Hospital visitation is one of those things that many of us hear about but very few of us feel confident doing. Something about it is unsettling. Having been both the visitor and the visited, I thought I’d jot down some helpful hints.
A little background
The hospital environment is not an easy one to invade. For those of you who have never spent extended periods of time in hospital (count yourselves blessed), please allow me the freedom to tell you a bit about it. Day and night a patient is poked and prodded and pricked. There is very limited privacy. And you are surrounded by other patients who are generally grumpy, hopeless and often angry and who take it out on their families and on the hospital staff.
Although, as a patient, you are always being touched, the touches are invasive, testing, and usually leave you feeling like an object to be studied and not a person to be cared for. The entire focus of your time in hospital is you. You are constantly asked questions, tested for different things, and different treatments are tried.
For most of us, we do not live within this vortex of introspection and self-focus during the rest of our non-hospital lives and so the result of an extended period in hospital can be detrimental to perspective and mental health.
1. Length of Visit
The patient is in hospital for a reason. They are not well. For most conditions such as strokes, heart conditions, giving birth, and the like – the patient is receiving care, but also they are in hospital to rest. Also, if someone is on new medication, pain killers, or anti-nausea medication, they will feel dopey and tired and will need to rest. Keeping this in mind, plan the length of your visit accordingly.
Lots of people bring flowers and chocolate, both of which are lovely. However, depending on the ward that your friend is in, some flowers are not permitted and some that have strong fragrances can bother other patients. Here are a few ideas for hospital gifts that are often welcome and enjoyed. Of course, keep in mind the needs of the patient you are visiting.
- Lip chap or hand cream
- Puzzle books
- Easy reading books
- Hot water bottle
- Blanket and pillow
All day every day, the person you are visiting has been asked about how they are feeling by doctors, nurses, family members, etc. Their stats, aches and pains, and feelings are being documented and analyzed constantly. As a patient, I just loved it when someone came into my room and didn’t ask me how I was doing first off.
There were a few visitors that I had though, who would come in and tell me about what was going on with the assembly, or tell me funny stories from home. They got past the medical to the things that were really on my heart.
This may or may not be appropriate depending on your age, gender, and relationship with the one you are visiting. As mentioned above, all the touch one receives in hospital is examining and probing. If appropriate, make a point of hugging the patient, holding their hand or resting your hand on their arm.
For those of you who are elders, I will never forget when my 7 elders came to see me in hospital when I was 23. These 7 men of God stood around my bed. Each one placed a hand on my arm, shoulder, hand, or feet and prayed for me. I felt so loved and so connected. They had said that I mattered by their presence – but had said it even louder with their touch.
Hospitals are a place where dignity and modesty take a back seat. Keep this in mind. If you are a woman visiting a man that you are not related to, it is usually best to go with another person. Same if the roles are reversed.
Open backed gowns. Absence of undergarments. Rumpled hair. Rashes or reactions to medications. Tubes and tape. Unshaved faces and legs. We are so aware and easily embarrassed. If you look, we notice. Please keep this in mind when you’re visiting. If something disgusts you or horrifies you, try and keep that to yourself. It’s not the patient’s job to make you comfortable. Their full time job is to get better.
6. Prayer and Bible reading
It’s always wonderful to have people come in and read and pray. It is worth taking the time to ask the patient what they would like you to pray for. Some people pray things over us that is just not where we are at right now, or that brings up fears and possibilities that we haven’t even thought about yet, or that corrects, teaches and condemns in places that are tender and broken.
It’s worth asking, too, if the patient has a favorite passage or hymn that they would like you to read. There is something wonderful about familiarity and God can use these things in the lonely times in hospital.
Remember too – less is more. Hospitals are hard places to think and study. A verse or two or a hymn are easy to play over and over in your mind. An entire chapter or a full message of exhortation is really hard to take in.
7. Body language
I’ve had many people visit me and pace, or keep their jacket on, or never remove their hands from their pockets, or those who stare at the ground the whole visit, or those who rub their hands on their jeans as if the air around them in the hospital is making them nervous.
It’s really hard to know how to help when someone comes to visit and seems completely uncomfortable being there. A few easy tips – make eye contact, smile. Try to relax. Ask open ended questions about anything, especially things that aren’t related to the current sickness, and lean forward, smiling and nodding as you listen.
8 A few things to avoid
Avoid going into hospital and complaining about your life. This is not the time or place to vent. Avoid taking children to the hospital unless they are directly related to the patient. Avoid going in large groups (one exception would be a group of elders visiting). Avoid sitting on the bed unless specifically asked. Blankets can cover up a lot of things in the hospital.
Avoid over visiting. If you’re visiting someone who has lots of family and visitors who are in regularly, remember that they are likely tired. However, if it’s someone who gets no visitors – go as often as you can!