Last week my father had to be hospitalized. His condition required more than an overnight stay. I am thankful for hospitals and the staff who work tirelessly providing quality care.
Yet, hospitals aren’t usually happy places. Of course, it’s a different story if the visit is to welcome a new baby. But most of us will eventually find ourselves traipsing through those sterile corridors to visit a family member or a friend coping with stressful circumstances. And while our focus will be on the well being of our loved one, practicing a few common courtesies can ensure the experience is a bit less upsetting.
H-—Honor the visiting hours designated by the hospital. Call to make sure the patient is up to having visitors and don’t be offended if the answer is no. Try again the next day. And honor the hospital staff. They are providing care for patients facing trauma, pain, and distress. Whether making a bed, emptying the trash or taking a pulse, a simple smile and a thank you are very much appreciated.
O-–Offer to help the patient. Sometimes a patient may need a pet fed or plants watered. Or offer to drive the patient’s spouse, especially if they are elderly. My brother drove my mother to visit our father, and it was so helpful. She could be dropped off at the hospital entrance and didn’t have to walk, in the heat, through the vast parking lot.
S—Short visits. Keep your social call brief. Watch the patient for signs of fatigue…be sensitive about leaving, even if the person asks you to stay. Promise to come the next day. Also, be careful about wearing perfume when you visit. A strong scent can be nauseating to the patient.
P-–Pleasant, be cheerful. Keep the conversation pleasant and upbeat. Don’t tell horror stories about Uncle Wilbur who had the same thing and ended up with a staph infection from his hospital stay. Don’t make comments about terrible hospital food. Negative talk is hard for a patient already dealing with the anxiety of being hospitalized. Light and uplifting conversation makes you a welcome visitor.
I-—If you must use your cell phone….leave the patient’s room, and do not stand around in the hallway making phone calls. Most hospitals have rules posted about cell phone use. Be respectful of other patients and staff regarding cell phones.
T—-Touch the patient only if it’s okay. Find out first. Be careful about physical contact. Holding a hand is almost always comforting. Also, don’t sit on the patient’s bed or ask the staff to bring you a chair. Stand if there is not a vacant seat, after all, you’re only there for a short visit.
A-—Ask a family member or the nursing staff before taking a gift. Some patients may have allergies to plants or flowers. Latex balloons fall into the same category. Food is usually not a good idea, especially if the patient is on a restricted diet. Alternative gifts might include magazines, books or a gift card to a favorite coffee shop.
L—-Leave the room when a nurse or doctor comes in. Respect the patient’s privacy. However, if the patient is a relative, it might be helpful to have a designated family member also “hear” what is being said. Often a patient is under duress and can’t process information or recall what was discussed. I remember a very traumatic hospital visit. The doctor kindly spoke to our entire family group. It was so helpful; we could compare notes, remind one another about forgotten details, and be encouraged.
Hopefully, remembering these few common courtesies will make an unpleasant situation bearable.