My Loved One Is In the Hospital and I Don’t Know What To Do

My Loved One Is In the Hospital and I Don’t Know What To Do
| by Kristy Dalechek

Having a loved one in the hospital is frightening. Hospitals are large, sterile, and intimidating, often leading people to feel helpless. Here are some strategies that can help assure your loved one gets the best possible care.

Be Prepared

First, before a loved one is hospitalized, have a conversation. Know your loved one’s health history. Know their primary care provider, which pharmacy they prefer, what current medications they take and any known medical conditions. Discuss their wishes for medical care. Do they want a breathing machine or feeding tube and, if so, in all instances or only some? Do they want CPR? Do they want to have some pain but be more alert, or would they rather have no pain and be unconscious? Having a plan in place before a crisis allows for more thoughtful decisions and reduces stress.

Know the Unit Team

If your loved one is in an ICU there will be a team of professionals providing care. It is helpful to understand their roles. There will likely be several physicians. The Attending physician is a specialized doctor that will oversee all your loved one’s care during an ICU stay. There may also be a Fellow. A Fellow is a doctor that is receiving additional specialized training and may do procedures and manage care along with the Attending. Residents and Interns are licensed medical doctors who are earlier in their training. They may also do procedures and help manage care, but remember, they are still in the learning stages. There may be Consulting Physicians that work with the team but focus on specific problems.

There may be Advanced Practice Providers such as nurse practitioners and physician assistants that will participate in all aspects of care and will collaborate with the physicians to implement care.

There will be Registered Nurses. Nurses will be the most available to you and will be invaluable in providing you information about your loved one’s care and condition. In addition, there is usually a charge nurse that oversees the entire unit.

There will be therapists in the unit. Respiratory therapists manage all things oxygen and airway. They manage ventilators, breathing tubes, oxygen therapy, breathing treatments and much more. You may have physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, dieticians, educators, social workers, and psychologists. All these specialties will be able to discuss and educate you and family on the care they are providing and will be able to provide valuable insight and resources for discharge.


It can seem at times that the language spoken at a hospital is foreign. Do not be afraid to ask questions. If you do not understand the plan of care, the risk and benefits of a procedure, or the diagnosis, ask questions and take notes. As questions arise, write them down so you remember. As previously stated, nurses are going to be the most accessible for you and will have a wealth of knowledge they can share. The team will likely round once, sometimes twice a day. If possible, you should be there to ask questions and to hear updates and plans. You should designate one family member to be the main point of contact.

Hire an Advocate

If it all seems overwhelming, you should consider hiring an advocate. A private patient advocate is someone who will help you navigate the healthcare system. They will know the “language” and will know how the hospital system works. They improve communication with the healthcare team by asking questions, and voicing concerns based on your loved one’s best interest. They can answer your questions and direct you to reliable information. They are a valuable resource for you while your loved one is in the hospital, but also after discharge. If needed they can assist with transition to rehab, assisted living or home. They can coordinate care, attend important doctor appointments, and source additional resources. An advocate can provide a settling peace of mind.


Finally, have you ever heard the saying “You can’t pour from an empty cup?” One of the best things you can do for a loved one that is in the hospital is to take care of yourself. Do your best to get good sleep, eat nutritious meals and take time for yourself. Go outside, get fresh air, and stretch your legs. Do not be afraid to ask for help or take help when offered. Stay connected with family and friends and take a break from the hospital when you need it.

A hospital stay can be worrisome and overwhelming but being armed with knowledge and having resources can help. Remember, you are not alone.