If you're chronically or seriously ill, tending to self-care needs is never easy.
Putting on that hospital gown and wristband and other seemingly easy tasks can become daunting. Getting a second opinion, figuring out what your insurance covers, and researching your treatment options can be a struggle when attempted from a hospital bed.
Behavioral addictions - to shopping, sex, even e-mail - trigger the same rush of feel-good dopamine to the brain as drugs and alcohol. Since these "fixes" aren't formally recognized by the medical establishment, insurance won't pony up for treatment. But that doesn't mean they can't undo your life.
One reason, say experts, is that patients are frequently unprepared for the change in routine and the lack of resources available in their new environment.
"Once you're admitted, a lot of the options you relied on to help you make health care decisions -- like the Internet, or even your personal computer files or your address book -- are suddenly not there. And that can leave you more than a bit disoriented," says Sandy Burke, the director of patient representatives at NYU Medical Center in New York.
Complicating matters further, she says, is the state of high anxiety that usually accompanies most hospital stays.
"The emotional state is so high on the part of the patient and oftentimes the family that even if the procedure or treatment is elective, most people don't even think beyond getting through the operation," says Burke.
Although no one knows when an acute problem will strike, or when a chronic disease or condition will suddenly worsen, experts say that taking a few simple steps to prepare and organize at least some of your health care needs can help keep you in the driver's seat, if and when the time for hospitalization arrives.
What follows are four steps that experts tell WebMD will make a difference.
Step 1: Get to Know Yourself
Whether you have a chronic condition -- or you're simply getting on in years -- experts say one of the best things you can do for yourself is become familiar with what your future health care needs may be and how your personal needs may change as a result. The best source for this information: your doctor.
"About 10 years ago, my mother sat down with her doctor and had a meaningful conversation about not only her health, but the whole idea of growing old -- what to expect and how to prepare for that," says Lyla Correoso, MD, medical director of the Visiting Nurse Service of New York's Bronx Hospice Program.
As a result, she says her mother not only knows what to expect from herself and her body as the years pass, but is also better prepared to make health care decisions when the time arrives. She is also better able to discuss her needs with family members.
"In the event my mother finds herself in the hospital not only will she be better prepared for the experience, but our whole family will be better prepared to help her, because we have some sense of what will happen and what she wants and needs," says Correoso.