Being a Good Visitor

A friend or loved one is in the hospital, and you want to visit. Seems simple -- but consider these tips for making the visit terrific for you and the patient.

  • Today, patients are hospitalized because they are really sick and need acute care. Most patients don't have the energy to entertain their visitors, so the burden rests on the visitor to carry the conversation.
  • Visiting a patient can be difficult. It's hard to know what to say, and if a group of family members are there, the tendency can be to talk to the family group rather than the patient. Remember -- the patient is the reason you are there.
  • Check in with the nursing station when you first come in. Make sure nothing has changed in the patient's condition that would prohibit visits, or that might require special precautions for visitors.
  • A general guideline for patients in intensive care is not to send flowers. For patients on special diets, check with the doctor or nurse about what edibles would be appropriate for the patient.
  • Good gifts: Cards with personal messages; crossword puzzles; books or magazines; and you'd be surprised how often a patient welcomes a stuffed animal as a companion on their health journey.
  • Patients have given up their independence as hospital patients. They worry about being presentable, trapped, tired, overwhelmed. Try to put yourself in the patient's position when you visit. Ask if there's anything the patient needs. Keep visits frequent, but short. Pay attention -- if a patient seems tired, leave and give them a chance to rest.
  • Ask if there's someone the patient would like to contact or have visit. Perhaps they'd like a neighbor, a good friend, their pastor, priest, rabbi, or mullah, or a member of the Pastoral Care team to visit.
  • Conflict doesn't help a patient regain health and strength. Don't argue in front of, or with the patient. Help the patient embrace what steps they can take to take charge of regaining their health.
  • Every patient has a unique tolerance level for humor and gentle ribbing. Know what that tolerance level is, and always, try to put yourself in the patient's place. For example, some patients might take offense with comments like:
    • "Aren't you lucky -- all you have to do is lie here all day. You should have had my day." (The patient probably isn't lying around because they want to. They'd likely rather have had your day than theirs. Keep the focus upbeat about what's good that's been happening. Keep the focus on the patient.)
    • "Oh, they put you in a terrible room." (The patient has no control over their surroundings. Bed space in most hospitals is very tight. It's more important to make sure the patient is receiving quality nursing and physician care.)
    • "Well, why didn't you ask the doctor about that? You really should call him up and ask." (Visitors may think they're trying to help. More helpful, would be to ask the patient if you can help by writing down questions to ask the doctor the next time he/she comes in).
    • "Oh, you poor thing. Look at you -- flat on your back with all this stuff hooked up. You must feel awful." (The patient probably doesn't want to be reminded how they feel╬ô├ç┬¬but it is appropriate to ask how the patient is feelings physically and emotionally.)
    • "Oh, you'll be fine. You're tough!" (Perhaps this is really not the case. Don't discount the seriousness of why the patient is hospitalized).