HOW TO MAKE HOSPITAL APPOINTMENTS EASIER
(This was written pre-covid 19 so will be updated slightly.)
Hospitals can be anxiety provoking places. The thought of them, the smell of them, the outcome of being in them.
No one loves hospitals, but some people can tolerate them more than others – I used to hate hospitals/ anxiety attacks, crying etc. Since becoming poorly I’ve had to get ‘good’ at hospitals. They really aren’t that bad- I still get the ‘hospital feeling’ but I can cope with it! Thinking of hospitals as a building like any other helps.
Having a phobia or the fear of hospitals is extremely common. Some people are afraid of contracting germs in hospital, seeing lots of blood or frankly being around death. ‘How many people have died here?!’ Type thoughts. Phobias can really affect day to day life and every small thing you do! Seek professional help if you think this is needed.
You may not have a phobia but could still experience bad feelings surrounding a hospital visit, whether that’s due to general nerves or past traumas.
• Going to the hospital for a follow up of an injury could be hard- If you had to experience some kind of trauma.
• The fear of pain- injections or blood tests & that they will hurt. These feelings are often make scenarios bigger & scarier in our heads. Needles can be uncomfortable but they don’t really hurt. It’s over so quickly. It’s more hyping yourself up for them that causes the pain! If you don’t want to feel them at all perhaps you could ask for numbing cream to be prescribed. (My doctor used to do this for me when I was a little anxious thing!) Stay relaxed & know some nurses can’t always get blood out first time but the more relaxed you are the more likely your veins will cooperate. Lots of people have genuine fears of needles & that’s okay. Seeking help from a doctor or psychiatrist is always a good idea as this fear can be over come!
• The fear of being left alone over night. This is particularly relevant now. I hope I don’t need to go into the hospital currently as I know no one will be able to keep me company due to Covid restrictions! Know you are in hospital because the people there are trained to help get you better. Take home comforts. (Whenever I know I’m going to be whisked off in an ambulance my teddy and blanket are grabbed straight away although I’m not too sure whether this still allowed due to hygiene in hospitals and the current pandemic!) Having the people you love around you visit you regularly & bring you anything you may need can ease anxiety. Treat being in hospital as a ‘retreat’ a recovery holiday. Just without the pretty views!!! During the Pandemic you may not be allowed visitors but that’s okay! It’s to keep you & all the other patients safe! If you make sure you have your phone & a charger you can facetime/ call whoever for as long as your heart desires!
REMEMBER Medical professionals are human too: Although they don’t always seem it due to their high functioning brains and scientific vocabulary, this is so important to remember! Doctors & Nurses are in fact very similar to you or I. Speak to them with respect & they will respect you back. (Having said this I am going to do a post on bad medical professionals at some point!) If they’re late remember it could be due to a whole magnitude of life factors that you or I may face. They don’t just wake up in the hospital wearing a white coat with a stethoscope round their necks! If it helps ease anxieties think of stories about their private lives, things they may be up to, whether they have children etc! As weird as it sounds it may comfort you to know they are just like you!
Most nurses are nice!
• Many people have a fear of hospital due to thoughts surrounding death. It’s very unlikely to happen young but it will happen one day. Unfortunately death is inevitable. No one lives forever. Being in a hospital you may have intense thoughts. But instead of thinking of the horrific side of things, be optimistic and know it is very very unlikely.
I’ve been exposed to death since a young age- I guess my family haven’t had the best of luck health wise?! I think this was pivotal in me being able to empathise and understand today. Death isn’t spoken about enough & I think this is what causes so many anxieties. In my opinion, it is really important to allow children to understand death, ask questions and attend funerals, it helps prevent future anxieties surrounding sleep & hospital stays. Going to a hospital appointment for a check up does not mean you are dying! People do go to hospital to die but also to get better! The majority of patients leave healthier!
AS AN OUTPATIENT
• Most times you’ll visit the hospital it’ll be as an outpatient- this means you won’t be staying.
• British hospital buildings are really old- leaky & not great. Plus there always seems to be building works, scaffolding & randomly placed buckets. The low ceilings trigger past claustrophobic symptoms for me- so knowing my route in the hospital to get out of the small corridors is a necessity to keep my anxiety at bay. Receptionists and nurses are pretty good at helping you get out the maze that is hospital corridors. I tend to ask the receptionist where something is when I arrive at the hospital even if I’ve been there 3 times before! I like to know my escape routes I guess?! Despite hospitals looking old and dingy they don’t look like this…
Despite our imaginations this is not reality.
In fact they’re quite amazing places to think about all the people who have visited & got better after going there over the years!
With regards to appointments!
•Write questions down you may have to ask your consultant or medical professional. If you don’t get the answers you want ask them to get back to you. If you are having a scan feel free to ask for a brief of exactly what will happen during and after it to help settle your mind.
Writing & ticking things off!
——- Count yourself lucky that your appointment is to help you get better & death is an unlikely factor. Putting things into perspective makes you feel brighter. ———
• Family health history: This is pretty important. A lot of conditions are hereditary and work through genetics, knowing what hormone issues the women in your family may have suffered with or joint/ eyesight dysfunctions can help a diagnostic period run smoother & quicker. Talk to your family about their health. Ask awkward questions, it’s important. Make notes– I don’t remember anything so I always make notes specifically if it’s a medical term I just know my non scientific brain won’t remember. I appreciate this may be harder if you aren’t in contact with your family.
• Headphones are a great form of relaxation- having ‘happy’ music in your ears can make the experience a little less overwhelming. Just don’t have your music so loud you annoy other people & cannot hear your name being called. (They do tend to whisper names anyway!)
Have a good mood boosting playlist!
Sitting in the waiting room can trigger a lot of anxiety- having anxiety disorders a long with Tourette’s syndrome, when I’m sat in waiting rooms, I do a lot in my head to stop the tics or stop the panic. Keep your mind busy. Read signs. Get up and walk over to the water machine, read magazines, delete photos on your phones or emails. Make notes, go through your questions. Text friends (signal can be pretty rubbish in some departments!) Plan something nice to do later in the afternoon. What you may like to eat after! Treat yourself when you’re done! You may need to sleep all day or you may like to go on an adventure! Either is okay!
• ALWAYS: Check you understand what was said before you leave, medical professionals can be very quick to give you a diagnosis without much explanation. Or tell you your blood results, figures and what bloods they tested but in code- how the bloomin’ hell we are meant to decipher this i do not know?! ASK. If you do not understand something. Ask if they have a link to a charity organisation which works with people with your condition. Ask what they meant by ‘XYZ’ and what the next steps are. You can always ask for things to be emailed over to you. They usually send you a letter in the post with a summary of what was discussed! Don’t worry about taking up their time. It’s what they’re paid to do and you’d rather be safe than sorry!
• Timelines: Recording your symptoms this way is a great idea. Having timelines of when you were diagnosed with what condition. When X symptom started & how long it lasted etc can save so much time in appointments. We all know NHS appointments particularly are already pushed for time.
• RECAP: Think of your doctors appointments like a lesson at school- you have the warm up, (waiting room or pre planning) main body of the lesson, (the actual doctors appointment), then you have time at the end to ask any questions and ask them to recap on what has been said, don’t forget the last step!
• What are the tests for? It’s great to be referred for tests! It means your doctor wants to help investigate what’s going on. They often don’t tell you what they are looking for. But if it helps ease your anxiety ask them what they hope to rule out or find out.
“How and when will I get the results of my test/ scan? Who do I contact if I do not get the results?”Ask
• If you find your anxieties so high surrounding a hospital visit, try walking by a hospital. Take a friend with you if you are wary. Plan your route before hand and allow plenty of time. Go into the cafeteria of a hospital and have a cup of tea. This will help you adjust to being in the building. Sit in the waiting room if you need to.
• Waiting for appointments can be very long & very boring! Take a book or some work or your headphones so that you can distract yourself from the thought of actually being in a hospital and your appointment coming up. At the end of the day all a hospital is, is any other building with people working in.
• Educate yourself on basic medical stuff- Amongst chronically people, there is a joke that we may aswell have undergone a degree in our conditions since being sick. Fair enough. Many doctors: particularly GPS unfortunately are not specialists in your condition. They will have some knowledge & experience in your condition from other patients. Maybe more generally and less specialist. They are there to prescribe and look for initial symptoms to refer you on. GP’s have a lot of time wasters so may not pick up on things as easy and assume you have ‘a cold or a virus’ Make sure to include every symptom even if you think it may be irrelevant. If it’s a new doctor, make them aware of your disabilities. I’ve had doctors not read my notes & have no clue. Book a double appointment if necessary. You tend to only be allowed to deal with one issue in an appointment as they can be pressed for time! Appointments are not very long. Ask essential questions and get to the point. Knowing some medical knowledge into your condition can help. But don’t become doctor google!!!
• Be on time. Sometimes you’ll get seen earlier if you come slightly early. Woo.
—- Prepare —-
• (Credit to my Grandpa for telling me to do this!) Write down about half a page of your problems, diagnosis’, symptoms, medication, operations in chronological order. Give to doctors at the start of an appointment or email it to a secretary prior. After attending a few appointments, it will become habit. You become an expert in your own body & it can be irritating and tiring to keep re explaining. Questions asked by consultants are very similar, after a few, you sort of get the jist of how your next appointments will go. They usually ask you exactly the same questions. If you turn up with all the answers to the questions pre written it saves time in your appointment & means you can discuss more important things with the doctor & they can chose anything off the list that concerns them- this way nothing gets missed. It also saves energy massively! I’ve had many a frustrating therapy session or medical appointment where I’ve gone in with a ‘list’ in my brain – knowing what the issues are I’d like to talk about. Then due to brain fog, I forget, the wrong issue is focused on & I come away frustrated. I mention one thing & the focus is put on that- it is not my main problem… there goes another wasted appointment. Great. Being prepared is useful. ALSO having fatigue and explaining your conditions can be draining. ALSO X2 communicating with Tourettes is difficult. My appointments cause fatigue and anxiety which make my tics worse. LET ALONE TALKING ABOUT THE TICS WHICH MAKES THE TICS WORSE. We don’t talk about the tics, it brings them out. So when in an appointment with intense fatigue & the discussion surrounds the tics- a tic attack is likely to occur and then a massive bout of fatigue. If I know I have an important appointment where I will struggle to communicate that’s when my amazing mumma will book time off work to come with me.
• Prepare for the worst- things can only get better: Imagine you will receive bad news, it’s a slightly pessimistic approach but it will never be as bad as you think. You will come away feeling more positive this way.
• Up to date meds list- have all your medication listed, including doses. Doctors often have your medication on file- but we all know Lauren is awful at taking her meds properly!!!! So tell them what you actually take & when.
• Symptom diary. Perhaps a sleep diary, Pain diary, random new ailments diary. Bullet journaling can be great for this. (I’d love to do a post on this!)
“What do you want to get out of the appointment?”
• Be comfy, you often wait ages. Privately you never wait more than 15minutes. On the NHS they are stretched & sadly double, triple booked. You can be sat hours! Wear comfy clothes. To be honest I live in comfy, baggy stuff! I’d say avoid baggy clothes if you’re having some kind of movement or mobility assessment. They need to be able to see you walk, and your joints move. Don’t wear tonnes of jewellery and a long sleeve T-shirt incase you need bloods taken or a scan – it saves time!
• Take a friend: friends are usually people you can have fun with, good chats etcetc… if you take one with you whilst you’re sat in a waiting room you can kill two birds with one stone! Talking to your friend about fun things as opposed to hospitals! Grab a coffee with them before to make you feel more relaxed.
• Take a friend, relative, carer or advocate to help! Have them take notes to explain to you, ask them to have questions in mind. Discuss with them before you go in.
• Wear a Bra: This is a funny one. I’ve landed myself in A&E or in the care of paramedics with no bra. Many times. I can’t do my bra up with my dodgy hands & they hurt my skin so I rarely wear one but that’s another story!! Having things stuck and poked into you- your top lifted up- just to protect your dignity a little from the 3 consultants 10 nurses & 15 trainees you may see. Wear a bra. Tbh you might not care. Free the nip!!!
• Take a drink & a healthy snack. Keep your energy levels up- unless you have to fast for your appointment!!
• Ask to record the appointment on your phone: You probably have to ask in advance. But if you make them aware it’s to help you remember what’s happened It’s usually okay!
The majority of appointments are now over the phone or video call, this saves time & makes things a little easier but still treat them like any other in person appointment pre covid.
– Be honest about how you feel.
—- AFTER AN APPOINTMENT —-
Nap! God I get so tired!
Eat something tasty
Don’t drive if you feel unwell or tired, I’m usually tourettesy so avoid driving after appointments or sit in the cafe for a while after to gather myself back together!
Write down what happened, what was said & whether you are satisfied.
Know asking for second or third opinions is okay. Medical professionals can have a difference of opinion & you may want reassurance.
Particularly now with COVID-19 but don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and call the hospital, ask for the department or secretary of your consultant. Someone’s in appointments we forget things so remembering asking for them to email you details or have a telephone appointment catch up could be good for you.