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Being hospitalized can be a confusing, disorienting and frightening experience for both the patient and those around him. We often feel helpless. We are not.

Hilary Dalin gives ten tips: what to do when your loved one is hospitalized.1

“1. Listen. Listen. Listen. Do more listening than talking in order to understand what solutions are available.

“2. Learn as much as you can about your loved one’s condition, the facts about his or her care and the hospital’s requirements and governing rules.

“3. Find the person (or people) in the hospital who seem to be listening most carefully to your concerns and direct your communication to that person to the extent possible.

“4. Always try to be respectful, no matter how upset you are feeling, try to engage in dialogue and not demands; you will probably be heard better.

“5. Acknowledge your emotions. Don’t be afraid to cry. But try to stay calm and focused in the presence of hospital officials. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it.

“6. Have someone you trust join you for important discussions with directors, to be your eyes and ears when serious decisions are to be made or to validate what you heard.

“7. Identify your goals but be flexible and open to alternatives. Be creative about options that might work for your loved one.

“8. Be at the hospital as much as possible; ask other relatives and friends to help with maintaining presence. Figure out when physicians “round” and try to be there, even if early in the morning or late at night. That is when you can learn the most.

“9. Have all your loved one’s papers in order and easily accessible. Be prepared to hand over copies of documents that authorize you to act on your loved one’s behalf.

“10. Know what your loved one’s health insurance covers; know where to find the card or member enrollment number. Pay careful attention to important coverage benefits and limits at the beginning and end of a hospital stay.”

Sometimes hospitalization is scheduled for surgery or another procedure. We have time to prepare. We can arrange for child and pet care, watering plants, checking on the home and taking in the mail. We may consider staying at or near the hospital the night before surgery or if the person is gravely ill. Some hospitals have special arrangements with nearby hotels or special facilities for families such as the Ronald McDonald House. Others have special long-term parking discounts for visiting family.

If we are going to be at or near the hospital for more than a few hours, we can pack our own “to go” bag as well as one for the patient. We can bring a phone charger as well as our phone, a change of clothes, a warm sweater and socks, a water bottle and reading material and things to do while the patient is sleeping or in surgery or having tests. Knitting, crocheting and other hand crafts can help with stress and sadness. Crossword puzzles and sudoku can refocus the mind. Change for the vending machines may come in handy. Jogging clothes or a yoga map or at least good walking shoes may encourage us move to release stress and think more clearly.

Hospitalization is a part of life. Every year 35 million Americans are discharged from the hospital.2 It may be hard. But we can handle it.

1 In Bonnie Friedman, “Hospital Warrior: How to Get the Best Care for Your Loved One” (Pennington, NJ 2016), the source for many of the subsequent suggestions as well.

2 United States Centers for Disease Control Fast Statistics: National Hospital Discharges (September 2010).


Elder law attorney, Terry Garrett, is a member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is an Approved Guardianship Attorney. She assists people in elder law, estate and special needs planning, guardianship and settling estates. She graduated with honors from Cornell University. She was on the Dean’s List at Wharton Business School. She earned her J.D. at Columbia Law School, receiving the Parker Award and a Mellon Fellowship.


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