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

Every time I talk to someone about my experiences with cancer—and my various other health issues over the years—he or she says, "You should really write a book about this..."

Let me prepare you here. This is a REALLY long post. I might cut it up later, but for now I suggest you print it out and take it with you to make a checklist before you go to hospital. Or print it out for your friends who have to go.

I am not a doctor and the FDA and the American Cancer Society will despise me, but I am starting to think I need to give people some of the basic stuff I’ve learned. If you read this and you know someone else who is unwell—not just cancer because I also had meningitis, a rare liver virus, a spina bifida baby, an ovarian cyst...—please pass it on. Not everything is useful for everyone, but some of it will definitely make a difference.

Let’s start with a trip to the hospital. When I was diagnosed with cancer, I walked into Memorial Sloan-Kettering and the very beautiful and lovely (I swear, she is a ringer for Julia Roberts) surgeon said to me, "I can offer you a hysterectomy on Monday." This was Thursday evening. She spoke as if she were offering me a slice of cake. This brilliant young surgeon was famous for her robotic, laser optic surgery, which was promised to have a faster recovery and smaller scars.

I said, "I don't WANT a hysterectomy," which, given her polite and pleasant tone, was very rude, but honestly, she scared the hell out of me and I was scared already because I’d been hemorrhaging for the past two months—it was exhausting just to walk a city block.

Again, fear does strange things to you.

When you've just been diagnosed with something horrid and possibly life-threatening, you do what seems to be the rational thing. You go to the place where everything seems the most calm and organized, where everyone seems to have everything under control. And, in the case of MSK, the place with the most pervasive and convincing ad campaign.

This seems smart. As consumers, when we really freak out, we go to the brand that is synonymous with the product. Kleenex for tissues. Chanel or Hermes for luxury. Sony for televisions. In our house, it's the Apple store for anything computer-related.

However, as it turns out, those big huge predictable organizations and corporations are not always the best as we all learned in 2011. You remember the old ways—if you feel queasy, drink Canada Dry Ginger Ale (but it does not have real ginger in it and the sugar combined with the carbonation will eat through your teeth and give you kidney stones). Or if you have a headache, take Bayer or Advil (which can have a rebound effect and can harm your kidneys). There is no longer safety in what seems to be tried-and-true.

Back to the advice I keep repeating. No matter what your doctor tells you, listen respectfully (but and have a friend with you, writing it all down so you can research the information) and make your own decision.

Think about it this way: McDonald's, which successfully feeds millions of people every day, does indeed have expertise in preparing food. However, its real area of expertise is quantity, consistency, making low-quality food taste good and in keeping profits high.

Now, compare McDonald’s to your mum, who has learned how to make nutritious meals for four or five people every night for 30 to 40 years. In her case, the area of food expertise will be about care, higher quality ingredients and taste. You can't always count on the consistency, but it is outweighed by the hands-on mindfulness of someone who loves you.

Basically, the idea is to think small.

First Published January 4, 2012

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