OK it happened. Some silly insane thing dropped you into the hospital and the doctor tells you you're going to have to stay. In my case, my appendix decided to get all up and crazy and blow itself up. I went to the ER for some nasty pain in my gut, and was informed to get ready to hang out for a few *weeks*...and my jaw dropped.
No trip to the hospital is any good, but here's at least a few tips from someone who has spent some time behind the fence to let you know how to deal with your time in the hospital.
Step 1: Diagnostics
The first things that are going to happen are a whole suite of diagnostic tools. These are letting the doctor know what is wrong with you and how they might be able to get you better. These are typically a combination of traditional methods (blood pressure, body temperature, symptomatic description from the patient), and maybe some fancy pants futuristic tech (MRI, XRay, CT scan, etc.)
When I went to the ER, I described my stomach pains to the doctor, got a CT scan, and was very quickly diagnosed with a ruptured appendix.
Step 2: Pain Management
In general, I hate taking pain killers. I believe that if something hurts, you should let it hurt so you don't just keep hurting it over and over again slowing the healing process.
In the hospital, forget this philosophy. Seriously. You're likely having severe enough pain that it is impeding other body functions. For instance, I had so much pain in my abdomen that I wasn't breathing deeply enough in my lungs and was starting to get pneumonia. The last thing you need is a new disease on the table after you are already holed up in the ER for a different cause.
IV painkillers will hit their targets really fast, but they are metabolized quickly by your bloodstream so you'll need a bunch of them. Oral based painkillers are slower to dissolve, but take a much longer route through the body so they can help you out longer.
Work with your nurse - if you are in a ton of pain, tell them a painkiller isn't effective, or you need a different dose. Just be sure to let them know...they can work with your doctor to come up with the proper courses of treatment and timing for your meds.
Step 3: On Antibiotics? Settle In, Sailor.
If you end up being admitted because you have some kind of rampant infection in addition to pain. Get ready to settle in :-/.
The super high power antibiotics used in a hospital setting not only take care of all the bad bugs running around your system, but they also end up attacking all the good bacteria that line your gut, intestines, and other parts of your GI tract. Depending on the length of your treatment, all of these may be obliterated.
As you start knocking out good bacteria in your body, weird things are going to start happening...your appetite vanishes, and nothing will look appealing. You'll likely get a wicked case of cotton mouth. Also, some strange things might start happening with your GI tract - I started passing straight gastric fluid through my nether regions. Vomiting can also start to happen. You'll likely develop a fever and they will probably be monitoring your white blood cell count via daily blood draw.
This was easily the most unexpected part of my entire stay and what kept me in the hospital for such a long time. I had such a massive infection, my kidneys had shut down, stomach stopped working. UGH.
Step 4: Don't Eat If You Don't Want To
...this especially applies to you if you are on antibiotics. You are likely being pumped full of sugar water so your body is getting all the nutrition it needs to survive. Eating may just cause you to throw up.
Step 5: Remember What Works and What Doesn't
Try to pull out trends - you are going to have multiple doctors and multiple nurses over several shifts. They do take notes on what they treat you with, but it always helps to have this info at the ready.
If you know a particular painkiller works well for a stabbing, acute pain, ask the nurse for that one when a similar type of pain recurs. If it is a new type of pain, don't be surprised if you need some other type of painkiller.
Ask to schedule things - if you always have trouble sleeping, request a sleeping pill at a prescribed time. If you know that your pain flairs up frequently, ask your nurse to have your next dose ready as soon as possible. The call button the nurse gives you may have a 30-40 minute delay from the time you press the button to the time you get treatment. Scheduling reliable issues with your nurse will make your stay much more comfortable.
Step 6: Talk to the Right Person
Depending on the length and severity of your stay, you'll likely be assigned multiple doctors, nurses, and specialists to help you out. It helps to direct questions to the correct people so you can get answers faster. Some are trickier to get ahold of than others:
Registered Nurses: You'll likely see lots of these. They pretty much take care of you day to day. They can draw blood, start IVs, and are generally your first line interface with doctors.
Assistant Nurses: You'll see lots of these too. They are like registered nurses with with a bit less authority - no IVs, catheters, or needles in the body stuff. They will help you take your vitals and dose you with medicine.
Doctors: Fall into a lot of categories. You likely won't see these people often, but they will be directing the meds you can take, and will be governing your eventual release from the hospital. So, in the words of Morpheus: the doctors are the key masters. They are blocking all the doors and holding all the keys.
Surgeons: A subset of doctors - if you need surgery, one of these will be on your team. Typically, they will request someone with specific expertise of the disease you have and can answer lots if questions about recovery times and alternate therapies.
Infectious Disease Specialist: Another doctor subset. If you require antibiotics (like I did) these people will likely request blood cultures and assign appropriate antibiotics and dosage for what buggers are running around in your system.
Charge Nurse: The person who oversees your nursing floor. This person has control over your roommate if you have a shared room, so if you have someone that you just can't deal with, this is the person to talk to.
Spiritual Advisers: Non denominational spiritual advisers are available and will likely pay you a couple of visits. Its always cool to have another person in your court!
Case Managers: These people care how you are going to pay after you leave and handle lots of paperwork.
Nutritionist: These people are good resources in trying to transition you back to a full solid diet.
There are plenty more people around...particularly doctor specialists, but hopefully this is enough to get you started.
Step 7: Have Hope - You'll Leave Someday
The biggest bummer is that as you start to recover, you'll start to get more and more bored since the pain and disease will subside. Its really easy to get frustrated at this point since you'll likely still be around for a day or two. Some last tips -
-If you are on a solid food diet, you don't need to suffer through hospital food. Have a friend bring you your favorite pizza or burrito and visit for a bit!
-Bust out your laptop...write an instructable that could help someone in the future :-).
-Go on some walks...nurses see activity as a positive thing, so jog around the building a bunch with your IV. You'll likely get a reputation with the staff and get out faster!
The biggest thing to remember - you're in the hospital because something went really wrong. Being in the hospital is the best place you can be as you recover.