Warding off the boredom


SPENDING LOTS of time in hospital, or The Clink as I like to call it, can be frustrating. Indeed, any amount of time “on the inside” can cause weariness, frustration and a side-serving of wanting to tear one’s hair out.

My last stint in hospital, over a period of 11 weeks, included tastefully decorating my cubicle for Christmas and new year, so I gave some thought to the things that could make it a better experience.

Being in a hospital ward can feel like sitting in the middle of the M5O in stagnant rush-hour traffic. There is a type of reserved chaos all around, physical and emotional, and most of it has nothing to do with you.

But you have to stay there and not budge. Sure, there are blossoming friendships, kind and efficient staff and, with any luck, a sense of perspective.

However, the line between peace and frustration is a fine one, and hospital life can be a real challenge. Here are a few things to know if you are planning a stay anytime soon:

Pack like you’re inter-railing

Can you fit it all in one bag? There will be no room for excess. Lifelines are key. Money, phone and charger, some extra phone credit, a laptop and charger, and a USB internet attachment. These are vital tools to survive the hospital experience. Cutlery from home is a good idea too. It’s familiar and you can clean it yourself.

Forget the pyjama party

While hanging around in your PJs all day may seem de rigueur, it is optional. Sticking to the routine of getting dressed every day helps retain a sense of normality. This also means runners instead of slippers.

Cleaning wipes are your new best friend

While hygiene levels have improved somewhat over the past few years, you should still be prepared. A packet of Domestos wipes are a good partner in crime when one is travelling to the communal toilet or shower. Strictly speaking, if there is a hygiene issue, you should make the ward aware of it. Even if there are no visible bacteria, it’s still good to give a quick wipe.

Hoard food (no grapes, thank you)

Obviously you’re going to be fed (unless you’re fasting), but the idea of a visitor bringing grapes needs to be quashed. Do you eat them in your normal life? If not, you don’t need them in hospital.

Unfortunately, the variety of food on offer in hospital is limited and it’s time- specific, which can mean leaving you at the mercy of toast or cereal if you eat irregularly.

Here are some excellent plans of action. One is to think back to your student days and hoard food like there’s no tomorrow. Soft cheese, crackers, biscuits, cereal and edibles that don’t need a fridge will find a welcome home in your locker.

A friend, partner or room-mate who cooks and delivers is an excellent second option, but can be hard to find. Most of the time it helps to brush up on nearby take out delivery services. Good for your hunger, bad for your bank account.

Bright lights, noisy room

Prolonged hospital time can leave you with a fuzzy brain. Though it’s not a technical term, it comes from a combination of drugs, sleep deprivation and general boredom.

The day begins at 7am with bright lights, breakfast and bed making. A shut-eye mask a la Breakfast at Tiffany’s is an excellent idea for sleep purposes and to guard against random lights being turned on during the night. Earplugs are also a must.

Pen, paper and interrogation

It’s been a week, how do you feel? Write it down. It will make you feel better. Everything will be clearer.

And while you’re at it write down those queries for your medical team too. Doctors sometimes swish in and out before you can remember what you want to say. Having a list of questions will put your mind at rest. Being curious and questioning is okay, so is asking for a second opinion.

Unwind time

Hospital is not a relaxing place. Finding your Zen can be difficult with all the noise around. Turning off your phone and closing your curtain can be helpful, but finding some space in the communal day-room to sit in silence for 20 minutes and close your eyes is good. Take deep breaths.

Designated heroic visitors

Friends, family members, partners and room-mates are good for this. Some forward planning helps too. Structuring visits can make you feel more in control of your day. Visitors bring clean clothes, cheerful dispatches from the outside, food, laughter and help you to make plans for the future.

Who are you exactly?

Remember what you were like before this? You’re still there, there’s just a lot of extra illness stuff going on and it can be overwhelming.

Take some time to remember the good stuff, look at old photos and plan things to do for a few weeks ahead when you will look back at this moment and laugh. Because so much of who we are is tied up with what we do, being unwell can disrupt our sense of identity.

It’s good to examine what this means to you if you’re feeling down. Asking for some counselling is nothing to be ashamed of either. It’s all part of the process.

Entertainment and setting goals

One of the frustrating things about all the time between treatments is thinking about what you might be doing if you weren’t surgically attached to the drip stand. This is a good time to write those thank you letters you never got around to, or to tackle that book you’ve always wanted to read.

Look on this time as a gift rather than in a negative way and your perspective will start to change.

Luckily, there are also throngs of TV programmes, YouTube videos and blogs to explore. If you’re a news junkie, refreshing the browser on a live stream will keep you happy for hours. Websites such as ted.com, funnyordie.comor killsometime.comcan educate and entertain.

Other excellent pastimes include making a collage of things you love.

Watch the group therapy

No matter how positively you’re thinking, if you’re surrounded by negativity and drama it’s hard to pull yourself up. This is why sometimes being selfish in the hospital setting is vitally important to wellbeing. Sometimes the chatter about trauma, sickness and doctor/ patient/illness gets too much and leaves you feeling drained. In this case, minding your own business, closing your curtain and having quiet time is vital.

Social networking

Social networks such as Twitter are a telescope to the outside world. You can choose the type of news or conversations you’re interested in hearing every day. For example, a stream from a website called thedailylove.comspews inspirational tales of triumph over basic human adversity every few minutes.

The best thing about tweeting while unwell is the feeling of support from followers. It is also excellent if you’re missing an episode of a programme you want to watch or need some advice on which takeaway outlet to order from. But mostly it’s a quick, easy and non-committal way to keep you up to date with the world so you’re ready for it when you bust out.

Being a superhero

Obviously dealing with any illness requires superhero powers to some extent. However, one guy took it a little further on a two-week stint last June. The concept of the superhero “Buntman” came to 21-year-old Daragh Kenny when the boredom hit. Bunt was a word used by his bandmates for something brilliant. He decided to make a mask out of cereal boxes and tape.

“My two friends called up to visit one morning [one of whom was a primary school teacher] and brought a bag of supplies, all sorts of things, tights, a plastic mask, glue, a T-shirt, popsicle sticks, a swimming hat and emm . . . hotpants,” the drummer said. He used Dominos pizza boxes built up over a few days for the arms.

“The best part was a nurse walking in and the look of confusion on her face was priceless,” he says. Those takeaways are serious value for money.