Physicians and health care professionals often become so used to walking into and around hospitals that we forget that most people are frightened at some level with the experience of being in a hospital.

Over the last few years, I have had several hospital stays due to orthopedic problems and I can assure you that the experience of being a patient is far different from that of being the physician.

Based on my experience, I offer 10 suggestions for visiting people in the hospital and for showing support for family members:

  1. 1. First, do not try and pretend like a hospital stay is not a big deal. It is a big deal for anyone, so let the person know you will have them in your thoughts and prayers before they are admitted.
  2. 2. Unless you are very close to the person, there is no need to feel you must visit the person while they are actually in the hospital. Your support will be more appreciated once they are home. However, if you do go to the hospital, make your visit short while you are actually talking to the patient. Being in the hospital is exhausting.
  3. 3. Offering to help the caregiver who is sitting with the patient can be of great help. Give the person time to go home and change clothes or go to dinner. Do not sit and talk for long periods of time. Bring something to read and be quiet. Your presence can be a comfort but rarely is your conversation.
  4. 4. Avoid gossiping about the patient’s progress. This is not your job. Let the family say what they want to be known.
  5. 5. Let the patient know you are praying for them and then actually offer up your prayers.
  6. 6. Send hand written cards to the patient. Reading a note from you can be as much comfort as your presence.
  7. 7. On the day of surgery, make sure someone waits with the family while the patient is in the operating room. No one should have to wait alone.
  8. 8. Offer to run errands if the patient will be in the hospital more than a couple of days.
  9. 9. People need more care from their friends after they get home from the hospital than they do while in the hospital. When someone is improving is when your presence will be most appreciated.
  10. 10. If the patient receives a crushing diagnosis, do not be afraid to talk about it. Pretending that cancer isn’t present does not help someone recover. Most people want to talk about the problem at some level.

Remember that recovery from an illness takes time and that people have good days and bad days during the experience. If a person is in pain and does not want to talk one day, it does not mean that they will not be more receptive a few days later. Many people are embarrassed to be seen when they are at their worst so give them another chance as they improve. Rarely are visits, when someone is sick, not appreciated. In fact, these are often when lifelong memories are forged.

Dr. Scott Morris is founder and CEO of Church Health, which opened in 1987 to provide quality, affordable healthcare for working, uninsured people and their families. Thanks to a broad base of financial support from the faith community, and the volunteered help of doctors, nurses, dentists and others, Church Health has grown to become the largest faith-based clinic of its type in the nation. Since inception, Church Health has cared for more than 70,000 patients and had more than 54,000 patient visits in 2018.

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