FEARS OF BEING HOSPITALIZED
Fears of being hospitalized are common in people of all ages and facing a wide variety of procedures or surgeries. These fears can be found in the young and old, in women and men and among people of many cultural backgrounds. What we have heard or read doesn’t always help us to calm our fears.
Some of us have heard about people going to the hospital and getting sicker or getting an infection or serious complication and ending up dying there. The unusual sights, smells and noises you experience in hospitals can be frightening. These include sights of needles and surgical suites and people lying helpless in bed, smells of antiseptics, strange sounds of machines, people hurrying past you, and crying patients or relatives.
We would like to tell you that every fear about hospital care that you have heard or read is just not true or not representative of what can happen in the hospital. But, while many hospitals are safer than others, and all hospitals may be perfectly safe at some times; the question is what’s it going to be like for you.
Chances are you will not experience a medical error of significance in the hospital; chances are if we or our caregiver takes an assertive proactive role we can do a lot to help avoid them.
STEPS TO TAKE IN LESSENING YOUR FEARS ABOUT HOSPITALIZATION
With proper preparation and education about the hospital, purpose of the hospital visit and what will happen, most fears that people have can be lessened significantly. One of the most important principles to keep in mind when trying to reduce your fears of an up and coming hospitalization is: make the unfamiliar, familiar.
The basis of anxiety is our fear of the unknown. Make the hospital and the procedures that you will have familiar to you. These steps are relevant to any planned hospitalization.
Step 1. This step is important particularly if you have never been hospitalized before. If the hospital offers a tour, attend. Record in your mind what the hospital looks like, where things are, and who the personnel are. Include in your tour going to the admission and registration desk, if possible a hospital floor where you might stay after the recovery room (if you are having surgery), and the waiting room where your friends and relatives might wait.
Pass the nursing station and see if you can establish eye contact with the nurses. When you become familiar with the environment and who you might see, it will make your experience less frightening.
Step 2. Ask in advance what procedures you will have. Write these procedures down and research them on the internet. Frequently, there is a good deal of information about standard procedures and may include patient stories of their experience and any tips to think about.
If you learn something you do not understand call your physician and ask for clarification. It always helps to speak up. It serves two purposes: first, it informs your doctor and the staff that you are interested in knowing about your care and second it gives you a sense of empowerment making you feel less threatened.
It is good to be prepared rather than come to the hospital and be surprised. Surprise can increase your sense of vulnerability and hence your fear and anxiety.
Step 3. Establish a plan for family and friends visits. This plan is always contingent upon what is happening at the time but does give you an added sense of control over your environment.
Step 4. Bring some items of comfort to the hospital with you. These might include pictures of your loved ones, a favorite pair of slippers, your cell phone, and magazines or other reading material. What you bring is also dependent upon hospital instructions.
Step 5. Discuss any fears you have with family or persons that are good listeners and have a positive perspective. Sometimes verbalizing your fears to another person can help you put things into perspective as you assess which of your fears are unfounded.
Step 6. Reflect on your own thoughts about what this hospitalization means to you and how you are able to make the unpredictable, predictable. Think about the supportive role of the staff, their level of competence and their ability to support and care for you.
Some patients are surprised to learn that their fears are more about how their family members will cope if something goes wrong rather than having concerns about their own well being. Yes, hospitalization can cause fear and stress, but don’t let this fear immobilize you.
You can do something about your fear of the hospital and exercise your rights to actively participate in your hospital care. These steps and others may give you added familiarity with the hospital and a better command of the uncertainties surrounding your hospitalization and the procedures you will have.
Disclaimer: The information and ideas provided are for educational purposes only. They are not intended to be a substitute for consulting with an appropriate health care provider. The author and publisher disclaim any liability arising directly or indirectly from this information.
Gwen van Servellen, RN, PhD
Educator, Consultant, Author
Dr. van Servellen is a nationally and internationally recognized educator, consultant, and author. She is a UCLA Professor Emeritus who has spent over 35 years evaluating patient care. As an author or co-author she has published over 100 professional articles and conference proceedings and 8 books on the topics of quality care and effective communications between patients and health professionals. Dr. van Servellen’s most recent book is available on
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