On Valentine’s Day, I found myself in the hospital. I started in the emergency room and progressed from there to “observation’ and ultimately to “admission”. To many of you, this is no big deal. I have friends who have spent a great deal of time over the past few years in and out of hospitals. Unfortunately for them, it’s become almost a way of life. But for me, it’s the first time I’ve been admitted into a hospital in many years. I was a little shook up!
This may sound a little weird, since I rarely go a day without talking about Medicare, supplements to Medicare, prescriptions, co-pays, deductibles, levels of care, and other related subjects. It was a little different when it was me facing the barrage of questions, doctors, nurses, needles, IV’s, CAT scans, monitors, pills, and all coming at me 24-7 day and night. I was a little scared. I had no idea what was wrong with me and to make it worse, I felt terrible.
As I look back, that’s what I remember the most: I felt terrible. I didn’t want to talk to anyone about anything unless it was going to affect me feeling better and at the very least I just wanted to get some much-needed rest. Neither happened quickly enough for me. I’ve been told that I’m not the world’s most patient patient.
I have to pause here and make it known that the hospital and almost all of its staff was terrific. I think that they were really trying to give me the best care possible. Kudos to my wife Kate, who wears many hats and is affectionately known as “Doctor Mom”. She stayed by my side and I’m sure bit her tongue many times as I complained about not getting the situation resolved quickly enough.
I emphasize these issues (and maybe exaggerate just a little) to make a very important point. When you are in the hospital and feeling horrible, it’s not the best time to be expected to make a lot of very important decisions. Some of the decisions and a little bit of pre-planning may make the whole process go just a little bit smoother. I had a lot of time, laying in the hospital bed, to think about what I did right and to consider a few of the things I might have changed. I thought it might be helpful to pass a few of them along to you. I’d like to take credit for them, but most of the important plans we made in advance were because Kate drug me along, kicking and screaming all the way.
- Keep your Medicare card and private insurance cards on your person anytime you leave home. It sounds simple, but many people leave them in their dresser at home. Not having them can only cause unnecessary delays.
- Carry your living will directives with you. If you have a spouse, carry yours and your spouses. If you are not married, give a copy to the person (son, daughter, etc.) who would be making your pre-chosen decisions on your behalf, should you be unable to do so yourself. Carry the name, address, and phone number of your next of kin. Not only is it a pain to have to go through the paperwork at the emergency room, but what if you and your spouse were in an auto accident and were brought in unconscious? Decisions may need to be made immediately. When we put our final requests in order, we each received a card from the State of Arizona that permits the hospital to pull up all this information on-line.
- Keep an up-to-date list of all your medications and know when you took your last dosages. The hospital will also want to know of any over-the-counter medications and supplements such as vitamins, minerals, etc. Know any allergies to medications.
- Keep an up-to-date health history. Be able to go back at least 10 years regarding illnesses, accidents, and surgeries. If possible, have available the name, address, and phone numbers of your PCP. If your Primary Care Provider has the specifics of your health history, a lot of time can be saved putting together a plan of action for your current health needs.
- Pack and keep handy a travel kit or overnight bag. Look at all the toiletries that you use in one day and then duplicate them in a bag that you’ll only use for that purpose. Kate and I save the lotions, shampoos, rinses, and other freebies we get when we travel. We restock our overnight bags as needed, so we’re ready to grab them and run if needed. When we have extras, our church is always collecting them and making hygiene kits for the homeless. Most drugstores now sell the small clear plastic containers used for air travel. This way we can put our own preferred brands in the bottles, if we don’t want to use the hotel freebies. Don’t forget the tweezers and nail clippers.
- One of the things I hate most about the hospital stay is those open backed smocks. Along with the toiletries, I pack several changes of underwear, long pants, socks, an oversized long sleeve shirt, (they always keep it so cold in there) pencils, pens, an 8 X 10-inch writing pad, crossword puzzles, newspapers, magazines, cell phone & charger (which includes my important phone numbers and calendar), a novel that I’ve been trying to finish for years, and anything else that will help me get through those long days and nights. Pack a roll of quarters for those overpriced goodies in the vending machines and a roll of breath mints to help get rid of that awful taste in your mouth from some of the medicines they give you.
- Don’t worry about packing your medications. They frown on you taking anything like that from home. They usually have a pharmacy or access to a pharmacy so they can control exactly what medications you take while you’re in their care.
That over-night kit may begin to look like a suitcase, but if you don’t take it, you may wish that you did. I’ve got to replenish my kit. I never know when I may need it again. I hope this has been helpful. Call if we can help. (By the way, my diagnosis was double pneumonia.)
Orion Steen is a licensed agent and specializes in Medicare supplemental plans. He has been advising his clients on life and health insurance matters in Arizona for over 45 years. He can be reached for related questions by E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, call toll-free 888-846-6891 or cell 623-846-6891.