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Medical Dumps for Writers: Hospital Stay Basics

Welcome back to my series of medical dumps for writers, written very unprofessionally by a five-year trauma medic. This series is here to provide you with realistic information to use in your writing so that everyone can stop making the medical staff mad.

Hospital stays occur pretty frequently throughout fiction, as they're a great way to introduce some sort of conflict or emotional heartbreak.

Most people will go through their lives never experiencing a true hospital stay, and of course what we see on Grey's Anatomy never exactly matches up, so let's discuss.

Why are we here?

If your character suffers an accident, they are unlikely to end up admitted to the hospital for long periods of time, unless some sort of surgery is required. Most trips to the emergency room end up being discharged within a few hours, and this includes things like concussions or minor broken bones.

A character would be admitted to the hospital for mental health related issues, concerning lab levels, anything that requires surgery.

But where is here?

Usually the Multi-Service Ward, or MSW. This is where anyone goes for most things. There are typically multiple wards in different areas of the hospital, or wards for specific specialties. Your character will likely have a roommate and you might have doors or just a curtain.

The intensive care unit, or ICU, is meant for patients who need a more serious, sterile environment. They are usually much sicker, require more care, and have intense germ precautions. The baby form of this is the NICU.

Other popular wards are the Maternal Infant Unit (obvious is obvious), Mental Health Unit (inpatient mental health services), and a Surgery Ward for anyone prepping for a surgery or just getting out from one.

What goes on throughout the day?

Your character will be hooked up to two different machines, an IV bag through a saline lock in their arm (you can read my whole blog post about this here), and a blood pressure machine. There will also be a pulse oximeter on their pointer finger.

The blood pressure machine beeps and makes noise. All the time. Also the nurses at the nursing station are notified if it goes off in any way, such as a high pulse rate or removing the cuff entirely.

Medications are typically given by mouth or through the IV. If by mouth, the nurse will come in at the designated times and give the patient their medication in a small clear cup. These rounds come as early as six in the morning sometimes, which leads me to my next point.

Everyone's bothering you all day. You've got interns, residents, attendings, nurses, blood pressure checks, medication administration, visitors, you name it. They're bothering you with it.

In the morning, you have rounds with the attendings, done typically between 6 and 8 am. Residents and interns keep the attending up to date with the patient's treatment plan and their response to treatment. Interns answer to residents, residents answer to attendings.

Meals are served at specific times each day. Some hospitals provide a menu for you to choose from, some send up what's being served in the cafeteria, and some make their own rules. There's a joke about hospital food being bad, and it's not always true. Meals can also be brought in by visitors.

Speaking of visitors, let's chat. Most visitors will be just kind of pointed to whatever room they ask for. If you're in the MSW, there's not big protocol on visitors besides there is an eventual cut-off for the night. Family are always welcome to spend the night.

In wards like ICU, NICU, mental health, and maternal, there are likely more rules that have to be followed. ICU and NICU usually implement family-only policies with a strict not-at-night rule. Mental health wards typically allow no guests at all, and maternal wards have limits on how many guests there can be.

How long is my stay going to be?

It depends what you're there for. In childbirth with no complications, mother and baby are typically released 24 hours after birth. For some surgeries, you are typically released the same day or the next depending on the severity of the surgery, but some you might stay weeks to recover.

Those with chronic illnesses or diseases like cancer will also know the power of lab work. Labs are generally taken daily (in the wee hours of the morning) and are also key factors in the decision of whether you get to go home or not. Doctors love to observe things, and if your labs aren't the greatest, they would love to observe you.

Hospital stays are dramatic plot lines that we all know and love, and it never hurts to try to get them as accurate as possible to keep the story real.

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