Visiting a Loved One in the Hospital

We all have different memories and emotional associations with hospitals. For some, they are just a workplace where we go every day. For others, they are a location of a tearful farewell to a loved one. To still others, they remind us of joyful new beginnings and welcoming new babies into the world. Though most people will have a hospital visit at some point in their lives, most of us will enter the hospital as visitors far more often than we do as patients. This can be an occasion fraught with awkwardness. When should we visit? How long should we stay? Should we bring gifts? With a few thoughtful tips, we hope we can make visiting a loved one at the hospital a bit easier for everyone.

One of the first questions to ask is when to visit. This will, of course, depend on the person. Some people don’t like a lot of fuss and want just a few close family members around. Others prefer to have visitors before a procedure to encourage them, rather than after when they need to rest. For example, religious leaders often visit a patient before a surgery to pray with them, and then a few days after, during the recovery, to see if they need any help from the community. This seems to be good timing for many people.

It’s natural to want to bring something to the patient. But what to bring? Rest assured, medical supplies are being taken care of by the hospital professionally, so you don’t need to bring any more bandages, and gifts like that may be thrown away anyhow. Be careful with bringing food items, too. Most patients recovering from a serious illness or procedure are on a strict diet that is prescribed by the hospital’s dietician. This isn’t just basic “healthy food.” Sometimes, excess sugar, salt, or other substances can interfere with the patient’s recovery. So hold off on the box of candy until recovery is well on the way.

Here’s the hardest one for most people: what do you say? Keep in mind, most patients who are sick enough to be in a hospital are probably really tired. They’ve been woken frequently for blood draws or vital signs, and it’s nearly impossible to get a good night’s sleep in a hospital, with all the beeping machines and flurries of activity. Assure your loved one that you are thinking of them and praying for them. Try to not to wear them out with too many questions – they’re answering questions from doctors and nurses every few hours as it is. Some people like to be caught up on the news – what’s been happening while they’ve been recovering. If they are too tired for conversation, just sitting next to them and watching a TV show with them can be very comforting.

If you’re not sure whether a visit would be appropriate, you can check with the patient’s close relative to find out if she would be receptive. Some people experience a grieving period when recovering from something major, and it can be a strain to feel that they have to “put on a good face” for visitors. When in doubt, it’s almost always a good idea to make the visit to a person who is recovering. They will surely be grateful for your thoughtfulness and time.

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