Recently a friend of mine discovered that their father has cancer. Needless to say it has been overwhelming and emotional. Since the diagnosis they have been spending a significant amount of time in the hospital, and have been with their father for many of his visitors. Apparently they have not all been good! I know that this is not an isolated experience as I have heard from others about visiting situations that have not been helpful. This makes me sad as I know those who are doing the visiting have good intentions!
As deacons we often have the opportunity to visit others, particularly those who are sick or in the hospital. When we do this we should take a few moments to think about WHY we are visiting. Usually we are going to offer support of some type - possibly comfort, hope or companionship. This means we should be careful to know the situation of the person we are visiting. Are they alone or do they have family with them? Is their illness one that leaves them exhausted or are they happy for a distraction? How long of a visit can they handle? Is there anything we can bring for them (being mindful of hospital regulations, allergies and roommates)?
We need be careful not to add stress by visiting. Sometimes we do this accidentally by overstaying our welcome, coming with our own personal healthcare advice for their illness, lingering while the doctors or nurses are sharing information, or expecting the person to "host" us. Visiting others while they are ill can be a wonderful way of showing love and kindness, if it is done respectfully. Inspired by my friend's recent experience I did some internet searching and discovered this list of hospital visit "dos" and don'ts" created by Pastoral Care, Inc. Below are a few excerpts from their list. You can read the full list by clicking here.
Do ask your patient's or other family member’s permission to visit before you arrive. Ask them to be candid with you. If they prefer you not visit, ask them if another day would be better, or if they would prefer you visit once they get home. Many patients love visitors, but some just don't feel up to it. Be mindful of the numbers of people visiting and respect their time and health. Do your patient the courtesy of asking permission.
Do stay for a short time. It's the fact that you have taken the time to visit, and not the length of time you stay, that gives your patient the boost. Staying too long may tire them out. Better to visit more frequently, but for no more for a half an hour or so each time.
Do leave the room if the doctor or provider arrives to examine or talk to the patient. The conversation or treatment they provide is private, and unless you are a proxy, parent, spouse or someone else who is an official advocate for the patient, that conversation is not your business. You can return once the provider leaves.
Don't enter the hospital if you have any symptoms that could be contagious. Neither your patient nor other hospital workers can afford to catch whatever you have. If you have symptoms like a cough, runny nose, rash or even diarrhea, don't visit. Make a phone call or send a card instead.
Don't expect the patient to entertain you. Your friend or church member is there to heal and get healthy again, not to talk or keep you occupied. It may be better for your patient to sleep or rest than to carry a conversation with you. If you ask them before you visit, gauge their tone of voice as well as the words they use. They may try to be polite, but may prefer solitude instead of a visit.
Don't stay home, on the other hand, because you assume your friend or church member prefers you not visit. You won't know until you ask. Many pastors have been roasted for them assuming or staying away. It is best to attempt making contact and personal visits than not. Most church members expect their pastor to be there and the fact that you are trying to help them by showing up or asking if it is okay to show up for a visit.
If you're like me you may read through the list and be reminded of some visits you've done that have not been so great. Please don't be discouraged and think that hospital visits, or visiting those who are ill, just isn't "your thing". Let's learn and grow together!
What do you think of this list? Is there anything you would add? Have you experienced any really good or really bad hospital visits?