By: Maralee McKee, Manners Mentor
As a patient, time moves at an other-worldy pace in the hospital. One day and night in Room 777 at St. Angels of Healing seems five times longer than one vacation day in the Bahamas, at least twice as long as a bad day at work, or one spent with toddler triplets cranky with colds.
In the hospital we’re in the hospital we are definitely not at our best. We’re usually scared or at least feeling anxious, and we’re longing for the comfort of the familiar:
While friends can be a big part of recovery by lifting spirits, bringing the outside world in, and reminding us that we’re loved, there’s a lot more than popping-in for a visit that goes into being a great friend to someone in the hospital.
In fact, sometimes, showing up isn’t the right thing to do.
To be a great companion, you’ll want to know the Gold Standard of what to say and do to make sure you’re making the patient feel better instead of worse from accidental wear.
From knowing when and if you should visit, what gift(s) you should bring, how long you should stay, and what you should say, there’s a lot to know about how to make sure you’re time with the patient is just what the doctor ordered. Let’s discover these Gold Standard hospital visiting manners, some of which, like so many modern manners, are counterintuitive.
~Never show up at the hospital unannounced. Don’t visit if it’s not prearranged.
~Try to reach a family member to ask when would be a good time to visit. You never want to just drop-by because you don’t know how the patient is feeling, what kind of tests they’ve had run today which might make them extra tried, and about a hundred other reasons.
~When a day and time is set, call or text just prior to leaving for the hospital to see if the patient is still up for your visit.
~ A good rule of thumb is to stay for about 20-minutes. But, use your sixth sense. Cut your visit short if he or she seems tired or in pain. Stay longer if they’re bored out of their mind and asking you to stay.
~You’re there for your sick friend. Be 100% there for him or her. Don’t look at your phone. If you’re going to be tempted, leave it in the glove box of your car.
~Don’t wear perfume. People can be extra sensitive to scents when they’re ill.
~Wash your hands or use hand sanitizing gel before hugging the patient hello. Explain what you’re doing so they don’t think you’re afraid of touching them. “Amber, let me wash my hands at your sink. Then I’m going to give you a big hug! It was a long way up here to the ninth floor. I don’t want to have any germs on me that might slow down your recovery.” (You can leave out the part that you also don’t want to get the virus de jour and wind up in the hospital yourself because you touched the elevator buttons or anything else!)
~If a doctor or nurse steps into the room stand-up and say, “Excuse me, Aubrey. Take your time. I’m going to be in the hall.” Smile at all and leave without giving your friend time to respond. He or she might feel bad that you’re going to be standing and say it’s fine if you stay. But, leaving the room is the right thing to do. You don’t know what they’re going to talk about, and you’re going to both going to wish you weren’t there if the nurse asks, “Well, Mrs. Barton, have you had your first bowel movement since surgery?” or some equally private question.
~If the patient is in the early stages of recovery and a nurse or doctor enters close to the 15 – 20-minute mark of your visit, that’s a good clue to say goodbye, promise to return, and leave. The same is true if a family member or another guest shows up.
~ If you’re a family member staying with the patient at the hospital and a friend shows up to visit, if you know the person, chat for two-or-three minutes and then excuse yourself. It’s a good time for you to have a little break. Stretch your legs, take a walk down the hall, go to the cafeteria, or maybe go outside for some fresh air. This will give the patient and his or her friend some private time.
~Most people think of bringing flowers, but that’s really one of the worst gifts to give to someone in the hospital. They take up the little bit of horizontal (shelf) space in the room, and all your friend can do with them is sit around watching them die a little bit each day. Not exactly what you want to do in the hospital.
~Flowers are hard to transport home without the vases falling over spilling water and flowers in the vehicle. Save having flowers delivered to celebrate your friend’s homecoming. Then the arrangements can be spread throughout the house brighting all the rooms they enter.
~If you do bring or send flowers. Make it an orchid plant with a few flowers already blooming and lots of buds. When watered just once a week, a quality orchid will bloom for a month or more.
~ No gifts are usually given to someone in ICU. Wait until they’re feeling better and in a regular room and then bring your gift.
~Boredom is the enemy of every hospital patient. Gifts that help fight boredom but don’t tax the brain are usually the most welcomed. Fill a cute container, tote bag, or basket with several magazines, a novel, an inspirational book, quality hand lotion, flavored lip balm (It’s like a tiny taste of dessert!), fun socks (feet often get cold when you’re ill), notecards, a journal, colorful pens, and such. Check out Pinterest boards for inspiration and walk the aisles of Target or your favorite store. You’ll find lots of things to fill your friend’s basket. Some little 3″ by 4″ framed photos of their loved ones don’t take up much room, but will make a special gift.
~ If you know what electronic media your friend has with him or her (ask a relative or the patient) you can purchase gift certificates for iTunes for books, music, or movies, App store gift cards for, well…apps, and Amazon gift cards for e-books or something else they want. (Most hospitals are wi-fi enabled, but if the hospital is older, you might want to make sure first.)
~Ask about your friend’s hospital diet. If they’re free to eat anything offer to bring a favorite dish from their most-liked restaurant. A snack they’re craving, flavored waters, and of course, anything you’ve made for them: cookies, banana bread, slices of pound cake, anything that is easy to eat with fingers. (It’s nice to add some paper plates, napkins, and plastic utensils along with the food.)
~If the person has a relative or dear friend staying with them, think of bringing them some gifts, too. Their days are extra long, being well and staying in a hospital room day-and-night is hard. Anything that makes a good gift for the patient is good for the care giver, too.
~ Unless you’re visiting daily, bring something every time you come, even if it’s something little like a tin of mints. Something new in the room helps cure the monotony of a hospital room.
~ What you should and shouldn’t say will, of course, vary greatly depending on the severity of your friend’s illness and the long term outlook for his or her recovery. Visiting someone who will be home in three-days and back to work in ten-days is a lot different than visiting someone who has received a diagnosis of inoperable cancer and told by doctors that they have nine-months to live. The conversations will be different except they both will focus on being a listening ear, comforting the person, and sharing the warmth of friendship. That’s usually best done by doing very little talking and a lot of listening.
~ Share news (not gossip) about people you both know. Talk about TV, movies, books or current events. Trade stories about your children. If you attend the same church, share about sermons they’ve missed.
~ Come to the hospital with a a mental list of three or four topics to help keep the conversation ball bouncing.
~Try to arrange to visit every third day. If you’re best friends, than you’re like family, and daily visits are fine.
~ Make plans with the person for when he or she gets out of the hospital. If they’re going to make a full recovery than go some where and do something fun! Maybe lunch and a movie, a day at a local lake or natural attraction, shopping, dinner, coffee and book or shoe shopping…it doesn’t matter as long as it’s something that the patient enjoys and gives him or her something to look forward to.
~ Even if the diagnosis is dire, make plans. When I was twenty-two, during the week of my first wedding anniversary, Chuck, my late husband, was diagnosed with cancer and given 12-months to live. He lived four-and-a-half years amazing everyone. Later, when the cancer attacked his brain and liver simultaneously, he was given six-weeks. His best friend from Georgia came down to Florida to visit. Chuck owned a Harley Davidson. (Yep, I use to ride it. I loved it. I’ve been to bike week in Daytona Beach. I had leather chaps, a jacket, and gloves, and I’m not shy to say that I looked good riding behind my husband on our classic (A nice way to say rode long and hard by the time we got it.) 1986 Special Edition Electro-Glide. And no, Kent and our boys can’t believe I rode the Harley and enjoyed it. I can’t believe I rode it. But, love gives us courage that we never thought we had.) Anyway….when his friend arrived, he took Chuck, who was so weak I didn’t think he was going to be able to sit up, on a 30-minute ride. He wasn’t in the driver’s seat, but he was on his Harley, and when he came back in the door of our home, he looked like a man free of the cancer that was pulling the life out of him. There was joy in his glassy eyes and a steady stride to his weak walk. It was the last strength or joy he experienced until he entered the gates of Heaven four-weeks to the day at 12:58 PM. I pray, when I’m called on, (We’ll all to be called on eventually.) that I’ll be the kind of friend Bob Gainey was to my husband.
~ In your conversations you don’t need to pretend all is well, but you also don’t want to be Don or Debbie Downer. Keep it light, but if they bring up the hard stuff, listen, pray with them, and talk about what they want to talk about. Let them lead the discussion. Don’t bring up anything they don’t, and don’t side-step any difficult subjects if they bring them up.
~Leave on a high note. The best way to do that is to have plans for the next time you’ll be with your friend already set-in-stone, or at least as planned as you can get them at the moment. Also, let your friend know you’ll be available for them throughout their recovery whether that’s days or months…or years.
This might sound hard, but when you’re a mentor, sometimes you have to come out of your comfort zone to let people know the truth. Even a hard truth. It’s not like me to speak bluntly, but on this I must. I watched a good man die young whose friends old and young didn’t come to see him. He would ask about them. I would make excuses that we both knew were lame.
I’ve heard many folks say that they can’t go to visit others in hospitals, or to the bedsides of the sick at home, or attend funerals because they’re uncomfortable, or it brings back bad memories, or because they want to remember the person when they we’re well, not how they are now.
To that I say, you have got to get over it.
You’re making this about YOU.
It has nothing to do with you.
You’re not the one who’s sick.
Be by your loved one. Yes, it’s hard. But, it’s the right thing to do.
Deserting someone who is very sick or dying, or not going to a funeral to pay your respects to the other members of the family who are there grieving is selfish, rude, weak, and allowing your fears to rule you. You control your emotions. If you concentrate on the good times, that’s what you’ll remember in the future. If this is truly a problem for you, go to a counseling session or two, because there’s going to be a lot of people that you love that will die before you. You need to be able to deal with this.
“Friends to the end.” means friends to the very end (even a funeral). Not until you’re not comfortable any longer.
First of all, come on over to the comments and share your hospital story about a time a visitor helped or made things worse for you in the hospital, or ideas you have for brightening a patient’s day. Join me and other Manners Mentor family members in a conversation about today’s topic!
Let’s end on a happy note: a giveaway! One of you will win a Mother’s ring valued at up to $600 on May 4, 2014!
I’m happy and honored to announce that the gracious people at Kranich’s Jewelers are fans of our blog. Kranich’s has been in business in PA since 1903. That’s 111 amazing years of providing the best in beautiful, quality jewelry, personal service, and best prices!
In honor of Mother’s Day, they want to give one of their fellow Manners Mentor family members an heirloom Mother’s Ring. This ring will be personally designed by you and their master jeweler. Take a look at some of the many designs from which you can choose. They’re lovely aren’t they?
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Share this email with your friends, family and those in your social media circles, and let them know about the contest and our blog, too!
I’m excited to announce that I’m an aunt again! Everly Rose joined our family a little early, but mother and daughter are now in good health, on Wednesday, March 12. She weighs just 3 pounds and 15 ounces. I’ve seen photos of her, and she’s perfection! She joins her Mommy and Daddy and her 19-month-old big sister, Ava Grace. The happy family lives in Virginia, and I can’t wait to to meet her and see her big sister and parents again! New babies are packages from Heaven!
Until next week, be blessed, be kinder than necessary, and give the world the gift only you can give, you….at your best!
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Thank you for being here! Manners Mentor, Inc. is an upbeat blog dedicated to helping you become successful in every part of your life by interacting with ease and savvy, and turning self-consciousness into self-confidence. If you want to be authentically You at Your Best you're in the right place!
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