How to Survive and Benefit from a Hospital Stay

Life can change quickly and unexpectedly! I had the privilege of living a healthy life, without any medications, for 70 years. 

Then, after 71, I began noticing a left-leg swelling in the evening. Later, a troublesome-looking venous ulcer developed. After several months of wound care at a GP’s office, the swelling and ulcer were not healing.

Over time, the left-leg swelling spread into both legs, and noticeably increased. In addition, and surprisingly, I began to have serious breathing difficulty at night. I went to another GP who felt that this was symptomatic of a heart condition – where the heart was not adequately pumping the fluids throughout my body. He did an ECG and the results confirmed an irregular, as well as very fast heartbeat. Hence the fluid retention in the legs. It made sense. With fluid retention (including blood), the GP warned that there could be a danger of blood clots forming with the possibility of a stroke! Now that scared me because my brother had a stroke at 47 – and we’ve seen his suffering.

With the ECG results, the GP urged that Eva take me straight to Emergency at the Redlands Hospital, giving us a letter for them. It was pouring rain and the news was so shocking that I waited for three days, but finally had to go. At the hospital, they drained the fluid and prescribed two heart medications. One was to prevent blood clotting and the other to regulate the heart rhythm. Again, it made good sense – even though I had not taken any medications to that point in my life. 

To my total and utter surprise, a short few weeks later, a serious blood infection became evident in my body. It may have entered through the open venous ulcer. My right knee became the focal point for the infection, causing the knee to be painful and to swell horribly. I was sent to the Queen Elizabeth II Jubilee Hospital – near Griffith University – for the knee to be operated on. In the end, three arthroscopy operations under full anaesthetic became necessary (these are operations to examine and treat problems inside a joint such as hip, knee, or ankle). I remained in the hospital for three weeks!

How quickly life’s circumstances can change! Through all this, I have nothing but praise, admiration, and heartfelt appreciation for my wife of 45 years, Eva – she has remained loving, calm, and patient through it all!

As I was lying in the hospital bed, ideas for this article emerged. Here are lessons I have learnt which perhaps will benefit others too.

Take time to reflect deeply on life.

After being moved from Emergency to a ward during the night, I woke up to a sunshine-filled morning with my bed overlooking Australian bushland. It was so peaceful in the ward at that moment. Without the hustle and bustle of our normal morning routine at home, I found myself just lying in bed and beginning to deeply reflect on my life. I had no iPhone, iPad, or laptop – when the paramedics came to pick me up, it was an emergency. No time for deliberation! Without all the daily distractions, this was an incredible gift of time – to reflect and meditate in a way that I had never done! (It reminded me of Tibetan monks dwelling in the Himalayas in their hermitages, away from civilization!) And so, during my days in hospital, I began to review my whole life. I began to discern and realize that I needed to make some deep-seated changes – and to correct habitual tendencies that were working against me.

Be grateful for the care and attention received.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that I was surrounded by a team of concerned doctors, loving nurses, and support staff that were there for my well-being. Each morning, the doctors made their rounds, going from bed to bed to review the status of each patient – giving a summary of their diagnosis, and answering any questions. (I asked a few of the doctors if they wouldn’t mind giving Eva a quick call to update her as well – each doctor kindly obliged!). The morning, afternoon, and nightshift nurses all performed their duties in a gentle and patient manner – bringing needed medications, changing pillow slips and bed sheets, and assisting with other day-to-day needs. Finally, a team of support staff worked in tandem with the doctors and nurses – dieticians ensured a proper diet for each patient, physiotherapists took patients for daily routines as required for mobility, and the cleaning staff ensured the cleanliness of each ward. I could only be deeply grateful as I watched each person perform their duties.

Stay in touch with a loving support person. 

Many of the patients had loving and concerned family members and/or friends who cared deeply. I recall a heavy-set Samoan man in his fifties lying in the bed next to mine. Each day, his mother visited and at times she simply sat with him, tenderly holding his hand. At other times, his daughter and grand-daughter came – bringing lots of homemade food! 

I was so fortunate to have Eva at home in Thornlands, looking after the day-to-day affairs, keeping in touch with her aging father, and feeding our beloved cat. I called her twice a day – in the morning and then late afternoon or evening. The calls became a part of the routine  each day – I was kept abreast of what was happening at home and she could get an update on what was happening with me. 

Eva was so supportive and loving. I could have peace of mind. For anyone in hospital for a longer time, to have a concerned and loving spouse, family member, relative, or friend is priceless.  

Grow in compassion as you see the suffering of others.

We can easily become so absorbed in our own affairs – maintaining our home, taking care of bills, checking emails and text messages, shopping, exercising, watching television, etc. We end up living in a world of our own making! 

Lying in a ward with six other patients, my heart and mind began to be filled with a new sense of compassion – and a realization that I, too, am part of a far wider world than I had imagined. In the same ward was a Serbian man of about 70 years of age. After heavy rains, he fell in his driveway and broke his hip. It was a serious fracture and needed a plate inserted in the hip to bring the broken bones together. His pain was severe – even after the operation. He needed strong pain killers to be able to just get off his bed to walk to the toilet. 

Another distressing case was a man who was playing with his friends at a pool side. The friends lifted him up and were going to throw him into the pool. Unfortunately, they misjudged and he hit his head hard on the concrete tile pool edge – and suffered brain damage! What a distressing sight to see him so helpless – and possibly for life! 

Finally, a younger man suffered from a serious prostate situation, necessitating the insertion of a catheter. I’ll never forget the screams, moans, and cries that came from his bedside when the nurses and doctors inserted the catheter behind the curtains. 

Witnessing such situations changed me forever – with a new heartfelt compassion for others, regardless of their suffering.   

Keep your mind active and use time profitably.

Many in the ward where I lay kept their mind active. Opposite me lay an older lady often holding her Kindle reader in her hand and reading. Several had their iPhones and were absorbed in the devices. One older burly man lay on his back with a headset over his ears. A middle-aged man was absorbed in reading his Kava magazine (the title caught my attention!). One or two patients had friendly chats with fellow patients. 

Finally, I was impressed by a hospital volunteer who represented the Eat Walk Engage program. Their purpose is to help patients keep their mind and body active, which helps to prevent delirium (a common problem where a person suddenly becomes confused), and also to help patients get back home faster. They show how eating well, moving more, and keeping one’s mind active is important for a fast recovery. The volunteer kindly left me with a variety of magazines, puzzles, and the informative Eat Walk Engage brochure.

Maintain a positive frame of mind at all costs.

Numerous studies have closely linked the mind and body, showing that poor health is related to unhappy thoughts – for example, being filled with fear, uncertainty, and doubt. Some studies show that specific types of thoughts, feelings, or emotions are connected with health and disease. For example, women suffering from breast or cervix cancer showed that being joyful and optimistic leads to a better outcome and longer life than being full of negative emotions. Another study has shown that depression is linked to cancer. 

Scientific evidence shows that positive thinking can make us feel better by improving our body chemistry. One interesting study revealed that when actors acted out happy scenes, their immune systems grew stronger. On the other hand, when the actors acted sad, their immune systems weakened! This showed the powerful influence of thoughts on the immune system.

Furthermore, the mind does not know if thoughts are “real” or not. The immune system improves with happy thoughts, and slows down with sad ones. This implies that if we focus our thoughts on being happier, we will be healthier! Indeed, the feelings of sadness, anxiousness, or fearfulness have a powerful negative effect on the body!

In sum, the evidence clearly shows that positive, hopeful, joyful, optimistic thoughts are indeed a powerful medicine! On the other hand, thoughts of anger, defeat, hopelessness, and helplessness, especially when they are unexpressed and unresolved, are very detrimental to health!

Make peace with yourself, others, and whatever you see as your Source of being.

It was strange. Just after I entered hospital, I learnt of the deaths of three friends occurring close together! Eric Nedobity, Karl Henry, and a friend we got to know in the Czech Republic, Dana Sucha. This was sobering! Dana was particularly distressing. She had entered a Prague hospital with appendicitis and tested negative for Covid-19. Yet, she died in the hospital from Covid-19! Dana, and her family, had been kind and loving to us while we lived in the Czech Republic – and we had stayed in occasional contact for 20 years! 

These deaths were deeply disturbing. I found myself urgently wanting to be at peace. I examined my life, and with a compassionate and forgiving heart accepted all I had done – the good and bad. I quietly came to terms with it all. 

Then I thought of all those I had hurt or dealt badly with – and, of course, felt deep regret and remorse, vowing that I would never ever repeat such actions. I felt pardoned and forgiven by all. Then, those who may have hurt me in any way, I immediately forgave them all, not holding onto a thread of anger or hatred. Peace began to dawn in my heart and mind. Finally, I believe that the Source of my being is compassionate and loving – and that I would be fully and totally accepted, and so could die in peace. I don’t believe that such soul-searching could have been achieved during the ordinary, day-to-day pursuits and busyness of life!

Be patient with yourself in convalescence.

A longer hospital stay takes its toll. With my infected and painful knee, I had lost a lot of mobility in a short time. With the body fighting a serious blood infection, I experienced a distinct lack of energy. In the first few weeks back at home, I needed far more rest than in the past. However, a seasoned older nurse at the hospital had pointed out to me that for a body to heal, sufficient rest is essential. To return home from a longer hospital stay and to expect to continue life where one left off, is unrealistic. These are realities I have had to accept.

Take personal responsibility

During my hospital stay and upon being discharged, I had several medications prescribed. All medications have side effects – and it is important to be aware of them and to understand them. At the same time, it is important not to focus on the negative effects or worse still, expect them to occur. That can become a negative self-fulfilling prophecy, or “nocebo”, which is opposite to “placebo” – the healing that occurs when people believe in their medications, even if the substance itself has no inherent healing power. 

It’s now also scientifically proven that our thoughts, prayers, and sending positive energy can change matter. Therefore, to ask a blessing on a medication believing that it is doing our body good and achieving its intended healing outcome can be a good practice.

In the end, each of us needs to be fully responsible for our own health. We should listen to the counsel and expertise of doctors and others, but we cannot simply let them make all the health decisions for us. 

Closing Thoughts

In looking back, my stay at the Queen Elizabeth II Jubilee Hospital has proven to be a blessing in disguise

Although in the past I was fearful and apprehensive of having to go to hospital, I now appreciate the professional and loving care extended to me. 

Also, through all the tests and diagnoses while in hospital, I now have a far more complete and accurate understanding of my health condition than I otherwise would ever have had. 

Furthermore, I was heartened when one of the doctors explained that there is nothing wrong in following a natural path together with a medical approach – as long as the two do not clash. In other words, both natural therapies and medical approaches can work side by side in the healing of a person. (There is no need for an adversarial approach, pitting one against the other.) 

Finally, and most importantly, I have come to have a richer understanding of life – it has been a much-needed re-orientation!  

I now look back on my extended hospital stay with fond memories of a time of personal growth – in both a deeper understanding of life and a strong desire for a healthier lifestyle from now on. I also realize – more clearly than ever – that dying and death are a part of our life’s journey which need to be realistically faced.

Written by Alexander Peck. Edited by Eva Peck.

April 23, 2021