Almost everyone who is in a hospital or nursing home appreciates being visited! Contact with family and friends from the outside world is so important. Here are some helpful tips for when you visit:
Avoid saying "I had or I know someone who had the same thing." Don't share horror stories or failures.
Be personal, but don't burden a sick person with your own problems.
Physical contact is important -- holding hands, or giving a hug or a kiss, carries an extra measure of meaning and importance. Many people who are ill or shut-in are starved for physical affection!
Don't spread diseases! Don't go visiting if you have a cold, flu or other infectious illness. Wash your hands before and after visiting. Be aware of any special precautions (ask the nursing staff if you're in doubt). If you visit people often, or if you're in a high-risk group, be sure to get a flu shot every year.
Ordinary tasks (dressing, eating, moving, reading) often become major events, accompanied by inconvenience, slowness or pain.
Be especially careful of bumping or injuring people -- hitting the bed, or jarring the patient, can be very painful.
Do everything you can to respect people's privacy and dignity. Offer to leave or call for a nurse if they're having problems.
Be aware of other demands on the patient's time -- tests, treatments, physical therapy, need for extra rest, time needed to read about discharge planning or watch hospital videos -- even time to watch favorite TV shows!
In the hospital, mornings are often filled with tests and consultations, and after lunch is often needed for rest. Late afternoons, early evening, or near noon time are best.
If you phone, ask, "Is this a good time?" Offer to call again later if they're busy talking with staff or if they have another visitor.
Don't pretend to be an expert. You're not a doctor or a nurse! Don't offer medical advice if you're not a qualified professional. On the other hand, it may be important to raise questions which staff can answer.
Remember that some medications cause confusion or affect emotions and clarity of thinking. Don't count on the person being fully rational, or being able to remember things later. (Don't count on their not remembering, either!) Sometimes it's helpful to leave a business card or write a note for staff or family, to be read later.
Always treat unconscious people with dignity, as if they were fully able to understand what you are saying, and could make decisions on their own behalf.
Avoid speaking about people in the 3rd person when in their presence.
Avoid language which says, "God is testing you," "God is punishing you," "God must have a plan in all this". If someone dies, avoid saying, "God wanted them back," "God took them," etc.
Cards, flowers, drawings or posters are wonderful ways to cheer people up and show that you care.
Thoughtful, friendly, listening visits are one of the greatest gifts you can give!
Updated: January 2007