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How To Visit Someone In The Hospital

I learned a lot during my month-long stay in the hospital waiting for my Hodgkins diagnosis. I learned that I have “bad veins” thanks to their small size and ability to roll over. I learned that my bladder can hold more than a urine hat. I learned that nurses are the most amazing people ever. And I learned a lot of people have no clue how to visit someone in the hospital.

Well, I am here to help. These are based on my experiences. If I miss something, by all means, add it in the comments below!

Visits from friends and family were the main reason why I was able to keep my spirits so high during my extended stay. However, sometimes they provided a little more stress than ease. And I get the feeling some people didn’t stop by because they didn’t really know how to.

1. Call ahead.

There is something about hospitals that make people think they can just “drop in.” You really shouldn’t. Contrary to popular belief, inpatients don’t sit staring at the wall all day just waiting for someone to come in.

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There are tests, procedures, needles, etc. I liked to get up for walks when my energy was high, and eating times were my favourite alone times. There is also a roommate to consider, who won’t want your entire extended family in the bed next door when they’re being wheeled in on a stretcher from the OR.

Towards the end of my stay, I got better at letting people know when my surgeries were and being specific about no visitors in the couple days that followed. But it was always a shame when someone would pop their head in and I would have to kick them out because the call came up for me to see the doctor. Something that could have been prevented with a phone call, email, or text.

2. Don’t stick around too long.

An hour tops. When you’re sick, it takes a LOT of energy to be “on” so to speak for visitors. Often just one visit was enough to zap my energy for the day. It was a good use of my energy, but draining nonetheless. I found 45 minutes was usually the best length, but be observant. If the person in the hospital bed is getting quieter and their eyes are glazing over, it’s time to make your exit. And please, make it a quick exit. Don’t say you’re going to leave then drag out the goodbyes for 15 minutes. That’s really damn tiring too.

3. Don’t cry.

My best friend Erika cried, god love her. I can tease her about it now, but the person in the bed should not be comforting the person in the visitor’s chair. I know it’s hard to see a loved one sick and hooked up to machines, but it’s even harder for a sick person to see someone cry over them. I hate feeling responsible for another person’s tears, even though I have no control over my being sick. If you’re upset upon entering the room, make an excuse to get out and regain your composure.

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4. Keep the group small.

Three visitors at a time tops. Being around too many human bodies is exhausting. It’s noisy. It bugs the person in the bed next door, and I think it stresses the nurses out.

5. Be useful.

This isn’t necessary, it depends on your relationship with the person you’re visiting. But it’s always nice if someone changes the flower water, fills up water glasses, or tidies up the bed area. Don’t ask, just do it. I hate answering silly questions like “Do you want me to put this over here?” I get asked a million questions a day, and useless ones like that make me want to pull my hair out.

6. Gifts…

…aren’t necessary. But I understand not wanting to show up empty-handed. If you’re going to bring something, make sure it’s useful!

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Some of my favourite gifts included pyjama pants, magazines, unscented creams or soaps, pretty cards to decorate the wall with, and food. Not cookies or treats, but main dishes that I could eat instead of the gross hospital food. Make sure it’s well cooked, easy to digest, and kind of plain. Ask about allergies or medical restrictions if you’re bringing food or something to put on the body. Keep in mind that patients are often hooked up to an IV, which makes clothing difficult.

7. If you’re sick, STAY AWAY.

Even if you’re not, Purell the hell out of your hands before and after.

8. Tell stories.

After I finished filling my friends in on my situation, I wanted to know all the gossip from the outside world. Don’t assume a sick person doesn’t want to hear that stuff, for me it’s a fun escape. Something to talk about besides my illness. With that said, some people don’t have anyone to talk to about their medical situation, so be prepared to get an earful of complaints and jargin too.

9. Go for a walk.

My least active days in the hospital were those that I had the most amount of visitors. Don’t feel like you have to stick to the hospital room. If the person in the hospital is well enough, suggest a walk around the ward, a trip to the cafeteria, or even just hang out in the common rooms.

10. Be there after the hospital.

I’m sure anyone who’s been in the hospital has experienced this. All sorts of people come out of the woodwork when you’re an inpatient, and then drop off once you’re back at home. My best friends are those who’ve stuck by me sick or not sick, in the hospital or hanging out at home. Just because a person is out of the hospital, doesn’t mean they’re better. In fact, life can get a whole lot lonelier once back at home.

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