As an ordained minister, I often visit parishioners in the hospital. Over three decades of pastoral ministry, I have learned some important things to do—and NOT do—during a visit. During your next visit to a hospital, remember these Hospital Rules.
By definition, healthy people don’t check into hospitals. Patients feel bad—if they felt good, then no doubt they would go home. In hospital visits, follow the KISS method: Keep It Short, Silly. When it comes to hospital visitation, less is more. Five minutes may be plenty. After ten minutes, most visitors have outstayed their welcome.
Keep the visit upbeat and positive. The patient does NOT want to hear about your Aunt Gertrude’s struggles with the same ailment—ESPECIALLY if the story concludes, “But I’m sure they can treat it NOW!” For some reason, people experience a morbid desire to share medical horror stories with patients. One word of advice: DON’T!
Hospitals expend an inordinate amount of time, work, and money to maintain a sterile environment. One careless person off the street can foil an institution’s finest efforts. No one wants to make a sick person sicker. Don’t visit someone in the hospital if you are ill. Visitors should wash their hands BEFORE and AFTER visiting a patient. Many hospitals also provide hand sanitizer throughout the facilities.
If a sign on the door says No Visitors Allowed, this DOES mean YOU. Sign the sheet and respect the patient’s wishes. If extraordinary measures are required before entering a room, chances are good that you don’t need to enter the room.
Doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel work diligently to provide the best possible care. Frankly, visitors often get in the way. Don’t enter a room while a patient is receiving treatment. If a nurse or doctor enters the room, offer to leave. A patient does not need more than two or three visitors. In the past, I have visited some rooms that resembled a family reunion or neighborhood block party.
In most cases, children and hospitals don’t mix. It’s not the child’s fault—kids act like kids. Adults ought to know better, however. Exceptions do exist. A child might enjoy a brief visit to see parents or grandparents; and big brothers and sisters certainly want to see their newest siblings. Otherwise, leave the children at home.
Did I mention the patient doesn’t feel well? Never sit on the edge of a hospital bed because you might hurt the bedridden person. Don’t grab a patient’s hand without checking carefully for IV lines. Scan the bedside for IV stands, catheter lines, and drainage bags. Resist the temptation to lean over the bed railing for a hug or kiss. And while we’re on the subject of kisses, your mouth may contain more germs than your hands!
Visit on the patient’s timetable and not your own. Don’t go early in the morning or late at night. It’s also best to avoid mealtimes. If a patient is asleep, don’t wake the person up to visit with you.
Honor the patient’s confidentiality. Many people would prefer to remain incognito during their hospital stay. They certainly don’t want the intimate details of their condition broadcast to the general public.
Under the category of “You shouldn’t have to tell folk this,” here are a few other reminders: don’t use the patient’s bathroom, throw away trash, don’t smoke, chew, or dip tobacco, never visit while “under the influence,” leave all weapons at home, and don’t smuggle forbidden food to the patient. (Hospitals post these rules because folk have broken them in the past.)
Most of all, remember that the patient’s wellbeing is the first and foremost priority. This isn’t about you, it’s about them. The Golden Rule applies to hospital visitation: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.