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.
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