8 Things to Know About Staying in Hospital

Yesterday I posted about 10 Things to Pack for the Hospital. I have some more general experience and wisdom to share on the topic.

As I said before, even though I don’t work in a hospital, I have been a frequent “customer” over the last 12 months and hope this helps others navigate the Ontario Health Care system.

  • Health care is certainly not free!
  • Parking can be Expensive
  • Learn the Nurses’ Schedules
  • Put Your Family to Work
  • Internet Plans can be Expensive
  • Surviving Hospital Food is Part of the Challenge
  • Learn to rely on “health care team” not just the doctor
  • Pack your Patience as a Patient

Health care is certainly not free!
A lot of people talk about the Canadian Health Care system being “free“. It’s not. First of all, every Canadian pays for insurance essentially in their taxes. One estimate says a typical taxpayer pays about $5,500 / year. It is really nice that lots and lots of things are covered. But there are gaping gaps and most don’t notice because it is covered by their supplemental insurance.

For example, try going to a walk-in clinic or Emergency Room without a Canadian Health card (OHIP in Ontario). Visitors from out of province or residents with expired health cards could be in a lot of trouble! It can cost you upwards of $400 just to be seen!! On a side note, you may want to ask guests visiting from out of province if they have travel medical insurance, just in case. They often get it with their credit cards or through work insurance.

Even after that, the baseline is free, but to be comfortable you may pay a lot more. For example, for a broken arm a plaster cast is included with OHIP, but you can pay $$ for a fiberglass cast which is lighter and more durable.

Similarly, if you are admired to hospital, you default to a “ward” room which has 3-8 people. You can request semi-private which is only 2 people, but that can be $250/night extra. Check your insurance coverage to see if you can “upgrade”, and how many nights are covered.

Also, you may pay a lot for some tests, medicine, TV, Internet, phone, food, laundry, and mobility aids.

I guess a more accurate description of Canada’s health care system is not “free” but “selectively socialized/subsidized“.

Parking can be Expensive
Parking is going to cost you and your friends and family a lot. Typical hourly rates start around $3/hour. Much more for downtown locations. That 7 hour wait in the ER to see a doctor will certainly not be free.

Some hospitals offer weekly or monthly-like passes which can come in handy.

Paid parking: An unexpected medical expense

Learn the Nurses’ Schedules
Nurses in the hospital are busy, and sometimes stretched pretty thin. Patients expect constant care, but when a nurse has 3-10 other patients, you may have to wait a while. It is helpful to learn the nurse’s schedules: For example, shift change and when nurses are taking reports or vitals are BAD times to ask for something non-urgent.

Put Your Family to Work!
It can get pretty lonely in the hospital, so it’s nice to have friends and family visit. But, are they there just for company? NO! Put them to work! 

As mentioned in the last item, nurses can get really busy and can’t always help patients with non-urgent tasks. That’s what friends and family are for. They can:

  • Assist with brushing teeth, dressing, and other personal hygiene tasks
  • Get food and water, and assisting with feeding
  • Help get objects that are far away or in drawers/closets
  • If nothing else, your guests should be be there to listen and bringing positive stories to distract you from the ordeal

Internet Plans can be Expensive
Hospital TV may cost you money. So, you could entertain or distract yourself with your phone, but you risk emptying your data plan. Wi-Fi plans at hospitals get cheaper the longer the package you get. So, you, or your loved ones, can stay connected while in the hospital.

Surviving Hospital Food is Part of the Challenge
Surviving 4 months in the hospital also meant surviving and recovering on hospital food. I was struggling to regain 40+ pounds of muscle on these minuscule meals. 

I had many discussions with the in-house nutritionists, dietitians, and other food service staff about the food. They said the meals are really designed for their most common demographic: 80-year-old women or 70-year-old men that stay in bed all day. In the end of the day, they try to accommodate all dietary and nutritional requirements, but they are on a budget trying to feed hundreds of patients.

So, your family may need to support you by bringing more food, especially fresh vegetables. Check with your medical team about what you’re allowed to eat because you don’t want food you may choke on.

And, your family and friends will have to fend for themselves for food. That means lots of overpriced cafeteria meals, or Tim Horton’s sandwiches.

One of the better meals I had in the hospital

Learn to rely on “health care team” not just the doctor
I am starting to see this more and more, and I think it’s a really important progression in health care. We tend to give a lot of authority to doctors. And we should because they are EXTENSIVELY trained, some even more so in specialized areas.

But they are also really busy. You’ll be lucky to get two minutes face time with a doctor. But a pharmacist, nurse practitioner, physiotherapist, speak language pathologist, social worker, occupational therapist, or other specialist can spend much more time with you and your family, answer questions, and connect you with additional resources.

I think shifting some contact to these specialists is a great movement, which frees up doctors to do more, and gives more un-rushed contact time with patients and their families.

Pack your Patience as a Patient
There is a lot of hurry up and wait in the hospital, kind of like an airport. Hospitals are getting better at streamlining processes, but one hiccup can send the schedule back by hours. Sometimes there aren’t beds available, so getting transferred puts patients in limbo. And then you have to wait for porters, paperwork to be filed… so, pack your patience.

Any other tidbits of wisdom or experience that should be shared?