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Tips for Coping Through a Long Hospital Stay

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By Johanna Pule, L.M.S.W., Department of Social Work

If your doctor were to tell you that you need to stay in the hospital for a month or longer for treatment, what concerns would you have?

You might worry about the upcoming treatment or how you will feel physically. You might focus all of your attention on the physical and avoid how it will affect you emotionally.

You might just be worried about having to stay in a room in an enormous hospital for such a long time.

These concerns are normal.

More than a patient

It's a significant physical undertaking that can take an emotional toll. Though the reason for staying in the hospital is for your cancer treatment, it's important to remember you're not just a cancer patient.

You're a whole person and it's important that you attend to all of you, and not just the cancer. This is especially true when, for a month or more, you have to essentially live in a setting that constantly reminds you of your illness.

To help cope with a long hospital stay, MD Anderson's Department of Social Work offers these tips:

  • Bring something from your house, a blanket, pillow or anything that brings you comfort. This helps tremendously with creating a warm environment. Most of us feel safe and comfortable at home. Bringing a piece of that with you will re-create those feelings of safety and comfort.
  • Dress comfortably in your normal clothes from home. When you dress in your regular clothing, it's a reminder that you're also a person, not just a patient in a hospital.
  • Display pictures of friends and family. It has been said that smiling is contagious. Try to fill your walls with smiling faces to brighten your day.
  • Find a hobby that can be done from your hospital room. Hobbies help keep your mind active and focused on something other than your diagnosis or treatment. For example, if you enjoy creating art, bring a sketchpad and pencils so you can draw while in your hospital bed.
  • If possible, bring a laptop from home and use Skype with friends and family members. Staying in communication with friends and family helps you stay involved with the lives of others. Here's a link to a step-by-step instructional video for Skype service:
  • Try to leave your room at least once per day. Whether it's a short walk or a trip to another part of the hospital, it's important to change your scenery. There are parts of the hospital that are great for relaxing and getting away from the hospital environment, such as The Park.
  • Start a journal. Even if you aren't a writer, journaling helps with stress relief and allows you to express your emotions in a healthy way.
  • Music! Bring a portable radio/CD player with you. Music can be a powerful medium for changing how we feel. It can reduce stress and promote relaxation. Managing stress is crucial to our well-being and important when faced with a long hospitalization and a physically aggressive treatment regimen.
  • Keep up with "housekeeping," using a laptop in your room. You can pay bills, send email and maybe even keep up with work. Some find it helpful to maintain a blog while admitted. This is a very easy way to keep friends and family updated on your health. 
  • Meditate. Take some time to turn off the noise and just be still. Meditation and prayer are ways you can take a break from the medicine and procedures and just relax. Use this time to identify some positive aspects of your life.
It can be helpful to talk with a trusted friend, family member or professional during the time you're hospitalized.

Expressing how you feel and letting others know what you're going through can help you get through this difficult time.

If you'd like to talk with someone at MD Anderson, call the Department of Social Work at 713-792-6195, or ask your nurse or physician to speak with a social work counselor.

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