created at: 2010-10-31

Many people avoid visiting friends or family members who are in the hospital because of fear of contracting illness, unpleasant memories of previous experiences, or the discomfort of facing someone they care for who is now made vulnerable by injury or disease.  This is unfortunate because, for the patient, a friendly face in the doorway can brighten up a difficult day.  For the visitor, getting past this unease can take the stigma and fear out of the hospital experience and allow him or her to feel the pleasure that comes from easing another’s suffering while performing the Mitzvah of Bikkur Cholim.  Following some simple suggestions, it is possible to achieve a gratifying and meaningful visit to a loved one’s bedside in the hospital.

Preparing For The Visit

  • Call first to make sure that the patient is well enough to receive visitors, and find out what time is convenient for you to visit.
  • Wash your hands and use hand sanitizer just before entering the patient’s room.  If “contact precautions” are specified, either postpone your visit, or ask a staff member to assist you with gowns, gloves, and/or masks.
  • Knock first and make sure the patient is awake, dressed, and available.  If a doctor or clinician is examining the patient, remain outside or in the lounge.

What To Say

         Sometimes people feel awkward about making conversation with people who are sick.  Showing up in their room is the best way to say, “I care.”  Don’t feel you have to make idle conversation to entertain them. You have come to visit your loved ones; make sure you give them your attention and allow them to talk if that is what they wish to do.   If they are too ill to speak, it is perfectly fine to simply sit by their bedside and hold their hand.

            When the subject of their illness comes up, try to resist offering assurances such as, “You’ll be better before you know it,” or “I know you’ll get through this.”  You may find these sentiments comforting, but statements like those may seem insensitive to the genuine fears of people facing serious illness.  If the person you are visiting shares details of his or her illness with you, avoid getting into your own medical history or telling stories of other people you know who may have had similar ailments.  This shifts the focus away from the patient where it belongs.  

         Remember:

  • Silence can be golden;
  • No gratitude for platitudes – keep it real;
  • Enough about you, let’s talk about them!

What to Bring

            Hospital gift shops sell flowers, but even those who aren’t allergic to them can find the heady scents overwhelming when they are perched on the table next to their bedsides in a confined space.  Skip the blossoms and think about what you would like to have if you were stuck in a room for days or weeks.  Books or magazines of particular interest to the patient are great if he or she is able to read.  Check ahead of time to see if they would like slippers or a pillow from home to use in their hospital room.  Music or books on CD and a CD player is another thoughtful gift.  If hospital rules and your friend’s condition allow, homemade goodies are a loving treat.  The most important thing to bring, of course, is you. 

         So,

  • Save the flowers and bring practical presents;
  • Call ahead and ask if there is anything they need from home;
  • You are the best gift of all

What Not To Bring

            Germs.  Do not visit your friend or family member if you are sick.  You may think it’s no big deal, just a little sniffle, maybe an upset tummy, but the organisms that are causing those mild symptoms in your healthy body could be deadly for patients throughout the hospital.  Children go from one infection to the next, so even if your child seems healthy, it is a good idea to leave kids at home when making a hospital visit.  Also, try not to bring upsetting or stressful news and conversation with you.  Even if your M.O. with this patient is to get into heavy conversation about other problems, now is not the time for it.  Save it for when he or she is recovered and out of the hospital. 

  To review:

  • Cold or flu symptoms (cough, fever, runny nose, etc.) or gastrointestinal (diarrhea, vomiting) = stay home.  No exceptions;
  • Leave the kids at home;
  • Don’t be a downer!  Other problems will wait.

(c) 2010 Judith Ovadia