by DR. MICHAEL M. WARREN

My uncle says he gets sick to his stomach just at the thought of hospitals. He says they “smell funny.” Actually, I know lots of people who hate hospitals. Not me. I spend half my life in a hospital. I’m glad I’m a doctor.

Of course, hospitals have not always enjoyed the best of reputations. A long time ago, they were places where people went only if they could not afford a doctor at home, or if they were about to die. The sad truth is that before modern sterile procedures and antibiotics, it was often safer to be treated at home. There was less chance of infection and maybe even a better chance of recovery.

Things are different today. And if you’re about to be hospitalized, you have enough on your mind; the last thing you need is to be stressed out simply at the thought of going to the hospital.

I’ve heard people express various concerns about hospitals (other than my uncle’s “funny smell” that is most likely nothing more than cleaning solutions!).

“I’ll receive contaminated blood or medication.” Great care is given to ensure that this does not happen. Blood is collected under strictly monitored conditions and tested before it is accepted. Medications are prepared in special rooms with vented hoods that prevent even airborne contaminants from reaching them.

“I’ll receive the wrong medication,” appears to be another worry. While I hate to admit that this could happen, the chance is slight. In a large hospital, there are thousands of doses of medicine dispensed daily. But the risk of error is greatly reduced by procedures for double checking and the numbers of staff who must witness the order throughout the process greatly reduce mistakes. However, as a patient, you can help by asking about your medication. If it looks or smells different, ask for an explanation. This involves you in your own recovery and serves as another check point for accuracy.

“I’ll have the wrong operation.” I’ve had patients who have written special instructions on their own skin (Take out the left kidney, doc, not the right one). While “many a true word is spoken in jest,” this is a real fear for some patients.

The number of staff involved throughout the surgery process from admitting to recovery, provide built in double, triple and even quadruple checkpoints. Your hospital identification tag also minimizes risk it is checked continuously. But if you feel an error might be made make a pest of yourself. Ask about the procedure or tell the surgeon of your concerns.

One of the best ways to overcome your fear of hospitals is to spend some time in one. But don’t wait until you are sick; join the ranks of volunteers or ask for a tour, if one is available. Many hospitals offer tours for young patients, and even for adults, to offset such fears and to explain how the hospital works. Talk to knowledgeable and informed hospital personnel. It should make you feel better.