Checking in is the first big step in your hospital stay. Ideally, much of the paperwork will have been done ahead of time, before you even get to the hospital.
When you arrive
The hospital or your doctor will let you know what time to arrive and where to go. Often you will be directed to the admitting office. But if you're having surgery, you may be told to go directly to the surgery department.
You'll probably have to sign a number of forms, such as a general consent for routine treatment, a consent for surgery, an agreement to pay for bills not covered by insurance, and a HIPAA (say "HIP-uh") form.
You'll get an identification bracelet for your wrist. Check it to make sure that everything on it is correct.
Your hospital room
Most hospital rooms are "private" (one patient) or "semi-private" (two patients). Some hospitals have only private rooms. Some hospitals have both, and they may charge more for a private room. That extra charge may not be covered by your insurance.
In cases where you may need to be closely watched—for example, right after surgery—you may be placed in a room with three or four beds, at least for a while.
Most rooms have their own bathrooms, complete with shower stalls. You will probably have a window and usually a phone and television. There will be a table that can be moved over the bed and a separate nightstand next to the bed.
Your bed will have controls that raise and lower the bed. Be sure to lower the bed before you get up.
There is often not much shelf space or closet space in these rooms. That's something to think about when you're deciding what to bring with you to the hospital.
Many hospitals provide a fold-out chair or cot, with blanket and pillow, so that a friend or family member can sleep overnight.
Unless you're on a special diet, you may have a menu to choose from for your meals. Some hospitals have defined times when meals are delivered. In other hospitals, you can order food at any time.
Often there is a hospitality snack cart that volunteers push from room to room during the day. The cart sells snack items, as well as toiletries, magazines, and other small items you may want.
If a visitor wants to bring you a meal from outside the hospital—or if you want to have something delivered—check with your nurse. It's usually not a problem unless you're on a special diet.
The hospital routine
Besides doctors' rounds, your care in the hospital will revolve around your nurses' shifts. Hospital nurses usually work in 8-hour, 12-hour, or even 16-hour shifts, so you'll have several different nurses caring for you throughout the day and night.
Nurses are assisted by a variety of other health care workers, such as licensed nurses (LPNs or LVNs), nursing assistants (also called nurse's aides), and orderlies.
The hospital's housekeeping staff will visit your room during the day to clean.
You may also see a variety of hospital volunteers. Some hospitals have animal-assisted therapy programs in which volunteers bring dogs, cats, or other animals to visit patients who request it. Other volunteers may play music for patients. Many hospital gift shops and hospital snack carts are run by volunteers. In some hospitals, volunteers also assist nurses but don't usually have direct contact with patients.
The night shift
Because the hospital never "sleeps," you may sometimes feel that you have no control over your schedule. Your nurse may wake you up to check your vital signs or give you medicine.
Nighttime can be hard. Most visitors have gone home. Your doctors have left. It can be lonely. It's great if you can sleep through it, but the stress of being in the hospital can make it hard to sleep. And sleep is important to your healing process.
This is why it's good to bring with you to the hospital any non-medicine items that help you fall asleep. This could be comfortable pajamas, your own pillow, a sleeping mask, ear plugs, or soothing music.
If you're worried that you may have trouble sleeping, ask your nurses if they can avoid interrupting your sleep. They may be able to adjust your monitoring and medicine schedules to help you.
Current as of: March 9, 2022
Author: Healthwise Staff
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine