What is it like to stay in the Hospital?
What to expect at the hospital
Hospitals provide resources and expertise for treating a wide range of conditions. But, a hospital can be a scary place. Often care occurs quickly and without explanation. Knowing what to expect can help you and your loved ones take part in your care during your stay. Understanding more about what hospitals do can help you to feel more comfortable and confident about your health when you go home.
People can be admitted to the hospital for different reasons. Some may be admitted through the emergency department. Others have scheduled surgery, special medications, or other treatments prescribed by their doctors.
The main goal of hospitalization is to restore or improve your health so that you can return home. Hospital stays are intended to be short and to allow you to go safely home or to another health care setting for treatment.
What happens when you are admitted?
When admitted to the hospital you should bring your medical information. The most important things you should bring are: a list of all the medications you are taking including the dosages and a list of any allergies. If you do not have this information or you are too ill to communicate, family members or friends should provide it if possible, and they should bring all bottles of medications they can find at your house.
If you do need to stay in the hospital, you’ll first go through the admission process. The staff will take some basic information about you (such as your name and address), allergies, and telephone numbers of emergency contacts. You’ll then go to a bed in the inpatient area. Many hospitals have floors or areas for Gastroenterology patients, or General Medicine units, which see many patients with liver disease. You will be given an identification bracelet – you should check to make sure the information on it is correct and wear it at all times. Staff will check these bracelets each time you have a test or a procedure done to make sure they have the right person.
Hospitals also recommend that you bring advance directives and any legal forms that say who can make medical decisions for you in the case you cannot make decisions yourself. They also recommend a completed Goals of Care designation. All Alberta Health Services personnel recognize this ‘Green Sleeve’ and will bring it with you if you arrive via Emergency Medical Services. It is recommended that the Green Sleeve stays on the fridge or nearby for easy access by Emergency Services Personnel.
Once admitted, it is important that you or your loved ones write down any questions you have related to your care. Keep a notepad or note on your phone of important questions.
Asking for an interpreter
For people who speak a language other than English and for people who have vision, hearing or speech difficulties, being unable to communicate effectively in hospital can be serious.
Most Alberta Health Services (AHS) sites provide access to interpreting services and are usually available to come to the hospital or to interpret via telephone. You can request an interpreter during your admission interview and at any stage of your stay. You can also ask if the hospital can provide translated information in a written format. Reach out to your care team before or during admission to ask about interpreter services.
Disability assistance and other special needs
If you have a vision difficulties ask if the hospital provides information or forms in electronic, large print or Braille format.
If you have difficulty hearing, you may be able to request a sign language interpreter for communication with hospital staff, including during an admission interview and at any stage of your hospital stay.
If you are in a wheelchair or have trouble moving, the hospital will have wheelchair ramps, accessible parking spaces and wheelchair-accessible lifts, toilets and rooms.
You may be go blood tests, x-rays, other imaging or may go immediately to a hospital room. Hospital rooms may be private or shared. Even in private rooms you may have to share a bathroom.
Tests are done to check your health status and identify any underlying illnesses. Staff members may also ask you about your eating habits, mood and behavior changes, vaccinations, medications, and alcohol and other substance use.
- Blood Work: Most often is taken from a vein (sometimes an artery) in your wrist or thigh
- X-Rays: Provides a 2-dimensional picture of a body part. X-Rays are good for many things, including fractures or lung infections.
- Computed Tomography (CT) Scan: A machine that takes a 360 degree image of the body.
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): A process using magnets to provide a detailed image of a portion of the body
- Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG): Used to measure the electrical activity of your heart
- Ultrasound: Bounces sound waves off internal body parts for a picture of that part. Often times this can identify fluid in the abdomen, such as in the case of ascites
- Biopsy: A way to take a sample of an organ, gland, or other tissue to check for disease. There are different ways to get a biopsy including using a needle or removing the entire tissue.
- Catheterization: Inserting a tube or catheter into a vein or artery to take a biopsy, inject material for imaging, or to perform a procedure
- FibroScan: A specialized machine for your liver, which measures scarring and fat to help your doctor learn more about your liver disease
- Paracentesis: A procedure to reduce the fluid that builds up in the abdomen (ascites) which can occur as a result of a complication of cirrhosis. When the ascites becomes problematic for the patient, a doctor will use an ultrasound machine and insert a needle to drain the fluid. The fluid is then sent for testing to make sure there is no infection
- Nil By Mouth (NPO): An instruction used when a patient is ordered to not receive food or fluids by mouth
- Triage: Assigning degrees of urgency to decide the order of treatment of patients
- Acute: Of abrupt onset, in reference to a disease. Acute often refers to an illness that is of short duration and comes on suddenly
- Ambulatory/Ambulant: Medical care provided on an outpatient basis
- Benign: Not harmful. When referring to a tumor, it means not cancerous/malignant
- Chronic: An illness or symptom persisting for a long time or constantly recurring
Treatments in the Hospital
You should take part in any decisions that may affect your care. Discuss with your doctor any planned treatments including: medications, procedures, surgeries, length of treatments, insurance coverage for different treatment options, and alternative treatments if available.
Informed consent documents give you the information you need to decide if you want a procedure or test to be done on you. By signing these documents, you state that you understand what is being done, including the risks, benefits, and alternatives. You may also see informed consents when approached by research teams. Whenever you are asked to sign an informed consent, be sure that you do the following:
- Read the informed consent documents
- Ask that anything you don’t understand be explained
- Make sure it lists these details: if you are being enrolled in research, the name of the physician(s) who will perform the procedure or administering the treatment, the risks and benefits, and alternative treatments
Although a nurse gives you your medications, your doctor writes the order for them, including the following information:
- Route (oral, IV, intra-muscular, rectally, etc.)
- Frequency (once a day, twice a day, etc.)
- Time(s) of day they are given
An IV is placed in almost every person admitted to the hospital.
What is an IV?
An IV line is a flexible tube inserted into a vein, and may be known as a ‘drip.’ Fluids in a plastic bag then flow through the tube and into your body. These fluids can contain medications, nutrients, saline (salt solution of purified water), sugar, or electrolytes.
If you stay in the hospital for more than a few days, the IV line may be moved to a different place to avoid irritating the vein. There are different types of IV’s and the decision to use one or the other will depend on different things including the type of drug, length of treatment, the age and health of the patient, and patient comfort.
Types of IV’s
The most common form of IV. This is what is usually given in the Emergency Room or if you are going in to surgery. A nurse will put a needle into one of your veins, most likely on the hand or arm, and then replace it with a small device called a cannula. The IV tube will attach to this cannula before taping it to the skin.
Central Venous Catheter or Central Line
This type of IV is given if you need medications, nutrients, blood, or fluids over many weeks or months. Central lines deliver contents to your heart and produce a fast response. They’re also efficient at supplying large amounts of blood or other fluids into your system. There are several types, each with different uses:
- Central Venous Lines with a simple catheter, which are inserted into a large vein
- Intravenous Reservoir, also known as a ‘port.’ In this case, a reservoir is inserted under a patient’s skin on the chest, through which the medication is injected. The biggest advantage of this type is fewer complications from the insertion point into the skin
- Peripherally inserted central catheter, also known as a ‘PICC.’ Healthcare providers will use a long catheter to go through peripheral veins until they reach a large and thick vein (central vein). X-rays are often used to confirm the catheter is at the right point
These types of IV’s are for patients needing IV therapy for more than five days, but less than a month. Midline catheters are a less invasive method for delivering contents or drawing blood supplies. If you have a midline catheter, it will likely be placed in a larger, but still peripheral, vein. This is usually higher up on your arm. Midline catheter can be more effective for older adults or those who have veins that are harder to reach.
Vital Signs include the measurement of: temperature, breathing rate, pulse rate, blood pressure, and blood oxygen saturation. These numbers provide important information about your health. In particular they:
- Can identify a medical problem
- Are a means of telling how sick a patient is, and how well their body is responding to the illness or treatments
- Can be a marker of chronic disease states
Most patients will have had their vital signs measured by a nurse (Registered Nurse or Licensed Practical Nurse) or a Health Care Aid.
- Temperature – Is usually taken by mouth but can also be taken via the rectum, armpit, bare skin or the ear
- Breathing rate – Is usually taken manually by a nurse counting your breaths, and monitored by a machine next to your bedside.
- Pulse Rate – Is usually taken manually by a nurse putting pressure on your wrist and counting the number of beats per minute. The pulse rate is also monitored by a machine next to your bed
- Blood Pressure – This can be taken by a nurse or with an automated system. A cuff is placed around your upper arm and will tighten and then slowly loosen to calculate two different pressures: the systolic pressure and the diastolic pressure. The systolic pressure measures the pressure in your blood vessels when your heart beats. The diastolic blood pressure measures the pressure in your blood vessels when your heart rests. Often times, nursing staff will ‘cycle’ the machine, meaning that the pressure is calculated many times and then averaged.
- Blood oxygen saturation – This vital sign is measured with a little clamp that fits onto your finger, usually the pointer finger. A bright red light will shine through your fingernail and take a measurement based upon the amount of light that passes through your finger.
- Oxygen Therapy –Provides oxygen to make sure your body gets all the oxygen it needs during treatment or recovery. The oxygen may be delivered via a nose tube (nasal cannula) or a face mask
- The Heart Monitor – This monitor is like a TV screen that shows your heart rate and blood pressure as well as other types of information
- The Nasogastric Tube (NG tube) – This is a small tube that goes through the nose and into the stomach. It helps to check the stomach, take a sample of something in the stomach, empty the stomach or deliver things like medicine
- The Intravenous pump (IV pump) – This gives you medications or fluids through one of your veins
Nurses are usually the first people you see at the hospital. When you arrive, they will ask you questions about your medical history and symptoms. They will then get you settled into your hospital room and take your vital signs.
Nurses perform countless duties, including: administering medications, preparing patients for surgery or procedures, monitoring patients and screening for underlying conditions or symptoms, and offering education. Your nurse will come in to check on you and can also be accessed with the call button. Be sure to locate the call button when you arrive.
A doctor will look after you while you’re in the hospital, working with nurses and other health professionals. Your doctor might be a general practitioner or a family doctor. Your doctor could also be a specialist with extra training in specific problems, like liver or gastrointestinal illnesses. The kind of doctor you have will depends on the reason why you are in the hospital. When the doctor will see you depends on many factors. Do not be alarmed if your doctor does not see you the day you are admitted. Doctors usually make daily rounds, usually at about the same time of day, and you will probably see them by the second day. You may also encounter medical students who are training to be doctors, and resident doctors who are getting extra training.
Allied Health Professionals
You may also meet some other health professionals during your stay in the hospital, including:
- Pharmacist: Treat disease and other disorders through drug therapy. Pharmacists can help you manage your medications.
- Occupational Therapist (OT): Support you with getting back to everyday activities. They help you change some part of your life by developing skills to adapt to your environment so you can cope with aging, disease, injury or illness.
- Physiotherapist: A therapist that helps you get moving while you are coping with an injury, medical condition, disease or aging.
- Social Worker: Assists you and your family with navigating systems that provide resources and services. A clinical social worker will counsel you and your family to cope with your unique situation and may be involved in your discharge plan.
- Transition Coordinator: A medical practitioner that provides the link between inpatient services and services available in the community. Assessments and referrals are often done for Home Care Services as well as placement in the various streams of assisted living.
- Registered Dietitian: Experts in food and nutrition that help you achieve healthier eating patterns and lifestyles to prevent and treat chronic diseases.
The person in charge of your care is the attending physician and leads your health care team. Your attending physician may be a hospitalist, surgeon, gastroenterologist or another specialist. This depends on why you’re admitted to the hospital and the type of procedure you are having.
For many patients, a hospitalist is the attending physician. Hospitalists and their teams are experts in caring for hospitalized patients.
Generally, your meals will be approved by a Registered Dietitian:
- Some people are placed on restricted diets. For example, patients with decompensated cirrhosis will be given a low sodium and high protein diet
- You may be restricted from eating anything. For example, before surgery or a test
- Family or friends may bring you food. Be sure to check with your doctor or nurse before bringing these items in.
Doctors can prescribe a variety of diets for patients in hospital. The type of diet you are put on depends on your needs and restrictions. The following information may help explain the diet that your physician may put you on while you are in the hospital.
- Regular Diet: The regular diet can also be referred to as a normal diet. Its purpose is to provide a well-balanced diet with adequate nutrition from a variety of foods.
- Mechanical Soft Diet: The mechanical soft diet consists of foods that are easier to chew and lower in fiber.
- Clear Liquid Diet: This diet provides clear liquids that supply fluid and calories. The purpose is to leave little in the stomach and is often used before and after surgery, and other procedures such as x-ray, CT scan, etc. It includes coffee, tea, clear juices, gelatin and clear broth
- Full Liquid Diet: As a transition between clear liquid and a soft or regular diet, this plan provides easily tolerated foods. This diet includes milk, strained and creamed soups, grits, creamed cereal and fruit and vegetable juices. We also serve scrambled eggs because of their high water content and they are an excellent source of protein.
- GI Soft Diet: This diet can includes foods low in fiber and soft in texture. Most raw fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, coarse breads and cereals are avoided.
- Low Residue/Low Fiber Diet: This diet limits fiber, which is found in some plant-based foods.
- Salt-restricted (Low Sodium) Diet: Sodium controlled diets are usually prescribed for patients with excess fluid accumulations in the belly (ascites). Intake of commercially prepared foods such as cured or smoked meats, canned vegetables and regular soups as well as buttermilk, salt and salty foods are limited or avoided. White milk, fresh or frozen meats, unsalted vegetables and fruits and low sodium foods are included
- Fat-Restricted Diet: This diet is often prescribed for patients with gastrointestinal disorders or excessive body weight. It limits the intake of fatty food such as margarine, mayonnaise, dressings, oils and gravies.
- Cholesterol-Restricted Diet: A cholesterol-restricted diet limits the intake of meats, poultry, fried foods, egg yolks, and whole milk products. Food high in saturated fat and trans fatty acids such as coconut oil, margarine, and shortening are also limited.
- Vegetarian Diet: This diet can vary greatly. It may include only plaint foods-grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes nuts, seeds, and vegetable fats. Some variations designed to be lower in cholesterol and saturated fat and higher in dietary fiber.
- Consistent Carbohydrate (Diabetic Diet): A diabetic diet varies from patient to patient on the type of intensity of the diabetes, the patient’s personal history, and individual nutrient needs. Meals are basically like those found on a regular menu, but carbohydrate servings are carefully controlled and small snacks may be included in the meal plan. Carbohydrates are starches, starchy vegetables, juice, fruit, milk, and sugars.
- Renal Diet: A renal diet is carefully planned with special consideration of nutrients, and is often adjusted as kidney disease progresses. A renal diet may serve the purpose of attempting to slow down the process of renal dysfunction. If dialysis treatments are not being taken, your physician may restrict protein intake of foods such as potatoes, tomatoes, oranges, and bananas. A phosphorous restriction may limit the intake of milk and dairy products, dried beans and peas, while grain breads and cereals, coffee, tea, and ‘dark colored’ soda beverages.
- Nothing by mouth/NPO Diet: A NPO diet is assigned to patients who are not allowed to eat or drink anything, include ice chips
Generally, these are posted on the unit, or can be discovered by asking your nurse. Family members and friends may also call the Patient Information line at the Hospital you are admitted to and ask for specific visiting hours for the unit you are on:
- University of Alberta Hospital (UAH): Patient Information Line 780.407.8408
- Royal Alexandra Hospital (RAH): Patient Information Line 780.735.4510
- Grey Nuns Community Hospital (GNCH): Patient Information Line Patient Information Line 780.735.7272
- Misericordia Community Hospital (MCH): Patient Information Line 780.735.2881
- Foothills Medical Centre (FMC): Patient Information Line 403.944.1335
- Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre (RDCHC): Patient Information Line 403.343.4422
- Chinook Regional Hospital (CRH): Patient Information Line 403.388.6200
- Queen Elizabeth II Hospital (QEIIH): Patient Information Line 780.538.7100
Being Discharged From the Hospital
Length of Stay (LOS): The length of time you spend in the hospital will depend on your condition, symptoms you are experiencing, and the medications or treatments you are receiving. Your care team together with your family and allied health professionals will determine how long you need to stay in hospital.
If necessary, you will be assigned a case worker who works with you, your physician, nurses, and family to coordinate your discharge and arrange any care or resources you will need when you leave hospital. When you are to be discharged, make sure your healthcare team addresses the following issues:
- Home care: Will you need home nursing care or other arrangements?
- Medications: Will you need to take a new medication or change one that you are currently on?
- Back to work: When/can you return to work?
Other questions for hospital staff:
- Follow-up: Whom should you follow up with and when?
- Do you have to book the appointment/is the appointment booked for you?
- Is your primary care physician aware of you admission and discharge?
- Are there other specialists you need to see following discharge?
- What are their numbers?
- Where are they located?
- Are there any labs/tests you need to do following discharge from the hospital?
Home Care is a funded personal and healthcare service for clients of all ages living in a private home or other setting, such as suites in a retirement home. Home Care helps people remain well, safe and independent in their home for as long as possible
Home Care services are available once you or your loved one have contacted and been assessed by a Case Manager.
Who is Home Care for? Home Care is for anyone living in Alberta with a valid healthcare card whose needs can be met in their home. Home Care provides help with activities of daily living that the client cannot do themselves or cannot get help with from another source. This includes things like personal hygiene or medication management.
Who provides care in Home Care? AHS provides healthcare services or contracts other home care providers to provide care. Healthcare services are provided by a team of skilled individuals who support the client to continue living in the community. Depending on your needs, your care team may include a nurse, social worker, occupational therapist, physiotherapist, to name a few.
Home care in my zone?
You can contact 811 to speak with a home care office in your zone OR use the phone numbers below for a specific office near you.
- North: 1.855.371.4122
- Edmonton: 780.496.1300
- Central: 1.855.371.4122
- Calgary: 403.943.1920 OR 1.888.943.1920
- Bow Island: 403.545.2296
- Brooks: 403.501.3244
- Lethbridge and Area: 403.388.6380 OR 1.866.388.6380
- Medicine Hat: 403.581.5750
- Oyen: 403.664.3651
Patient Concerns and Feedback
If you have any concerns or feedback about the care you received while in hospital, speak to your care team or contact the Patient Relations Department. You may also submit a patient feedback form online.
Alberta Health Services Patient Relations Department 1.855.550.2555
Covenant Health Patient Relations Department