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Being a teenager in hospital

When your mates are pushing their boundaries and fighting for their independence it can be hard if you’re stuck in hospital.

Even if you know it’s the best thing for your health, a long stay can turn your life upside down. But there are ways to make it easier.

Millie on Kingfisher Ward
Lots of things can put you in hospital for a chunk of time. You might be born with a condition which needs life-long treatment, like cystic fibrosis, or you might have an injury which will take a few weeks to heal. Then there are illnesses that can need months or even years of specialist care.

Whatever the reason, you’re going to have to get used to a different lifestyle for a while.

Life changing

It can all change quickly. Jake only had five days to get used to the idea of spending a long time in hospital after he was diagnosed with leukaemia.

“They didn’t tell me how long I would be in hospital. They just said I would have to have the treatment and I would come out when I came out,” he remembers.

“It was very upsetting; I was going to a big hospital, which scared the life out of me. That was because I didn’t know what to expect when I got there and I had never been there before.”

Doing a bit of research can help. Check out the hospital website and ask your doctor loads of questions before you go. You can also contact PALS (Patients Advice and Liaison Service) at the hospital.

Surprises

In the end, Jake spent more than five months in hospital – and he was out a lot quicker than his doctors expected! At first, it took time to get used to the idea of having an illness, and to learn about the different treatments and staff.

But Jake was surprised to find it wasn’t all cold and clinical: “There was a lot of humour here and there. I felt like they made me part of the family. I felt very welcome. But it was a bit frustrating and confusing sometimes.”

Freedom

These mixed emotions are totally normal. Dr Anna Hutchinson, a clinical psychologist at Great Ormond Street Hospital, says that a long stay in hospital can be hard for young people.

“You can get quite depressed because you can’t do what you want to do and you are constantly being prodded and poked,” she says. “Part of feeling down is related to the fact that you are not able to mix with your friends. That is a big one.

“Young people in hospital can have very little freedom and have very restricted lives at a time when other people their age are going out and exploring the world.”

A bit of privacy

For older teenagers, it’s not easy to deal with growing up and puberty when you’ve got doctors and nurses coming and going all the time. It’s a time in your life when you want some privacy – and that can be hard to find in hospital.

Ricki Jones is 15. He reckons he’s spent a total of two years in hospital since he was first admitted with spina bifida at three weeks old. He’s had seven operations since.

“It does get a bit depressing but I have done it all my life so it is second nature,” he admits. “The nurses keep you going because they have always got a smile on their faces; not once have I seen a nurse without a smile!”

Keep busy

The young drum n bass MC writes songs to pass the time. He also gets regular visits from his girlfriend and family. But Ricki is now one of the older patients in a children’s hospital.

“The hospital is designed for a lot younger kids and there isn’t much for someone of my age to do. That means you have to make your own entertainment,” he says.

He added: “I am at an age where I find things to do. I sit there and think of things to do and try to keep myself busy. I think the best bit of advice is to knuckle down and get it over and done with; it is all for the best. All I want is out of here but I look at it that the longer I am here, the better I will get!”

Peace & quiet

Even though you’re in hospital to get better and you need to see the doctors, you can still want a bit of peace and quite now and again.

Dr Hutchinson says: “With the younger adolescents I would try and find a way for them to feel they have control over the environment. For example, something simple like a traffic light system on their door can give them a bit of control over who they do and don’t see.

“Older kids need as much independence as possible and good communication with doctors and other teens. Staying in touch with friends from school and home is also important.”

Positivity

A big part of enjoying your time in hospital is all in your head – a positive mental attitude.

Jake says: “Be positive and have a good attitude about it. Be brave and don’t be scared of anything. Go to school because you need to keep up with your lessons. If you don’t go to school then when you go back you will feel like you can’t do it because you’ve missed too much.”

Focus

Dr Hutchinson reckons that staying motivated and focused can make a massive difference. But you have to be realistic about your treatment.

“Longer term it is better to think about having a routine. Any teenager is going to want to stay in bed all day and play PlayStation. But they should try and have a routine; get up and go to school, get involved,” she says.

“Depression is a downward spiral so get out of your pyjamas and go do things. It’s difficult because medical needs take priority and you can get woken up in the night and things like that, which interferes, but you should still do what you can, however little, each day.”

Wisdom

Ricki agrees that staying busy and having things to look forward to are important.

“I would say that you should stay in touch with your friends and tell them to come in,” he says.

He adds: “Since I have been in here I have realised one thing: if you have an ambition then don’t let anything get in your way. It has given me inspiration to push on at what I want in life.”

Take part

As you get older it also makes sense to take a more active role in your treatment – especially if you are going to move into an adult hospital.

Dr Hutchinson says: “Speak to parents and tell them if you are feeling more confident or if you want to take more responsibility for your treatment. When a young person is in hospital it is easy for parents to see the young and vulnerable aspects of their children and to forget that they are a teenager who would be beginning to take on more responsibilities were they in a different situation.”

But it is also OK to admit that you need some help if things are getting hard.

“The kids might not want to let on that they feel ill or not want any more treatment. They can feel that they have to go through it for their mum or dad. Sometimes it can be helpful for everyone just to admit that it is tough.”

Teenagers - Teen Health Talk Show Artwork

Don’t forget...

Hospital isn’t just about needles, nurses, drips and dodgy food! You might be surprised at some of the opportunities – and treats – that come your way.

Jake has presented shows on Great Ormond Street Hospital’s Radio Lollipop. He’s also made a video diary about his stay and spoken at a charity auction which raised over £230,000 for the hospital. Then there’s been cricket in the school’s courtyard, the odd visit from a pop star and chance to make friends with a lot of brilliant people, including staff and patients…

So don’t worry too much about your stay. Learn as much as you can about your condition and treatment, ask questions, make friends, stay positive and you time will fly!