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Some Guidelines For Visitation (Part 1)


(Names changed)


 


We are taught that visiting the sick takes away a great deal of their pain. It is a mitzvah we all ascribe too. Most of the sick or chronically ill look forward to visitors. It can be the highlight of their time in the hospital, their stay or residence in a nursing home, or just lighten their day if they are at home. However, people must be aware of just how to visit, so that the visit does not cause the sick even more discomfort.

 

When I spoke with people who were ill, and with their spouses, some general guidelines emerged. The people I spoke to all seem to have the same concerns and although they loved the visits, they shared some common “don’ts” with me. I’d like to pass them on to you.


Unless given other information by someone close to the sick person, keep the visits short. People do need their rest. They need it to help the body recuperate if they are after surgery or an illness. Rest is also imperative to the chronically ill, in order to just do what they need to do on a regular basis. Remember that, hopefully, you are not the only visitor they will have. Five visitors during the course of a day can be exhausting for someone who is ill. Look to the patient for direct instruction, or pay attention to silent clues to know when to make your exit.

 

Shayla was in hospital, recovering from surgery. She was lonely and wanted visitors. But she was not prepared to have a constant stream of visitors. The first day of her hospital stay, her parents, children, cousins and friends all came up to visit. As the hospital only allowed two visitors at a time, they coordinated the time of their visits. Naturally there was some overlap. Most of the visitors were anxious to spend time with Shayla and stayed for over an hour. They only left when the next set of visitors walked through the door. By the end of the day Shayla was exhausted. She felt sicker then she had felt right after surgery.


She wished that people would have called first and asked if they should come. She was dreading the possibility of a repeat performance the next day. When she mentioned that she was tired, and though she really appreciated the visits, she just needed a day to sleep, her family insisted upon coming anyway. They told her to rest. They would not disturb her or even talk to her if she wanted to sleep. They would just sit quietly in her room and make sure she was fine.

 

The problem was that Shayla felt uncomfortable sleeping with people watching her. She felt rushed if she was to shower, and the visitors were asked to wait outside until she was finished. She just wanted some alone time. She couldn’t figure out how to let those who cared so much for her know that what they were doing was great, but just too much. And too much, in this case, is as detrimental as too little.

 

Molly was in a terrible accident. After a week in the hospital, she was finally sent home. Bruised, traumatized and in pain, Molly welcomed visitors. She told me what she really needed was short visits by friends and family, because if people came and the pain was bad, or if she was having a bad day, full of anxiety, she could not sit for long periods of time. She told me that she had a visitor who stayed almost two hours. Molly found it difficult to tell her to leave. Instead, she closed her eyes frequently. She told the person she was not feeling well. She tried repeatedly to give “hints” that she really needed the visitor to leave, but to no avail.

 

When I asked her why she didn’t just tell the visitor that she needed to lie down and that she appreciated the visit, but could she come back another time, Molly told me that she felt bad and just couldn’t bring herself to do that. The visitor had come a long way. It was so nice of her to care. She just couldn’t tell her directly to leave, and unfortunately she wasn’t picking up Molly’s hints to do so.

 

We all want the best for those we care about. One of the best gifts we can give to a person who is sick is ourselves. A visit helps pass the time, makes a person feel cared about and loved and truly helps with the recovery. But there can be too much of a good thing. Visits need to be kept short – perhaps limited to a half hour. If possible, visits should be coordinated so that there is a rest period between visitors. Above all, be aware of the person you are visiting. If their eyes close or they appear to nod off, know it is time to leave. If you’re unsure, begin to leave and see if they request that you stay longer. Always let the sick determine what they need from your visit. Perhaps you already gave it an hour ago.

 

You can reach me at annnovick@hotmail.com.

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When one is blind one learns to use Braille to read. When one cannot walk, a wheelchair gives mobility. Sign language allows a mute person to speak and ocular implants assist in hearing when one is deaf. These are all compensatory strategies that help a person function despite his disability. But compensatory strategies are not just for physical problems. Understanding our psychological weaknesses and setting up our lives to ensure that we are not tempted to repeat our past mistakes, is as necessary as any aid to the disabled.

Well spouses have often discovered that their friends and relatives, despite their closeness to the situation, often don’t realize the tremendous emotional impact living with chronic illness has on the family. With the best intentions, suggestions, ideas and criticism are offered, based on the non-experience of those with healthy families. Even when the good intentioned get a taste of the difficulties, it is sometimes not enough for them to then identify and understand what the family of the chronically ill must face on a constant basis.

Over the past two weeks I have shared letters from a therapist and a well spouse. Both of the letters gave personal insights into the process of losing hope, how we react when that happens and some ways of coping when test scores, diagnosis and just simple repetitive behavior indicate that change for the better is impossible.

Dear Ann,

I’ve read your last few articles on psycho-neurological testing (Oct.8-22) with interest. As a therapist who has counseled couples dealing with chronic illness, I’d like to give you another perspective.

Dear Ann,

Your articles on the Neuro-Psychological Testing were right on (October 8-22). My husband underwent testing twice and your articles explained it things exactly the way they were. Besides the test, we also tried therapy.

Very often when we can’t face our big hurts or big loses we focus on the little ones. We can discuss those. We can cry over the small loses, be angry at the smaller hurts even though it may look trite and sound ridiculous to others.

Over the last two weeks we have been discussing one way in which well spouses can determine whether behavior displayed by their ill partners is caused by their illness or is a way they have chosen to act. We have focused on Psycho-Neurological testing, what it can tell us, as well as its pros and cons.

Last week I discussed a question that haunts many well spouses: not knowing if the difficult and often inappropriate behavior frequently displayed by their partners are caused by the disease and therefore not-controllable, or if the behavior is a choice the spouse makes and can therefore be changed. This doubt can be the source of much frustration and many marital disagreements. One way of alleviating this doubt is by having a psycho- neurological work up done. But that path is not so simple.

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