What to Expect When You Expect to be Hospitalized

For years, Ameena's friends told her that she should write about her experiences with cancer and other illnessess that put her in and out of the hospital. Here, she details what others can do to make their road to recovery a bit less bumpy.

by Ameena Meer
Photograph: Ameena Meer

Unless you are a rich, high-profile person, and even if you are, doctors are taught to look after you the way one is taught to bake. It’s a formula. You follow certain actions in a particular order—like a recipe—and, assuming you followed the instructions correctly, you get certain reactions—like a golden brown cake.

In my mind, there are two problems with the way some doctors practice, especially in areas that are systemic (as opposed to a cut that needs stitches or a broken bone that needs to be re-set). And I don't totally blame the doctors themselves as insurance companies limit the amount of time they can spend with each patient as well as the space they have to think for themselves.

1.  The formula is generally one-size-fits-all and human beings are not. In the same way that our metabolism, blood pressure, weight, muscle mass differ, even in families, our bodies heal differently and absorb and activate medications differently and feel pain differently.

I was at a party some months' ago and talking to a young doctor who worked for an HMO where he ended up treating a lot of Latino patients. He said, "What people are talking about more and more are the differences in ethnicities and how they needed to be treated." You already know that your ethnicity affects your hair and skin color and texture; obviously, it affects how your internal organs operate as well.

2. The formula only treats one piece of problem. So you can bake a perfect cake but what about the frosting and the decoration and the rest of the party. The fact is that our bodies are all connected so what happens in your liver can affect your skin. It's one of those things that they used to believe in ancient times (where women had their left nostril pierced originally because it was meant to make childbirth less painful—can't tell you if it works because I didn't pay attention when my nose was pierced and got it on the right side instead. Still wondering why the piercing person didn't ask why I wanted the wrong side 'til after it was finished.)

But let's say it's a day or two or a week later and you've done your research and you've decided you like and trust the doctor and you're checking into the hospital.

Or let's say it's whenever the doctor tells you to come and you're too scared to do more research.

The hospital is a big place. This is how to make it feel small and you feel loved.

How to Shrink Your Hospital


One of my best friends, Sancta, who is a beautiful writer herself and has been in the hospital way too many times says this, "Be an optimistic fatalist." You know you have to do it. Be brave and walk in. Keep in mind that it will all go well. Speak to your angels and the Divine source and ask them to keep you safe.

Be appreciative and be kind to all the people who help you there. It's a hard job looking after sick people, it's emotionally draining. If you're in a cancer hospital, it can be devastating.

Pretend that you are actually a celebrity incognito or a princess (not the Lindsay Lohan kind, think Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday). Be elegant, generous and kind, behave with the grace of a princess and people will treat you like one.

Thank people.


Make friends with all of your nurses. Learn their names if you can. Ask them how they are. You’d be surprised how rarely anyone asks a nurse how she/he is. Nurses work crazy long hours and they are often overwhelmed. They leave their kids for great stretches of time and rarely get enough sleep. They deserve some attention and you can end up having a good conversation that can distract you from your own drama.

A good relationship with your nurse is your key to a bearable stay in the hospital. They are the ones who can get you a vase for the flowers or can get you a painkiller when something is throbbing and all the doctors have gone home. They can make concessions for you. I had a lovely nurse who switched all the generic pictures in my room with the ones in the hallway and other rooms, because I wanted to look at seascapes for three days rather than close-ups of flowers.

First Published January 4, 2012

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