Our recent veterinary ordeal hammered home for me one of the most important hospital issues (for humans, as well as our fuzzy friends): the transition from hospital to home. I have a section in “Your Hospital Guide” devoted to this subject, since it is a major deal.
The time around a hospital discharge can be a time of mixed emotions. Hospitals are not fun places to be, and there are many risks within them. We’re generally pretty happy when we or someone we love is deemed well enough to leave. But a lot of us are hit at the same time with a huge wallop of fear and panic: what if he’s not really ready yet? What if something happens and I don’t have the resources that I would have in the hospital? What if I don’t notice something that a doctor would notice?
The keys to a safe hospital discharge are communication and preparation. Listen carefully to everything the doctors and nurses say to you before leaving, and make sure it’s all written down. When reviewing the discharge instructions, ask questions whenever anything is not completely crystal clear, and write down the answers. And make certain that you have 24-hour phone numbers to call when you have further questions, because no matter how thorough you are with your pre-leaving-the-hospital questioning, other things will come up.
Within two days of bringing our dog home from the veterinary hospital, even though I had spent a good amount of time speaking with both the veterinary student and the veterinarian before leaving, I made at least a dozen phone calls back to the vet hospital. Medication X is supposed to be given once a day – I picked him up at 6 p.m., so do I give that medication tonight, or did he already get it today? Can the medications be taken with food? Can the medications be taken together? His cheeks are sort of puffing in and out with his breathing – do I need to worry? When exactly is he supposed to wear the cone? His staples are supposed to come out in a week – that brings us to a Saturday night, so is a day or two before or after that ok? And which would be better – a little early or a little late? You said he should eat a low fat diet – for how long? He’s not eating. He doesn’t seem to like the food – is it more important for him not to have fat, or more important for him to eat?
It was easy to ask all these questions, because the veterinary hospital is open 24 hours a day, and there are always students and vets on site that can answer follow-up questions. Hospitals for animals are small – the staff knows all of the patients. It’s frequently more complicated with hospitals for humans, which are much larger and which often have multiple specialists caring for patients.
Before you leave a hospital, know whom you should call for what types of questions or situations. If the nurse tells you to call your primary care doctor with any questions, make sure you speak with your primary care doctor before you leave, and that she has been fully updated on your situation and feels comfortable with immediate post-hospital questions. If you’ve had surgery during your stay, make sure you have a phone number to reach the on-call surgeon.
It can take a little while to relax back into a normal routine after a hospital stay. Be patient with yourself, and never be afraid to call your medical team with questions.