Through these hospital schools, you can receive academic credit for your attendance and achievement. You'll still have homework, but the school will often provide teachers, tutors, computer access, and other tools you need to complete your education. In addition, the hospital's school program will often help you make the transition back into your school when your doctor says you may return.

Despite the support of your family and doctors, you may still feel sad and lonely sometimes. Teens who spend a lot of time in the hospital have a lot to deal with, so being frustrated, upset, and even angry is completely understandable.

One of the hardest things about being in the hospital for a while is that people miss out on social activities with their friends. Although people who have long hospital stays may be able to stay in touch with friends via phone, IM, social media, and email, sometimes it just isn't the same.

Here are a few coping strategies:

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: January 2014

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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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